CNN's crazy hologram.

What you're watching.
Nov. 5 2008 3:35 PM

Yes, We Can Be Serious

The networks play it cool. Except for that crazy hologram.

CNN announces his election on November 4, 2008 at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois. Click image to expand.
Obama supporters

One pleasant shock of election night was that the major networks and their cable-news kin decided to behave reasonably and catch a subdued tone. They were fairly cautious about presumptions and predictions at the outset. Fox's slightly extended (and thus slightly louche) early-evening pondering of exit polls ranked as the friskiest behavior. On the other end of the spectrum, a guarded CNN made a point of flaunting its guardedness, having its anchors almost defensively explain why they weren't ready to call Pennsylvania even as their buzzy body language suggested that they very much wanted to do so.

As the hours zipped on, the use of the assiduous subjunctive ("The effect of an Obama victory, if it happens …" "If he makes it, which we're not assuming he will …") became gradually more strained. The final gasps of puffing and pandering (with Fox News noting that the McCain campaign "objected" to Pennsylvania's being called blue) were received ever more clinically. As Obama's victory became apparent, viewers may have begun to steel themselves for hysteria, hyperbole, and quests for rhetorical grandeur that went over the top, there to be blown away by the strength of their own wind.

Advertisement

But the anchors arrived at a different idea and glided through the night making relaxed attempts at gravitas. (Had all of them searched for a mood in synch with the president-elect's self-possession?) Though gravitas is itself an elusive and somewhat dubious concept, perhaps we can agree that achieving it is a matter of trafficking in poised phrases, controlled sentimentality, comforting historical perspective, capable timing, and, mostly, knowing when to shut up. At the conclusion of Obama's speech, most anchors left their golden throats silent and let the crowd noise in Chicago tell the story.

Still, it wouldn't have been television news without some bravura hype and aggressive flashiness. On CBS, Katie Couric (as calm and confident as she's been at the anchor desk) hosted a sober presentation. Every other set looked like something you'd pick up at a Circuit City in Dubai. Within ABC's airy and glossy Times Square set, Charlie Gibson poked and pinched a touch-screen election map every bit as snazzy as CNN's. NBC and MSNBC leaned more heavily than ever on reports from virtual-reality rooms, their maps and graphs floating in front of some digital recreation of a set from The West Wing. But those gizmos—merely straightforward efforts to present data engagingly—were nothing compared with an embarrassing stunt that CNN first attempted in the 7 o'clock hour.

Wolf Blitzer was in his New York command center standing 10 paces away from a 3-D rendering of a reporter: "Jessica Yellin via hologram in Chicago." The effects were such that she was ringed in an off-purple aura from head to toe (a distance, it seemed, of about 4 feet). This was distracting, perfectly superfluous, and in no way an advance on the good old two-dimensional Yellin to whom we are accustomed. This was just the latest example of CNN's weakness for state-of-the-art technology that shows you little more than its state-of-the-artiness. On the other hand, the moment proved a worthy demonstration of Blitzer's professionalism. As a YouTube commenter quickly remarked, "He is being awfully nonchalant about [the hologram]. I'd be trying to stick my hand through it and all that!" Even in the face of howling inanity, it was a night to play it cool.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 30 2014 1:23 PM What Can Linguistics Tell Us About Writing Better? An Interview with Steven Pinker.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.