Friday, July 11, 2008

Not necessarily the fake news?

The first session of a day at press tour -- particularly early in the tour, when East Coast critics have yet to adjust to the time change -- often tends to be a relaxed, often comatose affair. But Friday's opening session with CNN found the critics both alert and, in some cases, kind of angry.

CNN's political campaign team -- reporters John King, Suzanne Malveaux and Gloria Burger and Washington D.C. bureau chief David Bohrman on the stage and Wolf Blitzer appearing via satellite due to a hamstring injury -- seemed giddy about the increased ratings and adrenaline rush that have come from covering such a topsy-turvy, historic presidential primary season. The critics, on the other hand, mainly wanted to complain about that coverage.

"Why did it take a sketch on 'Saturday Night Live' to change the tone of the coverage?" one critic demanded, referencing the sketch (pictured above) where Amy Poehler's Hilary Clinton complained that the media was going too easy on Barack Obama.

"Did it change the tone of the coverage?" Bohrman countered, trying and failing to defuse the issue with the old answer-a-question-with-a-question gambit.

The CNN reporters tried to suggest that the beatific early coverage of Obama was simply the result of him being the underdog going against Clinton's campaign of inevitability, and that the "SNL" sketch coincidentally aired around the point when Obama began to look like the favorite, and therefore got tougher media scrutiny.

King at least was honest enough to admit that watching the sketch was "a wake-up call."

Later, another critic tore into the panelists for talking so much about the "excitement" and "drama" of the campaign and not seeming to care as much -- or to spend as much on-air time on -- the issues and how each candidate's policies would affect the nation. The panel matched the critic's indignation level and argued that they do care about and discuss the issues on-air, and shared anecdotal evidence of viewers thanking them for bringing up certain issues. And they argued that the bitter fighting between the two political parties during the last two administrations has prevented much of substance from being done in Washington, which in turn makes covering the drama a part of covering the issues.

Finally, a critic introduced himself as "The best TV critic in Philadelphia," noting that the other Philadelphia critic in the room might think of herself that way, and asking whether CNN's slogan proclaiming its political team the best on television might be both presumptive and self-defeating.

"I think if Wolf says it, it has to be true," said Bohrman, now going with the answer-with-a-joke-and-wait-for-the-clock-to-run-out approach. Seconds later, CNN president Jonathan Klein announced that we were out of time.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can we get the TCA members to do all the campaign coverage from now on? It sounds like you're a lot better at asking the difficult questions than any of the political wonks out there.

marcus said...

You should have reminded them that the best political team has been on Comedy Central since 2000, and ask them what that says about their coverage.

Although I have to admit that the touch screen map John King used was a pretty incredible tool during the primary season.

TL said...

Seconded on John King's touch screen.

Anybody ask them about the farce they played in the primary—and now continue to play in the general election—in pretending that the race was (is) even remotely close in order to goose their own ratings?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Seconded on John King's touch screen.

King actually brought a slightly smaller version of it (say, as big as a good-sized plasma TV) to show off for the critics, and it was pretty damn cool.

bgt said...

Thing sounds like what Damon Lindelof said about the grilling the Lost crew got last year. Something about how he expected to see a graphic saying - "Sepinwall (R) - New Jersey" based on the intensity level of the questions being asked.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thing sounds like what Damon Lindelof said about the grilling the Lost crew got last year. Something about how he expected to see a graphic saying - "Sepinwall (R) - New Jersey" based on the intensity level of the questions being asked.

And Lindelof joked that he expects the same level of intensity from me this year (ABC is doing some kind of drama showrunner panel), and my problem is that I'm not sure what to interrogate him about at this point. "My question is, why is Kate so lame?" doesn't seem nearly as pressing as all the stuff I hit him with a year ago.

Suggestions?

dez said...

Ask him why they keep killing off their best characters (okay, just Eko, Jin, and Libby). And how they are going to bring Jin back because I refuse to believe he is dead.

bgt said...

