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.