I’ve been on the fence about writing this entry but like a thorn in my side, it’s not going to leave me alone until I deal with it. Watching the Iowa Caucuses and the run-up to the New Hampshire primary and all the Super Week coverage MSNBC has been doing this past week, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least in daytime, MSNBC’s coverage, so far, has slipped a bit since 2004.
I can’t really pin it down to any one thing but a lot of little things. Taken seperately they don’t mean much but their sum total gives me reason for concern. Where to start? Well how about the wall to wall Joe and Mika tag team? Excepting today, they’ve been on the air for six hours at a time every day since Iowa. It’s too much. In the past, I’ve seen MSNBC pair the two after Morning Joe has been finished and it just doesn’t click for me. What works for them on Morning Joe, the wittisisms, sarcasm, eye rolls, and smirking, works against the duo when doing it in a hard news environment. Maybe if they had Willie Geist there to take the focus off it would make things easier to digest. But as it is, it’s overkill. How many times did they replay the Clinton interview today? Three times? Four? More? I lost count. That kind of blatant repitition suggests to me that either they’re a) milking it, or b) short of ideas on what else to fill the airtime.
After Joe and Mika are done, there’s not been a lot of consistency in the rest of the dayside programming, excluding Norah O’Donnel’s 3pm shift. It’s been up and down, depending on who is on the air. Today featured Dan Abrams for an hour for the first time. Nothing against Abrams, but why was he on anchoring political coverage? Why wasn’t there an experienced hand with a background in politics on? Today also had Lester Holt on for the first time since this campaign season really got underway (Holt has anchored Super Tuesday before). Holt’s a first rate journalist and anchor but why just today? Why not every day? They had Peter Alexander on yesterday. From LA. LA is about as removed as you can get from Iowa and New Hampshire. Other times the coverage has been solid, particularly with Andrea Mitchell. But there’s definitely a consistency issue at work here.
The glaring omission in MSNBC’s daytime coverage has been Chris Jansing. She pounded the beat for nine months in 2004. She was all over Iowa and New Hampshire. A lot of the things you’ve seen on Morning Joe this week and the following three hours were things she did four years ago (and did better I would add). It leaves me scratching my head why MSNBC has not put her to better use given her past experiences on the road covering primaries. Sitting in a studio at 30 Rock, when she gets to anchor at 30 Rock that is (which she didn’t today), is a waste of her abilities. She had been on the road many times for Super Tuesday but that stopped happening for the past several Super Tuesdays and now Super Week, and at the worst possible time when the action is at its highest.
I just sense a general lack of cohesion and focus in daytime. MSNBC’s Super Tuesdays had been really sharp since they first started doing them. Until recently. But the quality and focus has dropped in recent weeks and Super Week.
In 2004’s daytime coverage there were more road reports during the primaries throughout the day. In 2004, we saw the candidates interviewed live on location at campaign rallies and campaign headquarters (as opposed to the sit down Hotel interviews we’ve been seeing) a lot more often and hardly any taped interviews from the night before being aired the next day. One incident which is burned forever in my head was of Chris Jansing meeting John Kerry live coming off a bus in Iowa (could have been New Hampshire) and how after the interview was over she reached out to shake his hand and he blew right by her and I blurted out, “Oh my God, if this guy gets the nomination he’s going to lose!”. There was a lot more interaction with the political embeds, so much so that I started learning their names. I can’t name a single embed this time. As a viewer, I got a better flavor of life in Iowa and New Hampshire and what issues mattered to the people. And I definitely got the sense that MSNBC and NBC were putting their A game on the air in daytime in 2004. In 2008 it feels more jumbled.
None of these issues are not fixeable of course. And, honestly, to the average viewer tuning in to MSNBC, they may not have noticed a difference. But to a seasoned TV watcher and political junkie such as myself, I noticed a difference.