Thursday, December 04, 2008

CNN Done Right (For Tonight)

Hi everybody. Now that's what I'm talking about! What a great night of programming. Normally I prefer my news live, but tonight's two taped specials were both excellent and I hope you checked both of them out. I was doing some multi-tasking while I watched, so I won't be recapping for you, though as always, I've got some thoughts. Hey, this is a blog, is it not?

It's hard to go wrong with putting the always-outstanding Christiane Amanpour on the TeeVee and her special "Scream Bloody Murder" was no exception. Genocide is never an easy topic, but it is an extremely important one and I have great admiration for those who have spoked out against it, knowing it was at their own peril. Unfortunately, the special was timely as well, as there is still a horrible genocide occurring in Darfur--not to mention the worsening situation in the Congo.

Some of my longtime readers might remember that not long after I started this blog, I wrote a decidedly unsnarky essay (well, besides the title) regarding what was occurring in Darfur and how frustrating it was that no one seemed to be stepping up to fix the problem. It was posted on this blog and recommended on Daily Kos. While watching Christiane's special tonight, it was with great sadness that I realized I wrote that essay two years ago, but given the progress that still hasn't been made, it could have been written yesterday.

Now that the election is over, I'd love to see 360 delving into these issues. I'm not even suggesting that they go to Africa, though that would certainly be great--I'd just like the regions to get a mention every now and then. Have on a reporter who's recently been there or aid workers or whoever. Given that they're working in the medium of television, having pictures is always a major plus, but sometimes I think the news sells short the idea of good informed discussion--not to be confused with the speculation that we get all the time.

Speaking of informed discussion, 360 did not sell that idea short tonight. They had their own excellent special, "Extreme Challenges: President Obama." The map table is back! I love this series. Some of you might remember they've done a few of these specials before and they involve smart and interesting people sitting down with Anderson Cooper to play an elaborate gave of Risk. Or, er, having an in depth conversation about complicated issues.

The first one of these "map table" specials they did was the one with Michael Ware regarding the four wars in Iraq, which I still consider quite possibly one of the finest hours 360 has ever produced. They took an extremely complicated topic and Michael broke it down in an engaging way into something easy to understand, without ever insulting the intelligence of the viewer. No annoying graphics taking up a third of the screen, no distracting music or sound effects, no cutting away to a different topic just when they were getting to the meat of the subject. Just two engaging people having a very intelligent conversation about an extremely important topic.

We got something similar tonight, though the table hosted more than just Michael. From what I counted, the hour had seven segments related to the challenges facing Barack Obama: one on the financial crisis, one on Iraq, one on Afghanistan, one on Iran and other international issues, one on healthcare reform, one on energy independence, and I think the last one was just on the political reality.

The three segments on international issues with Christiane Amanpour, Peter Bergen, David Gergen, and Michael Ware were definitely the strongest. If I was tasked with putting together a panel of the best CNN has to offer, well, I'm not sure my panel would look much different. Each one of them brings to the table (literally) expertise and credibility that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else on television. I could listen to them having a discussion all day.

One thing that stood out to me during their segments is just how woefully underreported events in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places have been since the long ago start of the primaries. Many issues discussed have to my knowledge not even been mentioned on 360--like the very important Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. We definitely need to see more of Michael Ware.

If I'm going to nitpick (and you know I will), I'd have to say that I wish the segment on health care reform included someone with specific expertise on the topic. Judging by Sanjay Gupta's little taped comment, I'm guessing he was unavailable to sit down for discussion, but it would have been nice to have more than just political people. Same thing goes for the segment on energy independence.

Before I wrap up, I want to note that I view these specials very differently than the inevitable and often dreaded panels we have during the live broadcast every night. Tonight the discussion was informed, smart, agendaless, and low on speculation. That is usually not the case with some of the regular panels, not to mention all the ridiculous media narratives that are bandied about, and the endless airtime wasted on nothingness--like the lipstick on a pig fiasco. I like smart in depth discussion; I don't like stupidity.

Though my post title gives CNN some deserved praise, I'm going to end with some continued deserved criticism. The Internets have been having their say over the Miles O'Brien ousting and I thought I'd share a little. My favorite fired senior producer, Chez Pazienza, weighs in on his blog and axed CNN Internet reporter Jacki Schechner does the same on her own little space of the interwebs. Both have only good things to say about Miles and bad things to say about the decision to scrap him. Jacki gives a mention to the others affected by the move as well.

Also, while I normally try to steer clear of the insane rant-filled cesspool that is the TVNewser comment section, there were some interesting ones left on the post announcing Miles' departure--if you're interested. Finally, the Columbia Journalism Review muses on what this means for science reporting. The most trusted name in news, though not if that news involves science, the environment, or technology.


Blogger Pati Mc said...

Thanks for the great links Eliza. I am very interested to read what Chez and Jacki have to say. My God, the work you put in! (But it is greatly appreciated).

As far as the jist of your post, I could not have said it better myself. You reiterated my thoughts perfectly and I thank you for that. Both programs were well done and the content was excellent. Totally agree on the "indepth" panels. CNN has some amazing resources here, we can only hope that they will put them to better use. Seriously.

As to Miles, my heart is broken. He woke me up for many years. Although I like John Roberts, I have missed Miles sorely. Now this, and I am truly saddened. To me this is not only illogical, I just cannot fathom what prompted this decision.

2:27 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

You're welcome, Pati. I just added some more to my latest post. I'm going to miss Miles too. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, I fear he won't be the only one we'll be left missing.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Pati Mc said...

I agree Eliza, and it makes me rather nervous. Time will tell. =(

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl Spencer said...

I am very curious about the CNN/CBN relationship. This troubles me. CNN is offering David Brody, a Pat Robertson tool, as a reputable and trustworthy source while they fire people like Miles O'Brien, Kathleen Koch, and Kelly Arena? Does CNN really think Pat Robertson and David Brody actually represent people whose faith is genuine? I am dumbfounded.

8:25 AM  

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