Hmmmmm - Lost was so good this season that it's hard to find much fault.

You could ask him:

1) If "convergence" is going to be an issue. The closer the present & flash-forwards become, it seems like there will be fewer & fewer mysteries to explain. As much as I enjoyed this year's finale, it paled in comparison to killing off Charlie, mainly because we knew where most of the characters (especially the O6) had to end up. Penny showing up was still a huge surprise, but I wonder if the flash-forwards may ultimately be as limiting as the flashbacks became.

2) If they're going to try & wrap up every dangling thread - especially some of the more random ones...the skeletons in the cave, the six-toed statute, etc.

3) Why the love triangle (I think it's back to being a triangle now) continues to be the show's lamest ongoing plot point.

(this was an outstanding friday afternoon time waster)

Nicole said...

Did anyone ask about Lou Dobbs and his consistent xenophobic agenda? He seems to try to blame the Mexicans about something every single day.
He barely seems to cover the election, which I would think would be the top story, barring a disaster of some sort.

I'm waiting for him to start complaining about those evil Canadians who are just waiting to invade Vermont or any other state south of the longest unprotected international border in the world.

Number Five said...

Interesting...do the cable news networks (or just CNN) always present at TCA?

I can only imagine how the Fox News session would have gone. The state of most political journalism in the US is pretty bad right now, but the cable news networks make everyone else look like Ted Koppel.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fox News will be here later in the tour, on one of Fox's days. (The cable channels that have relationships with broadcast networks sometimes present on the broadcast partner's day.)

filmcricket said...

In that case, can you ask O'Reilly if he's got a Peabody yet?

Who am I kidding, he won't show up. And if he did and you asked him that, he'd try to cut off your mic.

Anthony Foglia said...

"they argued that the bitter fighting between the two political parties during the last two administrations has prevented much of substance from being done in Washington, which in turn makes covering the drama a part of covering the issues."

Left unstated was that they reporters are too naive to realize that non-stop coverage of the drama does nothing but encourage it, and they have as much responsibility for the polarization of politics as the politicians do.

brakewater said...

I hate to state the obvious, but how is adjusting to the west coast hard for east coast critics? 8am west coast = 11am east coast.

Other than that, I switched from FoxNews to CNN a year ago. Not better, just more tolerable.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hate to state the obvious, but how is adjusting to the west coast hard for east coast critics? 8am west coast = 11am east coast.

Because events on tour can often run until close to midnight, which is 3 a.m. East Coast time, and until our bodies adjust to the change, we still wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning Pacific.

brakewater said...

Point taken. I love traveling West (I call it left) and looking at the clock and saying, I can lay here for 3 more hours.

Traveling right sucks. I live in the middle of the Country, btw.

Question for Lost: All actors who have gotten DWI have been written off. Intentional?

I was one of those who offered you a loaner on Sports Nights. I can't wait for your recaps in the fall...

Kate said...

I totally agree with Nicole about Lou Dobbs -- it's bizarre and telling that CNN has left him out of their "best political team" listing when he's the one of them who's most recently published a political book, and probably (near Glenn Beck) the one who most consistently takes a political side (and, yes, an extremely offensive side). No one asked about him? Or does he not fall under the news division?

Also... Wolf Blitzer... hamstring injury? I thought he became completely mechanized years ago, like Larry King.

Rand said...

No offense Alan, but I find it a little iffy for the TV Critics Association to be mad at CNN on professional standards, given those of the TCA (I admit I have not studied the TCA in depth so perhaps I am wrong, but that is my impression, again no offense to you personally who seem to have a strong sense of standards and do excellent work both in your column and here.)

I suppose that if no one with a little dirt on their hands criticized there would be no criticism, but it seems like the TCA was acting with righteous indignation, which seems a little less than they can claim.

Again, perhaps I'm wrong here, but that's my impression.