Media analysts make their money drawing contrasts among the nation’s three premier cable news networks: Fox News (right-leaning, self-righteous); MSNBC (left-leaning, outraged); CNN (hurricane!).
These carefully cultivated news identities did surface Tuesday night, though not in striking form. MSNBC generated a lively discussion with a panel that included the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lawrence O’Donnell, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and Rachel Maddow. The highlight came when Chris Matthews beamed in from New Hampshire and started hassling the Republican strategist. Hey, why hasn’t Mitt Romney released his tax forms? Hey, what’s up with the Republicans essentially deporting President Obama to Europe via rhetoric? Schmidt had trouble with his comebacks.
Fox gathered a smaller panel featuring Chris Wallace, Karl Rove and Joe Trippi. Its highlight came when Fox showed a recent ad criticizing Rove. Wallace commented that the ad showcased a nice picture of the legendary political operative, to which Rove replied: “There is no good picture of me. That’s the problem.”
CNN’s talkers excelled in breaking down Romney’s outlook.
Yet the great divides among the nets have a way of closing up on primary night. Even in a blowout/snoozer such as the New Hampshire race, there’s a fair amount of news to deliver: With what demographics did Mitt Romney, the winner in New Hampshire, score big? Just how completely did he dominate among people concerned about electability? Who came in fourth place? Yes, that question — an indicator of just how interesting the night was — got repeated play on all the cable networks on Tuesday night. Analysis of how Romney’s days with Bain Capital are affecting the course of the primary race also stretched across the dial.
Speeches furnish another equalizer. There are only so many ways you can dress up a video feed from the Paul HQ. Throw up some graphics and perhaps a ticker or something, but your screen is going to be showing Ron Paul saying, “I want to thank the Union Leader for not endorsing me.” And so are the screens of your competitors. Sameness — Eli Whitney’s interchangeable parts meet cable television.
Which brings us to the night’s chief difference maker, Sarah Palin of Fox News. Though you were probably making progress in forgetting about her, she surfaced for an abbreviated segment that got interrupted by Jon Huntsman’s “third place is a ticket to ride” speech. Summoned by Fox anchors Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to track the primary trend lines, she answered the call in her very own way. That is to say, shallowly and with a touch of narcissism.
She was asked about the results; she responded that they were not “earth-shattering.” She was asked about the Bain thing; she responded that the debate would shift away from the “anti-capitalist mantra to what it is that the GOP really represents in free markets.” She was asked if anyone would have to leave the race; she responded that all of the candidates have money, so probably not. She wasn’t asked about her own approach to finances, but she said anyway that she shared Michele Bachmann’s distaste for wasting money.
The scoreboard reads: A couple of minutes of commentary. No insights. The worthlessness of the segment came to light at the end, when Kelly said to Palin in the most unconvincing of fashions: “Governor, thanks for being with us. All the best.” Palin seemed a bit unfulfilled upon signing off. My guess: She was upset that Kelly hadn’t asked her when she planned to come forth with an endorsement.
Fox prides itself on fronting its coverage with news anchors, as opposed to the commentator-heavy approach over at MSNBC. Kelly and Baier redeem the strategy by capably directing traffic and asking the right questions of their guests. Even a short spell with someone like Palin, however, poisons the product.
For her unoriginal contributions to pivotal news events, Palin will continue receiving $1 million per year under a contract that expires in 2013, according to New York Magazine. Sounds like a perfect sum, to finance her exile.