MSNBC stellar in early Paul Ryan coverage - really

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at Saturday's announcement in Norfolk.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at Saturday's announcement in Norfolk.

Paul Ryan being selected as Mitt Romney's GOP running mate was big news late Friday night, and no one on television did a better job of covering it on the fly than MSNBC.

I can't believe I typed those words either. MSNBC had become such a joke in its commitment to prison documentaries and lack of coverage on breaking news, that I rarely bothered to even make it part of the mix any more when news broke.

But Friday night, MNBC did something that could allow for the channel to regain some serious news credibility: It ditched the docs, kept the ideologue clowns off the air and handed coverage over to the grown-ups at NBC News.

NBC News political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd was superb. I went to bed about 2:45 a.m. Saturday, and the last thing I saw when I clicked off the TV was Todd's face. He was still going strong. It was Dan Rather-esque before Rather started going King-Lear on CBS News.

NBC News claims Todd beat everyone by breaking the story on TV at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. I don't know, and I don't care about who was first. What I do know is that Todd was the most determined, thorough and best during the three hours or so that I watched late Friday, early Saturday.

Andrea Mitchell was on the air with Todd, and both were behaving like they were working a story for NBC, not hosting opinion shows on MSNBC. It's the difference between journalism and politically-charged chatter. They even had David Gregory on around 2 a.m., and he offered some keen analysis.

Here in a snapshot is the difference early Saturday morning between MSNBC and CNN, the channel I normally go to for breaking news because of its continued commitment to journalism over opinion.

At 12:45 a.m., MSNBC had campaign embed reporter Alex Moe standing in front of Ryan's house in Janesville, Wisconsin. Moe reported what she knew or thought she knew from her vantage point on the ground about Ryan's plans at a time when his selection was not yet confirmed -- at least not to the satisfaction of the New York Times website.

Moe had information, but it looked as if  some of it was spin about a camping trip Ryan had told her a few days ago that he and his family were going to start Saturday. But since Todd was the one back in New York that she was telling all this to, it was fine, because he was deftly deconstructing the spin parts for her before the words were hardly out of her mouth.

Moe did a good job of reporting on a chartered jet coming into Janesville late Friday, presumably to take Ryan and his family to Norfolk the site of Saturday's announcement. She was clear about what NBC News knew and didn't know about that jet. She didn't try to fake it like so many others were doing Friday night elsewhere on the dial.

CNN managed to get John King and Wolf Blitzer on for analysis, and they were their usual strong selves. But coverage was being anchored out of Atlanta by Colleen McEdwards, and she was acting like she knew stuff she didn't know -- and I hate that.

Shortly after Moe's report on MSNBC, McEdwards said CNN was going to a "live shot" of Ryan's house. But then, she had to tell viewers CNN didn't have that shot yet.

Instead of just promising to deliver the shot when it was available, she said, "You can bet everyone is scrambling to get that shot."

No, MSNBC wasn't scrambling, Colleen. They had the shot -- and they had a reporter there doing a live report to boot.

CNN got the shot a short time later, but that is all they had -- the front of Ryan's house.

Saturday morning, CNN was rock solid with Blitzer in the anchor chair, and all the A-Team onboard: King, Candy Crowley, Jim Acosta, Gloria Borger, David Gergen, Donna Brazile and James Carville.

Once Fox News moved past the always-pathetic "Fox and Friends" crew, it was impressive as well. Bret Baier anchoring with William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, et al.

Baier asked Krauthammer a great question about the "imagery" of the announcement, and Krauthammer hit it out of the park talking about how the GOP ticket instantly became the one of new ideas with Ryan onboard.

Indicating that journalistic success might be too much for MSNBC to handle, the channel had the worst coverage Saturday choosing to stay with the "Up with Chris Hayes" show format instead of handing the ball exclusively back to the NBC folks who carried it so well Friday.

Hayes did have a panel that included the likes of Rachel Maddow. But, like an annoying graduate student who loves to hear himself say obvious stuff, Hayes rarely stopped talking long enough to ask her a question. After 10 minutes, I couldn't watch. I spent way too many years in Ph.D seminars with guys like Hayes who are mostly hot air and political correctness tricked out in the high-sounding vocabulary of cultural studies.

It says something about MSNBC management that no one apparently sees through the act. On the other hand, compared to Ed Schultz, I suppose Hayes might seem like an intellectual giant.

Memo to MSNBC: The next time news breaks, hand the channel over again to the folks who know what to do with it. It's a winning formula, really. Go back and look at the tapes from late Friday night and early Saturday morning.




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