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CNN going all out, delivering strong Freddie Gray coverage

When it comes to television, CNN has been in a league by itself in covering the Freddie Gray story.

From boots on the ground in Baltimore covering protests and press conferences Monday, to a non-stop lineup straight through prime time Tuesday night of interview shows trying to provide context, CNN is showing the competition what committed, competent, TV news coverage looks like.

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Top-rated Fox News? Forget about it on this story. As of dinnertime Tuesday, I had yet to even see the citizen videos of Gray's arrest there. And the videos - with their sounds of Gray's anguished screams and images of his legs looking as if they could not function -- are the driving force behind this story.

Miguel Marquez, Suzanne Malveaux and the video and sound crews in Baltimore have given viewers a strong feel for events on the streets of Baltimore - particularly Tuesday at dusk as crowds gathered to protest and officials wondered what would happen when night fell. Marquez especially seemed to be in the middle of everything Tuesday night.

Most impressive were the news shows throughout the day and night, which were booked solid with strong analysts. And the talking-head analysts were not all the usual suspects.

Brooke Baldwin, for example, had Sun reporter Mark Puente on from Baltimore Tuesday. Puente is the reporter who chronicled how the City of Baltimore paid $5.7 million since 2011 to settle claims against police for the use of excessive force. Everyone's been quoting the statistic this week, but CNN brought on the guy who did the investigation that unearthed it.

Anderson Cooper was superb in pushing past the "I-am-determined-I-am-angry" talking-points rhetoric of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to press her on why she has so few concrete facts 10 days after the arrest of Gray. He was properly polite and respectful, but he also showed how hollow her rhetoric has been.

And give Cooper and his producers major journalistic points for the disclosure they provided in bringing on one of their experts Tuesday night. In introducing CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, Cooper said, "She's a former federal prosecutor. She worked in the Baltimore area, and, we should also mention, is friends with the Baltimore mayor."

They probably could have gotten away without disclosing her relationship with Rawlings-Blake, but it made a world of difference to me in trying to judge what Hostin had to say. Baltimore city officials and people who get contracts from the city should be as conscientious as "AC 360" about disclosing relationships.

The world of cable TV is rank with experts who have undisclosed relationships with some of the very people they are commenting on or evaluating for millions of viewers. Good for CNN in not allowing that to happen in even a minor way on a story as important as this.

Even Don Lemon, who has come under considerable critical fire for some of his words and actions as a show host, came through Tuesday night.

He interviewed William "Billy" Murphy, Jr., the Gray family attorney who surely set a record for media appearances the last two days. But, I'll tell you what, Murphy has been one super-effective TV advocate for his client. Murphy is still a very strong TV presence, but he's toned his rhetoric down a notch, in my estimation, and it makes him even more effective.

I am sure before it's over someone is going to blame the cable and network TV cameras for the protests -- especially if they should turn violent. Critics will say, as some did in Ferguson, that protesters are coming out to be seen on TV, suggesting that if the cameras were not there, the protests would not be happening.

That's an empty-headed insult to the many members of this community who are feeling intense emotions in the wake of Gray's death. I believe those feelings would demand release whether or not the cameras came to town.

But even if cameras do contribute in some ways to protests, I say they are still welcome -- as long as the people behind and in front of them make as strong an effort to do solid journalism and public affairs television as those from CNN have made the last two days in covering the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray.

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