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September 18, 2008

CNN Chews The Fat, Misses The Meat

It's hardly original to point out that CNN will often gloss over the big issues in favor of covering political infighting and other non-stories. But sometimes its producers' lack of judgment warrants attention. This week, in their election news coverage, they actively went through the footage of Barack Obama's speech on the financial crisis and edited out nearly all the content related to his financial plan. What they left in was simply Obama's attack on McCain, blasting him for not having a concrete plan for dealing with the crisis, and skipping over the very issue to which Obama was calling attention.

First of all, we should look at what Obama actually said. In a speech delivered in Boulder, Colorado on Tuesday, he did spend a significant amount of time on John McCain. However, after that, he laid out a six-point plan for increasing federal regulation of financial industries. His central argument is thus: "When the Federal Reserve steps in as a lender of last resort; it is providing an insurance policy underwritten by the American taxpayer. In return, taxpayers have every right to expect that financial institutions with access to that credit are not taking excessive risks." It is a logical argument that serves as the basis of his proposed financial policy, and dare I say, it is even digestible in sound-bite form.

Unfortunately, CNN chose to focus on a different sound-bite. This is how it covered the speech on the CNN Election Center with Campbell Brown:


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This morning, instead of offering up concrete plans to solve these issues, Senator McCain offered up the oldest Washington stunt in the book. You pass the buck to a commission to study the problem.


OBAMA: Now, here's the thing. This isn't 9/11. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out.


CAMPBELL BROWN: Candy, talk us through how he is taking advantage of this moment, the chaos on Wall Street, to draw some real contrasts between himself and McCain.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it goes to two central themes of the Obama campaign. One is, John McCain is out of touch. He doesn't get you. He doesn't understand what the problem is. He's got seven houses, anything that they can pour into that particular pot. And the other one is, wait a second, John McCain has been around for all the time that this crisis was building up.

He has supported the Bush administration. He has been a deregulator, as they — as Obama said today. So, it — it fits into their framework very nicely. And it's something that they intend to keep pounding. At the same time, they have kind of dropped the high-flying rhetoric. We are now down to the nuts and bolts. Here's what I would do, and here's what John McCain would do, the compare and contrast they always talk about in campaigns, because they believe, if the economy is the issue, their guy's going to win.

BROWN: And, to that point, Candy, Obama today did list a laundry list, if you will, of proposals. He's mentioned and talked about many of them before on the economy, on how to deal with the economy.

To paraphrase, CNN reports that Obama knocked McCain for not having concrete plans, his attacks play on the theme that McCain is out of touch and that he has supported the Bush policies that got us to this point, and that if the central issue is the economy, the Democrats have a better chance to win. And, oh right, Obama has a "laundry list" of proposals. But we wouldn't want to waste your time with that.

CNN isn't just a television network, of course, but a 360 degree multimedia news experience, and they've mishandled this story on a range of fronts. Earlier in the day, Candy Crowley made the same besides-the-point points on the The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Between the two news articles on CNN.com to appear that day about Obama's reaction to the flailing economy, there is only a single mention of his economic policy.

Perhaps most grossly, there is video on CNN.com from Obama's speech in Boulder, but it is a six-minute clip of the 38-minute speech, devoted almost entirely to his criticism of John McCain. In the CNN clip, the word "McCain" appears twice as often as it does in the rest of the speech. Someone at CNN edited out the parts of the speech where Obama talks about his previous responses to the housing crisis, the history of how the financial markets have gotten to this point through deregulation, and how he plans to fix all this—and made what must have been a conscious decision to skip to the "red meat" of his attacks on McCain.

To play along at home, this is the transcript of Obama's speech (via Real Clear Politics), and the CNN clip cuts from "If you want to understand the difference between how Senator McCain and I would govern as President" until "It's hard to understand how Senator McCain is going to get us out of this crisis by doing the same things with the same old players." Or, if you'd like, you can watch the two videos embedded below.

CNN's Clip

Full Video

The coverage of McCain's policies is equally misguided, focusing on spoken gaffes rather than his record and stated economic plan. With the current financial crisis, the news media had a genuine opportunity to highlight the important differences between the candidates—the way they would actually govern—but instead many of them chose to focus on the same old bullshit. There's a reason why our country remains so misinformed.

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