Election coverage of the Iowa caucuses turned out to be a perfect way to start the Election 2012 season. I can not think of how it realistically could have been better than what played out all night long as the all news networks followed the almost impossible results to the very end.
When there were only 57 votes between the first and third place contenders (as happened for a period of time Tuesday night) I asked myself how can anyone be bored or restless? A real political brawl was taking place and it was being brought in living color to our front rooms. It was after all the tightest GOP contest in U.S. history.
As I watched the networks a few things came to mind, and not all of them positive in relation to the coverage.
First, there are no better computer gadgets and viewing pleasures to be found than on CNN. For a couple of election cycles CNN has amused me with computer touchscreens, and ‘magic walls’. Iowa caucus night also produced holograms that explained a caucus setting as actual reporters stood around looking at the clear table-top in front of them where the display took place. It was fun, light-hearted, and futuristic. I am sure Walter Cronkite would have found it interesting and asked how it was actually done. (Recall how he always wanted to know more details of the space launches, or how the Lunar Rover vehicle on the moon operated?)
As always the large map of a state during CNN coverage, along with the various ways to view the votes with easy manipulation of a finger tip, makes me wonder if we need something like that in our living room. Every election I ask James that question, and every time I get the same response. I will make the same appeal during the New Hampshire primary coverage. Or should I just skip that state ( like some candidates) and wait for South Carolina?
Meanwhile on MSNBC there was a serious problem with some of the faces that were presented as seasoned analysts. Really, what were they thinking? The network gave up on journalism (for the most part) and turned coverage over to partisan hacks. If I hate that type of coverage on FAUX News why should I like it on another network?
I am always pleased with the institutional memory and political knowledge of Chris Matthews, and know that he anchored a very substantive expanded edition of Hardball leading into the evening coverage. But there was no way to take Rachel Maddow seriously as she anchored for the night. It is not that she was not capable of asking questions, or lacked interest in the outcome. But there is just a real lack of gravitas when she is on the air in that role. If there was a desire for a female anchor they should have placed Andrea Mitchell in the chair, a woman who is a highly informed reporter and anchor.
I really enjoy Lawrence O’Donnell and find him informative. But seated next to him was the guy you love to hear at a political rally but should never be anywhere near election night coverage. Al Sharpton’s role for the night was not clear to me. I am not even sure Sharpton knew what he was doing there.
Both Maddow and Sharpton have shows on MSNBC, and they fit comfortably into their partisan envelopes. But on Election Night there has to be a more complete and rounded ability to shape the coverage and inform the audience in ways that give full context. That was not case on MSNBC.
The one time my remote landed on FAUX News, and I kid my readers not, Sarah Palin was being interviewed. She was giving her reasons why Michele Bachmann might want to consider leaving the campaign trail. With the pot calling the kettle black I went back to CNN where I spent the bulk of the night watching well-done political coverage with real reporters and journalists anchoring the coverage.