Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Watching PA returns with MSNBC

I’ve spent every major night of the presidential campaign – the debates, the election results – with MSNBC, usually in the TV room at Dartmouth’s AZD sorority, but tonight, in an Arlington, VA hotel room. I ***LOVE*** their election music. Every time I hear those trumpets, my heart starts pounding and I feel so democratic, so free, so energetic, so grand. I think back to the whirlwind week and day that was the 2008 New Hampshire primary, and love everything about this country:

But for all the majesty of this music, the real reason I watch MSNBC instead of its competitors is their focus on politics. I get most of my news from NPR podcasts and New York Times OpEds, but MSNBC is on pretty constantly, as well. According to a recent NYT Magazine profile of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the network devoted 28% of their airtime to politics, compared to 15% for Fox News and 12% for CNN. Just as important is the strength of their political team. Brian Williams and Tim Russert were by far the best debate moderators of the campaign, and Russert asks the toughest (yet still fair) questions of any major television interviewer. Williams also carries more gravitas than perhaps any other major anchor. Keith Olbermann is the most principled and thoughtful personality on TV, and I’ve thought so since first watching Countdown four years ago (though it has declined in quality somewhat since then). No is better at crunching delegate math than political director Chris Todd, who I first started following while he was still at Hotline. (Plus, he’s got a cool beard!) White House correspondent David Gregory is a solid reporter, one of the first to ask tough questions in White House press briefings, and Joe Scarborough has shown a whole new side since abandoning prime time format constraints for his new morning show. I have it on from 7-8 am every day. I used to consider him just another right-wing hack, if a bit less shrill than O’Lielly or Dobbs, but it turns out he’s a thoughtful, respectful guy. The competition, on the other hand, is lower than the limbo poll at the Oompa Loompa’s annual office Christmas party. Fox News obviously carries more bias than Barbara Bush, and CNN? What do they have to offer? Well, since Jeff Greenfield left… nothing. Just that pompous, obnoxious, self-absorbed twit Wolf Blitzer.

Yes, it’s true, to get to MSNBC’s good stuff, you do have to suffer through Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan, but you know what they say, no pain no gain. The network certainly has its drawbacks – like everyone else on cable, they cover horserace polls, bowling matches, and whiskey glasses more than mortgage plans, health care proposals, or true character issues. And that 28% number means that outside Olbermann and Scarborough’s shows, there’s still plenty of room for celebrities going commando and for pretty missing white girls. So I do stick first and foremost with NPR and the New York Times, as well as PBS, Slate, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post. Nevertheless, when it’s time for breaking political coverage or background noise analysis, you can’t go wrong with MSNBC.

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