"The Situation Room": What Was It Called Again?
Henry the Intern reviews CNN's latest attempt to make his demographic watch cable news. It's not working:
"Real time. . . We have the capability to bring you live data feeds from news sources around the world" On the the water main break: "There is certainly a leak in this pipe -- you don't see that everyday!" But on "The Situation Room," we've seen it three times already.We miss Peter Jennings more than ever. Full review after the jump.
The Situation Room [CNN]
"The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer
3:00 Stark red and black graphics fill the screen as Wolf Blitzer, under the heavy drumbeat of theme music, welcomes viewers: "I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in 'The Situation Room'. . . Bio terror or nuclear blasts -- what happens?. . . You're in 'The Situation Room'." Settle in for three hours of this. Three hours filled with a small dose of news, a pinch of analysis, and Wolf Blitzer tap dancing around giant video screens worthy of the NASDAQ MarketSite.
3:01 As always with Wolf, there is a "fast moving story." In this case, "the threats are very real, indeed." U.S. embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia are closed. Isn't it great to lead an afternoon newscast with a story that ran on page A8 of this morning's New York Times?
3:02 To Kyra Phillips, live inside the NORAD command headquarters. "It's homeland defense, it's homeland security, it's keeping eyes and ears open," she says. She walks around a room of people watching monitors and says they are watching everything. And we are watching them watching their monitors. Kyra: "They are monitoring the emerging threats. Right now, we could have a threat against the United States, but we'd never hear about it if they did their job correctly." She points out people by their first name, such as "Frank," who is monitoring maritime issues. "He's going to do everything he can to prevent" terror attacks on U.S. soil. Thank you, Frank. Wolf asks, "Who's really in charge?"
3:06 To Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with the news that "the military operates in support of homeland security." Like Batman and Robin.
3:08 Wolf pivots to the giant screen behind him and introduces a slew of video clips, none of which are valuable: "Tropical storm Irene is now a tropical depression. We're keeping track of the storm nevertheless." With so many video screens, now we can see a correspondent checking her e-mail projected behind Wolf. Soon we'll see CCTV images of CNN Center.
3:08 Miles O'Brien from the Kennedy Space Center. Of the delayed arrival of the shuttle, he says, "Close is not good enough in this racket."
3:10 Wolf uncomfortably address Jack Cafferty, who is manning the inbox in New York: "Welcome to 'The Situation Room', Jack." Jack blends in with his red and black tie. With Jennings gone, Jack says, "the three lions have left the building." Then he makes swipes at the "f-word network" and MSNBC as well as Tucker Carlson. Perhaps you haven't heard the joke that no one watches MSNBC. He asks viewers to respond to prompt #1: "Is television news changing for the better or worse?"
3:12 Wolf: "War plans on the streets on America!" Coming up: Extreme weather in Baghdad! Plus, the story of the "protest mom" in Crawford, Texas who is "literally burning up the Internet." With a show this long, that goes this slow, viewers can watch Wolf's beard grow.
3:15 Wolf: "Lots of developing stories but one in particular. . . oil closes at record $63.94 a barrel."
3:17 Wolf juggles the "many developing stories", which is his favorite phrase after "you're in 'The Situation Room'." The audio feed to a reporter in Gaza fails. "Get used to it," Wolf says. "If it isn't pretty, as pretty as it always should be." On to Baghdad and the "massive standstorm."
3:23 Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is "joining us now in 'The Situation Room'." Creative camera angles give us a great shot of Chertoff's bald spot.
Wolf: "Thanks for being our first guest in 'The Situation Room'."
Chertoff: "I am honored and delighted."
Wolf asks about the "plans."
Chertoff: "We have a set of plans to do with all of the catastrophic events that may take place. . . We try to build a set of plans."
Wolf: "I am a little bit confused about the chain of command."
Chertoff: "Of course, it's President Bush," and then everyone else.
Wolf also begins a three-hour love affair with poll numbers: "I was stunned by this CNN/USAT/Gallup poll" -- 78% favor airport-like security measures on mass transit systems. Chertoff doesn't respond to such polls.
3:28 Jeanne Meserve --who is projected onto a huge screen from her post upstairs -- has a question about the color coded alert system: "What are you going to do?" Chertoff: "We're having conversations" and digesting "food for thought." Apparently time has also redefined the meaning of yellow alert. Another choice remark from Chertoff: "Behavior is the best test of someone's intentions."
3:30 Wolf: "Thank you for joining us in 'The Situation Room', good luck to you."
Chertoff: "Thank you, you too."
Wolf: "To all of us." Huh?
3:34 Wolf is giddy over the video feeds: "Look at these pictures!" A bank robbery caught on tape (!) and "a water main break spraying water in all directions"
We revisit Kyra, who cautions, "it's getting technical here," then repeats, "If we don't hear about a terrorist attack, that means that everybody here did their job."
3:36 Kyra asks an official to explain "the difference between homeland defense, and homeland security." Kyra: "Like, the worst case scenario, you have the ability to call in the troops to trump that!"
Kyra: "Paul is monitoring this. Tell us what you're looking at, what you're monitoring. . . they are monitoring everything happening on land!"
3:38 Wolf: "It's August 8 and coming up here in 'The Situation Room', poll position."
