Part 2—Talent spreads heat over light: If you were watching CNN, you had to feel sorry for "talent."
It was Friday noon. Talent looked forward to a long afternoon filled with the Friday doldrums.
After emerging from makeup, wardrobe and hair, talent faced a familiar punishment. They were condemned to spend the afternoon pretending that they were reporting, discussing and analyzing something you might call "news."
The pickings were slim at 1 PM when Wolf Blitzer went on the air. According to CNN's official records, these were the topics which had been churned during the 11 AM hour:
Topics subjected to pseudo-discussion during 11 AM hour"Rumor Clinton will pick Biden as secretary of state?" When that's the best rumor the suits can list, talent starts grumbling in earnest.
Trump Hits 3 States on Trail Today
Rumor Clinton Will Pick Biden As Secretary of State
GOP Senator Mocks Democrat's Heritage in Debate
Trump: Just Cancel Election and Give Election to Me
Trump Considers Suing NBC over Leaks Tape
Trump Not Impressed by 2.9 Percent Economic Growth
What Trump Would Face if Challenging Election Results
How Comfortable are Down-Ballot Democrats with Candidate Clinton?
Granted, Ole Massa Zucker would be dropping a check for a swollen sum on talent's desk by the end of the day. In the meantime, talent would have to spend a long afternoon propping up turkeys like that.
And then, just like that, it happened! Midway through the 2 PM hour, talent was on the phone, quivering with excitement.
Yesterday, we posted the statement. Judged as an act of journalism, it's no less pathetic today:
BALDWIN (10/28/16): Carl Bernstein—Carl Bernstein is on the phone with me."We don't know what this means yet," the caller accidentally said.
Carl, we have been talking for months and months and months about the election. You wrote the definitive book on the Clintons, on Hillary Clinton. You've been saying that this is drip, drip, drip that could ultimately haunt her.
BERNSTEIN: Well, there's no question that the emails have always been the greatest threat to her candidacy for president, that her conduct in regard to the emails is really indefensible. And if there was going to be more information that came out, it was the one thing, as I said on the air last night, actually, that could really perhaps affect this election.
We don't know what this means yet except that it's a real bombshell. And it is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take would action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified e-mails and call it to the attention of Congress, unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are.
Let's think about Goofus and Gallant! A journalist would have seen that statement as a warning sign, as a suggestion that news divisions might want to apply the brakes to this slightly peculiar, highly unclear event.
Instead, Goofus hurried ahead to the most glorious statement of all. It's the statement which dispels talent's ennui and gloom:
"It's a real bombshell," he said. He quickly said that, apparently by definition, Director Comey surely had a very good reason for detonating this bomb.
By now, of course, a lot of people have disagreed with that view. One person has even compared Director Comey to J. Edgar Hoover.
In its latest comical front-page performance, the New York Times has taken that one statement from one observer and made it a front-page headline. (They've placed the phrase, "Fairly or Not," right in their front-page headline.)
Let's put that foolishness to the side. By now, many people, from both major parties, have said that Director Comey actually didn't have a good reason for "putting this letter forth to the Congress of the United States."
They may be right; some folk say they're wrong. But the issue is nowhere near as simple or as obvious as the caller excitedly said.
We decided to spend another day thinking about the caller's statement. We want to stress the values which came into instant conflict here, the values called heat versus light.
Gallant would have wanted to avoid favoring heat over light. He would have known that Director Comey was departing from normal procedures in putting this letter forth to the Congress of the United States. He would have known that Comey had been criticized for the same offense back in July, when he rampaged through the fields aggressively stating his personal opinion about the conduct of one of the White House candidates.
That had been a departure too. Gallant would have recalled that.
Gallant would have warned his viewers about the fuzziness of Director Comey's extremely fuzzy new statement. Goofus would have wanted to dispel the Friday doldrums by using his guild's favorite term.
Especially in its cable division, our current mainstream press is perhaps best known as Bombshells Inc. Since everything is now "Breaking News," a bombshell is now required to get their own tired blood flowing and to catch viewers' eyes and ears.
At CNN, talent began selling the bombshell. By 5 PM, Blitzer had coined an especially winning term. This was his 5 PM open:
BLITZER (10/28/16): Happening now, breaking news:It wasn't a bombshell any more. By now, it was a "stunning" October bombshell!
October bombshell. The FBI tells Congress it's renewing its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.
CNN has learned the decision was made after new emails were uncovered in the sexting investigation into former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is married to but now separated from a top Clinton aide. How will this stunning new development impact the White House race?
According to the Nexis archives, the new term, "October bombshell," had virtually never been used in the past. At CNN, the new term quickly gained purchase.
Just before 7 PM, Erin Burnett emerged from makeup, wardrobe and hair. Experts lowered her person into her chair. She opened her hour like this:
BURNETT (10/28/16): Outfront tonight, breaking news:Burnett used the new term of art, "October bombshell," twice in her first minute.
October bombshell. The FBI reviewing new emails tonight related to Hillary Clinton's private email server.
Right now, you see a stage in Des Moines, Iowa. Hillary Clinton going to be making a statement any moment, the first time today, breaking her silence on this FBI announcement. So we are going to be seeing that any moment.
Second time she's spoken since the news broke, but she has been giving so far her standard stump speech. She has not said a single word about this e-mail investigation that has shocked and stunned so many, a true October bombshell.
It was no longer merely a stunning October bombshell. Over the course of two hours, it had become an October bombshell "that has shocked and stunned so many."
According to Burnett, Candidate Clinton would be "breaking her silence" at any moment. Struggling perhaps with the complexity of the numbers involved in this matter, Burnett said it would be the second time Clinton had spoken, but that she "has been giving so far her standard stump speech," presumably on just one occasion.
Irately, Burnett stressed each part of the phrase, "not. a. single. word." Talent had declared a bombshell during the 2 PM hour. But Clinton still hadn't replied!
The excitement grew as Burnett conducted her hour. Talent was producing plenty of heat as they fled the dullness of their lives, so full of so much feigned discussion.
Burnett kept citing the bombshell as the hour unfolded. Jim Acosta called it a bombshell too. So did Jeff Zeleny.
By now, Burnett was wondering if Hillary and Huma had discussed the bombshell yet. "It would be virtually unimaginable to imagine them spending the whole day and not talk about this bombshell to their campaign," Zeleny skillfully said.
The excitement continued to grow as CNN's talent continued their evening. Gone was the need to pretend to discuss that rumor about Joe Biden.
General Electric used to say this: "Progress is our product—our only product." At CNN, progress has been replaced by excitement—most often, by the appearance of same.
A bombshell had gone off that day; it was an October bombshell. All across this gong-show channel, this bombshell which had shocked and stunned so many spread vastly more heat than light.
Tomorrow: Straight-shooters Inc.