Throwback Thursday: Cable News, the Miniseries

bush robertsThis will be the first Supreme Court nomination of the cable news era. This is a Pink Floyd moment: as they sang, “Welcome, my son, welcome to the machine.” Back in 1994, when Stephen Breyer was confirmed, there was only CNN. There was no MSNBC, and no Fox. Back then, too, the broadcast networks felt much more of an obligation to cover the news.

Last night, what was striking was that the broadcast networks couldn’t wait to get back to regular programming, while, of course, the cablers couldn’t wait to dive into the story and wallow around—and of course, they’ll be doing that for months to come.

So while NBC’s Brian Williams was lucky, because he got continued face time on MSNBC before throwing it the weighty Tucker Carlson, it was a quick sayonara for CBS and ABC, back to “Big Brother 6” and a sitcom. But cable has its own dynamic. First off, it will make room for just about anybody—any member of the DC Bar, or anyone who can claim close—is likely to go trooping through the various cable green rooms, ready to make his or her case as to why he or she should be promoted from mere “talking head” to “legal analyst.” CG noticed, for example, that Jonathan Turley has gotten his teeth whitened. Way to go! Next, filling in for Tony Robbins!

And of course, the activists will fill up air time: the Usual Suspects acronyms—FRC, PFAW, NARAL, NOW, CC—are all going to be heard from. The first battle of the Internet age…extreme polarization.

Second, it will allow for new kinds of branding. For example, CNN went with sober and serious: Candy Crowley, always authoritative. Blitzer on CNN said liberals in the Senate might oppose, but “the moderates will hold sway.” And even Jeffrey Toobin, always kind of a smart aleck, conceded that Bush’s pick was “pretty smart politics.”

While MSNBC, led by Joe Scarborough, went for histrionics. Bush has “swung for the fences,” Jolting Joe said last night, as part of the White House’s alleged effort to “profoundly change America” on issues such as abortion. Which is actually the opposite of the truth. Roberts is a conservative, but he’s no “bombthrower” as they like to say inside beltway, no Robert Bork or even Edith Jones. Indeed, Roberts is so uncontroversial that he was approved on a voice vote by the Senate just two years ago.

Of course cable, the New Media, doesn’t have the field to itself. Not only is there talk radio but also the Drudge Report, which first started up in ’95, although it didn’t become famous till ’98, with the you-know-who story.

But mostly, this is going to be a cable news saga. A first. Welcome to the machine!

Reposted from The Cable Game, 20 July 2005.

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