Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Something Was Missing On The Election Coverage

It’s nights like this that I miss Dan Rather.

I’m an election junkie. I love ’em, no matter who’s voting for what. Canadian Provincial elections, Federal elections, American elections, British elections; I watch them all. I think it goes back to growing up in Saskatchewan during the Diefenbaker-Pearson period. By the time I was 14 I had been alive for 19 Canadian Federal, Saskatchewan Provincial, American Presidential and mid-term elections, plus I don’t know how many British elections. The only thing that keeps me from following French elections has been the lack of English language commentators and any idea about how the damned things work. And let me tell you that as a connoisseur of such things, this set of elections was a good one. You had drama on the macro-level; can the Democrats win the House of Representatives, and maybe – just maybe – the Senate? The former gives Nancy Pelosi a place in the history books and turning her into a female Glenallen Walken in waiting (West Wing reference). In individual races there’s drama and there’s farce; the woman who lost both her legs to an RPG while flying a helicopter in Iraq who was running in a heavily Republican district in Illinois (she lost), and the married Republican incumbent who was charged with punching his mistress (he lost). Some of this stuff would be great for an episode of a TV series; the question being would the series be The West Wing or Saturday Night Live (back when it was good).

But of course I’m not here to review the election, I’m sort of here to review the TV coverage, which is kind of an absurdity, since there really wasn’t that much TV coverage, at least not that I could review. I get the four networks plus CNN, Headline News, and CNBC. I didn’t look in on Headline News – haven’t watched it since it stopped actually being a network that delivered “headline news” and started putting on people like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace. As for CNBC, once the election coverage started the Canadian feed turned into CNBC World. I’m not willing to pay the extra bucks for MSNBC or Fox News (yeuch). So I have to spend some time with the broadcast networks, particularly since their regularly scheduled programs hold (slightly) more interest for me than the election.

And that’s how I come to miss Dan Rather. He had entertainment value. 729 days out of every two years he was the very model of the modern journalist – perfectly scripted, perfectly coifed, impeccably dressed. But on that first Tuesday in November on an even numbered years something happened. It was like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. The perfect coif would become slightly less perfect. The Texas accent became more and more pronounced. The impeccably styled jacket might become ever so slightly disheveled or on some occasions might even be removed! But the real joy came when the “perfect anchor” started saying words that could not possibly have been written for him, or at least not by anyone except him. Lines like: "This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach." Or another favourite: "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a hand gun." I mean that sort of stuff goes beyond politics, it is pure entertainment, and I always got the feeling that Rather lived for Election Day. Sadly, when Dan left CBS he left completely. Worse, he took the amazing Texas aphorism machine along with him. Watching Katie Couric was, well to be honest I’d rather watch Katie, but I’d rather listen to Rather. I mean there was Katie: perfectly coifed, impeccably dressed…and perfectly scripted. But of course it wasn’t just Katie. It was Brian Williams at NBC, and it was Charlie Gibson at ABC. There was no sense that this was anything more than just another story to be reported in a totally professional – and kind of boring – manner. About the only bright light in that way came from CBS veteran Bob Scheiffer but his appearances were fewer than one might have hoped.

So yeah, come Election Day I do miss Dan Rather. He made an appearance on The Daily Show/Colbert Report’s Election Special. While I didn’t see it I understand he was on and off in between 10 and 15 minutes; barely enough time for him to get rolling, and certainly not enough time for him to comment on something like the Virginia Senate race between George Allen and James Webb. For that one, I’d like to think he’d have come up with something as good as "That race is tighter than the rusted lug nuts on a '57 Ford." And you can bet the trailer money on that.

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