'Best political team' punts: CNN's 'Ballot Bowl' bereft of reporting

Thanks to CNN, our presidential candidates have had unfettered — and unfiltered — access to the viewers not watching the Tournament of Roses Parade or an assortment of college football games this New Year’s Day.

From 9 a.m. EST until 6 this evening, CNN has proffered us the “Ballot Bowl.” Here’s the description from CNN’s Web site:

Ballot Bowl ’08 – An America Votes Special: On New Year’s Day – catch the game that really matters – the battle of the presidential candidates. It’s all the contenders talking about the most important issues – the economy, the war, immigration – in their own words. [emphasis added]

Well, it’s certainly the candidates’ own words — straight from their stump speeches, laden with personal hyperbole and amiable generalities, and delivered with nuanced performances of “I’m really a decent human being.”

“Ballot Bowl” is not-so-grand theater: Mitt Romney explaining his name; Rudy Giuliani artfully dodging a question from a Red Sox fan, John McCain stalking back and forth in a Tilton, N.H., living room, John Edwards pandering over breakfast with voters, Barack Obama thunderously orating, Mike Huckabee shredding on his bass guitar, Hillary Clinton displaying HillaryLiteâ„¢, and an endless troupe of candidates shlepping onto the CNN “Election Express” bus for softball interviews.

All the candidates promised change. None explained in compelling detail what that change might be or how he or she might accomplish such change. None explained how he or she, as president, would fashion his or her administration within the constraints of the size of the federal government, the $9-trillion debt of the federal government, the increasing willingness of state governors and legislatures to regulate where the federal government will not, the ineffectiveness of Congress caused by political divisiveness and the faltering global reputation left behind by the departing Bush administration.

No one asked the candidates about those details. Doesn’t CNN have reporters who are supposed to do that?

Instead, CNN substituted a political daytime soap opera allowing viewers to see the candidates “up close and personal.” And this was done presumably with the help of the candidates’ operatives, because this nine-hour “Ballot Bowl” had to be carefully scheduled.

So much for the performance of a cable network that promotes “the best political team on television.” We didn’t get journalism; instead, we got programming coupled with carefully and precisely scripted performances by the candidates.

UPDATE: Wolf Blitzer took to the air, er, cable, at 4 p.m. Maybe he’ll save the day …

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