In a countdown to crisis time like this weekend, if you can only watch one channel, once again, I would make it CNN.
On one level, the argument is simple.
In terms of cable, there is little or none of the blatant ideology that drives MSNBC and Fox News to make facts fit a political narrative or the world view of their perceived audience. In terms of the networks, none can commit the airtime to constantly updating the story like a webpage as new developments emerge in the way a committed cable channel like CNN can.
So, I spent most of my weekend so far with CNN, and there are two aspects of the coverage especially worth talking about -- so far.
First, CNN's scored one of the timeliest interviews of the summer when it had Sen. Mitch McConnell on "State of the Union" at 9 a.m. (ET).
Just getting the first key player in Washington on the record Sunday morning saying that it looked like President Obama and Republican leaders might have found common ground was a big enough deal. I'm talking high-fives all around to the bookers and producers who had him on CNN's set first thing Sunday.
And thanks to the gods of TV news that McConnell lays out the parameters of what looked like a deal that could avoid default on your channel.
But it never is just the kindness of the TV news gods, is it?
Check out this interview of McConnell by Gloria Borger, and note the way she extracts facts, facts and more facts from a McConnell whose usual method of discourse is non-stop bloviating and ideologically-charged political-speak.
Borger turned this into a big newsmaker with her highly focused questions and clear commitment to get as many facts on the table as possible by controlling the conversation and constantly pushing McConnell in that direction.
By 2 p.m., there appeared to be backlash from progressives to a deal between Obama and Republicans that would preclude any tax hikes, so things were far from settled. And on a story like this anything can happen -- and probably will. But Borger's interview with McConnell was still the news of the first half of the day.
On a less positive note, Saturday I saw Wolf Blitzer interviewing Mark Warner on the debt crisis, and near of the end of it, Blitzer stopped questioning the lawmaker and started exhorting him and his colleagues to get a deal done before the nation went into default. His exhortation included telling Warner that millions would "suffer" is a deal wasn't done.
I think Blitzer is as good as it gets in terms of journalism and cable TV news, but I wonder if CNN should be engaged in what I see essentially as cheerleading. And that concern extends through the title of a scheduled Sunday night news special hosted by Blitzer and Don Lemon titled "Get It Done!: Countdown to Debt Crisis."
CNN responded to my question about Blitzer's exhortation and the show's title with the following statement:
It doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on, CNN is taking the position that Congress needs to put partisan differences aside and compromise in order to avoid default.
As a citizen, I couldn't agree more. But as media critic, I have to question it journalistically.
What do you think? Should anchorpersons play such a role? Should cable channels?
In terms of other channels, I did do a bit of hopping. I was delighted to see Brett Baier on Fox News at 10 a.m. and Chuck Todd on MSNBC at 1:30 p.m. bringing some clarity at key moments of the day.
UPDATE 9:45 p.m.: CNN was superb in the wake of President Obama's prime-time briefing in which he said a deal was essentially in place. The statement was intended to calm markets that were about to open in Asia and elsewhere, and CNN's worldwide resources swamped the competition in covering that story.
Most impressive was a report from Kyung Lah in CNN's Tokyo bureau with the first news that the market there was not only up, but that the dollar was strengthening. That was the first report to put the importance of the value of the dollar in world markets in perspective. Great work.
Blitzer and Lemon worked well together in moving the from news to video to analysts and correspondents. Nobody does live coverage on the run better than Blitzer.
Here's the Borger video:
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