3:39 Coming up: how to protect yourself from a shark attack. "You're in 'The Situation Room'!"
3:42 "Another developing story!"
3:44 Wolf turns it over to the blog reporters: "Only CNN has teams dedicated solely to cyberspace." In "The Situation Room," the blog readers stand up and the lighting is better. They appear awake.
3:47 "You're in 'The Situation Room'." Coming up, the age old questions: Is Hillary unbeatable? Did Marilyn Monroe commit suicide or was she killed?
3:50 Jack Cafferty returns: "Pretty fancy screens, Wolf. I want one of these for my house. . . To the question of the week, er, hour."
Wolf: "You really read all those emails? . . . We are seen live in Japan on CNN Japan. . . that [e-mailer] in Japan must be lonely."
3:53 "You're in 'The Situation Room'."
3:59 The business reporter in New York actually displays a barrel with a Post-It note as the price tag. He is drowned out by the escalating musical score as the closing bell on Wall Street rings.
4:00 "You're in 'The Situation Room'." Wolf, again, touts "real-time information" that is "streaming into the room." Wolf is swimming upstream in RSS feeds and video channels. "I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in 'The Situation Room'."
4:07 William Schneider, standing up in front of a big screen with poll numbers. He tells us what would make a Hillary presidency different: she's a woman and she's married to former president. Wolf doesn't know what camera to look at: "We'll have more numbers coming up."
(It may appear as though I am slacking off because the time intervals are growing, but really the longer the show goes on, the harder it is to take it seriously.)
4:10 Report from the White House. A shot of an empty street. No one's here, nothing is happening, but it's part of "the situation."
4:12 "What is the question this hour, Jack?"
4:14 Update on the "extreme sandstorm" in Iraq.
4:18 More polls, more political headlines: "Only CNN has teams dedicated solely to cyberspace." And don't you forget it. Watch out, blog readers, Wolf is walking over to your area.
4:26 Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan have to stand up for their bar-level analysis.
4:32 "You're in 'The Situation Room'."
4:35 "Real time. . . We have the capability to bring you live data feeds from news sources around the world" On the the water main break: "There is certainly a leak in this pipe -- you don't see that everyday!" But on "The Situation Room," we've seen it three times already.
4:38 Wolf tells Candy Crowley that we'll see her everyday at 4 when they cover politics, but wait, he says, they cover politics at 3 and 5 and 4. Coming up: Peter Jennings, an "outstanding journalist and follower of all this political. We'll take a look back at his love of politics."
4:45 Coming up: More on Hillary, more from Jack, and "you're in 'The Situation Room'."
4:51 "Jack is getting tons of email" Cafferty: "Note to Jeanine Pirro, if you want to kill yourself, just go out and walk in front of a crosstown bus." Wolf attempts humorous crosstalk with Jack.
4:56 "You're in the situation, we're plugged into everything online." The blog readers check in on TVNewser and FishbowlDC [quite a coincidence! -- ed.].
Wolf: "Is there anyway of knowing how many people are reading these blogs?"
Reporter: "Well, hits are recorded."
Wolf: "These hits are pretty reliable, but we have no idea what a hit really means." The blog duo promises to show us some hit charts.
5:07 Update from the Kennedy Space Center. Wolf asks "what's changed" since the days when shuttle landings were a walk in the park. He is reminded a shuttle crashed upon reentry.
5:09: Wolf to Jack: "Well, I'm nervous, I don't know what to expect [from you]."
5:11 "You're in 'The Situation Room'."
5:13 Bernard Shaw returns, and the veteran anchor has to stand up. He talked about copy-editing Peter's copy while they were only wearing towels. Bernard: "Peter Jennings could sneeze and give you context."
5:20 "Another developing story - rioting breaking out in a prison. . . you're in 'The Situation Room'."
5:23 "JUST IN to CNN" new information about last week's Air France crash: the NTSB has ruled out out engine malfunction. Wolf says "it landed way further into the runway than expected."
5:25 Small plane crash in California: "I'm not sure where this occurred, but it's someplace in California. We'll get some details, get some more information."
5:25 Back to Kyra Phillips. She asks an official, "Are you ready for the terrorism threat?" He responds, "Kyra, yes we are."
5:35 "Another developing story" and we're back to Saudi Arabia
5:36 "Your email messages are flooding in. . . you're in 'The Situation Room'."
5:39 "You're in 'The Situation Room'. . . where video [is] coming in in real time."
5:39 "Irene. Check it out. It's a tropical depression, no longer a tropical storm, but we're tracking it."
5:43 We're going to have a live webchat! "You're in 'The Situation Room'."
5:46 "We'll be watching almost everything on the internet, at least as much as we can. Only CNN has teams dedicated solely to cyberspace."
Wolf: "What is a webchat?"
Blog reader: "We can talk to people in their homes all over the world."
Wolf: "I really love this technology."
5:51 Wolf fills the remaining minutes by talking to Jack about webcams. Does he have one at home? Does he want one? Wolf: "[We're] going to learn a lot about it."
5:56 The lower-third tempts us: "CHANGING NEWS CHANNELS." After a commentary on the news industry, Wolf thanks Bruce Morton for "giving us some thoughts to think about."
Conclusion: "You're in 'The Situation Room' every weekday."
All together now, "you're in 'The Situation Room'."