Last night, as we waited for President Obama to speak, NBC really showed its stuff.
For many years now, my preferred network for watching news events–like election night returns–has been NBC. They have the deepest pool of high-calibre professional journalists. And they emphasize being a NEWS organization. Other channels fill the air with too many pundits.
With NBC, you’ll more often see an actual working reporter–someone who goes places, talks to people, digs through documents, and learns things we didn’t know before. Not a talking head with partisan opinions (and who relies on reporters for new information).
I turned on the TV at 10:30, and for the next hour, flipped between three channels–CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews. It was late on a Sunday night. The only first-stringer, initially, was Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Geraldo Rivera was hosting for FoxNews, and I can’t even remember the guy on MSNBC.
So, what would the President be speaking about? It was something VERY important, and concerned national security. But initially, nobody could be sure. I thought pretty quickly that it might involve Osama bin Laden, but nobody was mentioning his name at first.
CNN knew, or thought they knew, but didn’t want to divulge anything without confirmation. Good for them. But that didn’t stop Geraldo. He was speculating wildly, throwing all kinds of ideas around. When the name Osama bin Laden came up, he got all excited–“Wouldn’t it be great if that’s what this was about?”
Soon after that, reports came in that bin Laden had been killed. CNN and MSNBC reported the news professionally, with disclaimers when needed. Meanwhile, Geraldo was leading a pep rally, hooting and cheering. It was embarrassing to watch. Guests would come on, either by phone or on camera, and he asked them stupid “How do you feel” questions, rather than trying to actually gain more information. “If it’s true that bin Laden has been killed, what is your reaction?” Who cares? was my thought. Give me facts.
Meanwhile, NBC had put out an “all hands on deck” call. Normally, MSNBC night-time is a left-wing pundit ghetto with Matthews, O’Donnell, Maddow. But they never appeared. Instead, the professionals at NBC News took over.
David Gregory arrived to assume the hosting role, lending much-needed gravitas. Everything stepped up a notch. Their ace reporters–Andrea Mitchell (one of the best-connected reporters anywhere), Chuck Todd, Richard Engle (today’s premier war reporter), and Jim Miklaszewski (the premier defense correspondent)–were all there, calling their sources and providing new information. Brian Williams eventually showed up to take the helm.
It was obvious that top-notch NBC producers were also working behind the scenes, orchestrating the coverage. Over at Fox, Geraldo was giving instructions to his crew on-camera. Information was being passed to him via a computer monitor and printouts, which he would stop to read. Pure amateur hour, in my book. Geraldo can be a very good reporter, but in this anchor role, he was out of his elements. Brett Baier eventually showed up, but didn’t have much to contribute.
CNN kept a steady quality the whole time, and also focused on trying to learn more details, which they did. Like NBC. FoxNews simply lacked the reporting chops. Instead, Geraldo had to cite information gleaned from the other networks and from the Associated Press. But then, they aren’t really a news organization, and simply don’t have the stable of reporters that CNN and NBC have. They do a good job with election coverage, but last night was, as I said, embarrassing..
ABC and CBS didn’t even try, from what I saw. CBS’s news division has been decimated, and now barely exists (except for 60 Minutes). ABC isn’t much better. But NBC has all kinds of bench strength. In terms of anchors, they still had Lester Holt and the retired Tom Brokaw in reserve.
In a choice between hearing opinions and learning new information, I’ll always take the latter. Opinions are cheap. But it takes a financial commitment to run a news-reporting organization. CNN and NBC News showed that commitment last night.