TV press doing the job on debt ceiling - Networks carry Obama's Friday news conference

During the economic meltdown of 2008, I was appalled by the emotional, rollercoaster, histrionic, fact-lacking "coverage" from such cable-TV business analysts as Jim Cramer (CNBC) and Ali Velshi (CNN).

I thought TV coverage during that crucial time in this nation's life, in general, was poor -- with the press behind the curve of real news and constantly being played by the big-banks guys in the Obama administration. I wound up debating Velshi about it one Sunday morning on CNN.

But it's a different story with the economic crisis we are now in over the debt ceiling: The TV press is doing a conscientious and aggressive job of covering the economic story, without getting routinely played by the political spin doctors trying to use the nation's misery for their team's gain.

The news operations doing the best work are CNN, CBS and ABC.

I'd would normally urge viewers to also keep an eye on Fox News if only to get some counterspin to the partisan narratives the White House has been cranking out around the clock in an effort to disguise the fact that President has not done his job of managing the nation's money responsibly for more than two years. But until we know more about whether or not the disgusting behavior of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid extends to any of his U.S, properties, like Fox News, I recommend nothing about the channel. Yes, the brand has already been damaged in my mind. But that's another story for another post.

On both Monday and Friday this week, the networks cut into daytime programming for 11 a.m. briefings by Obama. And they did it with their first-string anchors at the desk -- except for ABC on Monday, which had George Stephanopoulos instead of Diane Sawyer.

That's a serious commitment for broadcast network TV. And in each case, the networks offered instant context and analysis from their top correspondents following what Obama said.

No broadacst network news division has hit this story harder than CBS News with its new anchor Scott Pelley. If you want to see the difference between the new CBS News with Pelley and the old, asleep-at-the-wheel version with Katie Couric, include CBS in your viewing of the debt crisis story.

CBS does not have the air-time or the expertise that CNN does, though, and that's the place for the best coverage so far. From Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room" at 5 p.m., straight through John King from 7 to 8, CNN has been on this story with all that it has.

The channel's new White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working her beat day and night, and Gloria Borger, CNN's senior analyst, has been consistently offering solid context based on her own strong off-camera reporting.

The tricky thing about this story is that there are two tracks to it: the economic one, which is very complicated, and the political one that is reduced to conflict and soundbites of spin. CNN has managed to resist the lure of doing the sexier, easier, latter one, and giving us some sense of the former.

All of the cable channels and networks would be better off with a star economics correspondent who could deconstruct these crises and explain them to casual viewers. But that's another story for another post as well.

I know, I failed to mention NBC News and its cable cousins in my recommendations as to where one should go for the best coverage, and yet, there is a picture of NBC's Chuck Todd running on the blog with this post.

Good reason for that: I was so impressed by Todd's tough questions of Obama at Friday's press conference -- asking him about  the "tone" of this debate and the fact that such scant attention had been made to the debt situation until recently by the White House. Good for Todd, who is as good as it gets in political reporting anywhere in the national media -- print, online or electronic. And Todd followed it with excellent post-conference analysis.

And then, another reporter's follow-up question to Todd's really got under Obama's skin -- to the point where president felt the need to say that he doesn't watch "those cable news shows" and that he has a "thick skin."

Sure, Mr. President, we believe you on both counts.

I was glad to see CNN's Blitzer say they were going to run a "fact check" on the statement about cable TV -- even if he was kidding. It as close as Blitzer could probably get to calling the president out on another one of his questionable statements.

Yes, by all means, add NBC News to your list of places to go for strong coverage of this crisis as we head into the home stretch. Todd is hard working and downright fabulous when he bores in the way he did at the press conference. And he has the kind of courage Tim Russert had.

And it is not just Todd's performance that turned me onto NBC News today. Brian Williams anchored an outstanding post-conference session with Todd, David Gregory and Kelly O'Donnell. NBC News can really bring some firepower when it wants to. Great work Friday.

As for NBC's cable cousins, at about 11:12 a.m, I was struck by CNBC showing a giant National Debt counter on the screen alongside Obama.

Over the top? I don't know, I think any TV graphic you can use to stress the urgency of the situation and the danger we are in is useful.

Maybe the president should have been watching more cable TV. He might have understood earlier how dangerous this situation is.







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