Millions of Americans might have gone into Thanksgiving mode after work Wednesday, but the news certainly took no holiday. Here's a snapshot of the TV news landscape Wednesday night.
The terrorist attack in India continued with more than 100 dead and an undetermined number held hostage. And MSNBC mostly ignored the huge story throughout prime time for silly lists and sophomoric jokes from Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.
Meanwhile, on ABC, President-elect Barack Obama, the man who said there can only be one president at a time, all but acknowledged that he is stepping in to try and fill the void left by George W. Bush -- who seemed again to be highly distracted at a time of great crisis in the economy. ABC newswoman Barbara Walters, who interviewed the president and his wife, Michelle, spoke of Obama in her introduction as forced to run a kind of parallel presidency rather than the normal transition operation because of the extreme "lame duck" status of Bush.
Let's start with the terrorist attack. Breaking news on a holiday often offers the best look into a media organization. With many workers on holiday, you quickly see what kind of depth a news organization has -- or doesn't have. And by their commitment -- or lack of it -- to coverage, you can gauge their priorities.
The Fox News channel does not have anywhere near the worldwide on-staff resources that CNN International does, but it plugged into NDTV (New Delhi Television) for some excellent coverage and images of the early and ongoing attacks. Don't get too excited about Fox's performance, though, by 10 p.m. it was airing a rerun of Greta Van Susteren's softball interview with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
CNN was all over the story, and you could feel its strength build as staffers came back to work and joined in. CNN International had much help in terms of imagery from sister channel IBN (India Broadcast News). CNN stayed on the case throughout the night.
But on MSNBC, no real coverage -- nothing except a brief mention and discussion at the anchor desk in New York. Isn't this a great way to cut reporting costs -- just stop doing it. And then for the vast majority of the broadcast, it's back to the same anti-Bush jokes and banter from Olbermann and Maddow that you get every night. And the sister channel to NBC never even tried to cover the carnage in Mumbai. You might think after punting from 8 to 10 p.m., that MSNBC would at least make an effort at 10 instead of airing a rerun of Olbermann, but not Wednesday night.
Don't tell me it doesn't matter that MSNBC embraced ideological propaganda instead of news and information when it handed over the keys to prime time to Olbermann and Maddow. If the terrorist attacks in India don't warrant coverage on MSNBC in prime time, than nothing short of another 9/11 is likely to stop Olbermann and Maddow from their partisan game playing at what used to a respected anchor desk.
But hard news was not the only news being made on TV Wednesday night. It is remarkable the way Obama is using TV to provide leadership even though he is still 55 days away from taking office. Even more remarkable is the way TV persons like Walters are now talking openly, as she did in her set up, about the need for Obama to do so in light of Bush's lack of leadership and focus at this dark time in American life.
When Walters asked Obama what his "biggest fear" was, Obama said "there are a lot of things that keep me up at night."
"One of the concerns I have is that the economy is so weakened that the next 60 days are going to be difficult because we've got a president who, even though he may mean well, is now sort of in lame-duck status [and] Congress isn't in [session]," Obama said. "And I don't have the reins of power."
Obama said that he and his team of economic advisers would carefully review the way the Bush administration distributes bailout funds to Wall Street banks seeking emergency assistance and he will do whatever it takes to make his feelings known if he disagrees with Bush's actions.
Make no mistake; he was issuing a warning in the direction of Bush, even as Walters wondered aloud how the nation would get through the next 55 days with such a distracted leader in the White House.
Once again, listening to Barack and Michelle Obama was like a tonic to soothe the nerves. But Wednesday night, instead of turning off the TV and going to bed reassured, one couldn't help but take another look at the horror in Mumbai – and feel the jitters of the times in which we now live rise up once again threatening any sense of holiday repose.
(Above: AP Photo of the wreckage in Mumbai by Anshuman Poyrekar of The Hindustan Times.)