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SOTU: CNN, Fox wisely cover Tea Party, Bachmann

How to cover the Tea Party?

That's been a question challenging the media for quite a while, and Tuesday night was no exception with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann offering a Tea Party response to President Barack Obama's speech following the official GOP response from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

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I don't think most of the media handled it very well. But I am sure there is room for much debate on this.

Frankly, I was surprised to see that CNN was the only cable or network channel to offer live coverage of Bachmann's response. At least, that's the best I could determine with my channel hopping and calls to network and cable publicists afterward.  Not even C-SPAN seemed to be offering live coverage of this unprecedented response-beyond-the-response.

While I have been critical of some of CNN's recent political and breaking news coverage, I think this was an excellent call by management. Bachmann did a better job than anyone else Tuesday night of giving voice to the pain still felt by many in the nation who lost jobs or saw the value of their homes drop dramatically, and CNN made sure she was heard. Good for CNN.

(I am going to be nice and not make a big deal out of CNN trying to use this important national ritual to further promote talk show host Piers Morgan, who clearly had nothing to offer by way of analysis but was seated at the pundits' table nevertheless.)

Fox News also did some very good work Tuesday -- going the extra mile after the networks went home for the night. It included solid Tea Party coverage by Greta Van Susteren.

Fox News didn't carry Bachmann's response live, but it did stream her words live on FoxNews.com and then offer excerpts shorty after 11 p.m. on a telecast from the Capitol anchored by Van Susteren. And I thought Van Susteren was excellent in re-capping what had happened during the evening, and then offering informed and sound interviews with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Van Susteren and Fox News were exemplary in bringing varied points of view into its discussion of the speeches -- and treating all sides with respect. Fox News would not exactly be considered the friendly confines for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, but she was treated as respectfully by Van Susteren as any GOP or Tea Party conservative. Good for Fox News and Van Susteren.

On the other hand, and again I was channel hopping, but I didn't see any coverage of the Tea Party response on MSNBC. Nor, in fact, did I see any conservatives period on the MSNBC coverage anchored by Rachel Maddow.

MSNBNC used the same set-up that it used for its debased election night coverage in November: its prime-time hosts and Washington Post associate editor Eugene Robinson. Only this time, ringleader Keith Olbermann, who parted ways with the cable channel on Friday, was gone.

Without the adolescent Olbermann, the tone was more professional -- there is no doubt about that. And MSNBC is better for it.

But again, I didn't see the "team" offering any kind of substantial conservative assessment of the speech. What I did see was lots of Valerie Jarrett, the most partisan of the senior Obama aides. She seemed to be given lots of time to keep saying over and over how much the president is working to bring everyone together. Again, maybe I missed the conservative viewpoint in my channel hopping.

There is an argument to be made that if you cover the Tea Party speech in the same way that you cover the official GOP response, where do you stop? What about the Libertarians or the Green Party?

Those are questions news executives will continue to wrestle with. But given the impact that the Tea Party has already had on the November elections and the makeup of this Congress, I think I would have erred on the side of full coverage for Bachmann and the Tea Party. And, again, I am surprised by the many outlets who chose to ignore this groundbreaking event.

I wonder how members of the Tea Party feel about that.

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MORNING-AFTER FOLLOW-UP 10:45 a.m. Wednesday: In response to my email inquiry Tuesday night, MSNBC informs me that after the telecast following the immediate post-speech analysis that I reviewed, MSNBC offered an 11 p.m. live  edition of the "Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell." That hourlomg program included an interview with U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois. At midnight, a live version of "The Rachel Maddow Show" had an interview with Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

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