The lovable left-centrists at The New Republic look upon the middling political coverage of CNN and declare—it's good! It just may be the for-real best political team on television, Greg Veis declares. His primary justification for this claim is their use of technology, which means the stupid wall-of-tvs behind Wolf Blitzer in the situation room and the neat iPhone thing John Roberts manhandles on primary nights. The iPhone thing is a cute if needlessly flashy way of displaying useful information, yes, but in trying to expand those innovations into a claim of CNN's superiority to the hackery of Fox and MSNBC, Veis makes a compelling argument that CNN is basically everything wrong with contemporary political discourse. Join us on a trip into the land of politics as parlour game!
Fox may have lost a step, but it still draws the largest number of viewers; and whenever Lou Dobbs, CNN's sole flamethrower, unleashes another screed against brown people, it's ratings gold.
CNN's ratings are up because they are better than evil Fox and self-righteous MSNBC! Of course their biggest moneymakers are still vile 21st-century Father Coughlin Lou Dobbs and old softballer Larry King, so let's dispose of them without further comment.
But, Dobbs aside [900 pound gorilla aside! -ed], CNN couldn't bring itself to adopt the same strategy. Instead, it doubled down on even-handed, data-heavy political coverage. On a commercial level, the result has been an improbable ratings resurrection. On a watching-from-home level, the result has fluctuated wildly: The coverage can be nicely informative one moment, then bland, pedantic, and painfully hackish the next. And yet, when compared to grumpy Fox and self-righteous MSNBC, CNN's election coverage may well be the least of three evils.
On Pennsylvania night, CNN's panel of consultants was on the verge of breaking into a juicy, heated exchange on the differences between Pastor John Hagee and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, when Campbell Brown intervened and said, "Wait, wait, wait; I've got to go Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Republican." It was obviously an insane thing to do—a real-time glimpse into how banal and clipped responses have triumphed over a brand of discourse that might, in some small way, approach honesty. But the decency in her request—there should be some nod toward even-handedness in election coverage—points directly to the biggest challenge facing CNN: How does it make balanced conversation interesting?
"Decency" is so pleasant, isn't it? Let's forget that whole "honesty" thing! As we've said, MSNBC is over the top and crazy, but you know what you're getting. There's an honesty to their occasionally blatant partisanship. Just like Fox's cheerful propagandizing is it's own form of twisted honesty—as long as you correct for built-in bias, you're getting the story straighter than you do when Bill Bennett lies for two minutes followed by equal time for Paul Begala and then some funnies from Dana Milbank, while your objective moderator, Wolf Blitzer or Campbell Brown, just shrugs the fundamentally incompatible worldviews away as the simple inescapable reality of partisanship.