Super Tuesday on TV
Entry 1: Julianne Moore, Laura Ingraham, and a knife fight in a phone booth: The day that was on cable news.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
As the Super Tuesday news day dawned, the sky above America glowed ferocious in gorgeous blood-orange. Percolating to consciousness at 6 a.m., Morning Joe (MSNBC) opened with a shot of One World Trade Center rising in Lower Manhattan, and the sun rising above New Jersey behind. Joe Scarborough and the gang were in a very special mood. Scarborough was at once lively and dismayed in his crew-neck sweater. He has long since been regarding the Republican primary season from the perspective of what we might call the Peggy Noonan wing of the GOP—of reasonable Republicans, that is, of a group that more or less consists only of Scarborough, Noonan, Olympia Snowe, and one of the guys I play poker with. Here was the theme of the day, articulated in a quote by Barbara Pierce Bush: "The worst campaign I've ever seen in my life. ... I hate the fact that people think compromise is a dirty word." Here was Noonan, 17 days ago, about the negative ads that determine that tone and their effect on our children: "We are poisoning their minds." Here was me, denying my kid an opportunity to watch Sesame Street.
Scarborough was regarding this unfunny clown show with a mix of sadness and anger, seething at the lost opportunity and mourning the general disgrace. He laughed open-mouthed at Mitt Romney's undexterous attempts to finesse his past ideas about health care. He was at once gleeful and rueful in directly addressing what has begun to resemble a Republican effort to actively repel the Hispanic part of the electorate: "If you don't wanna deal with Hispanics, Republicans, move to New Zealand, because that’s the only place you're gonna win elections in the next 20 years."
Meanwhile, co-host Mika Brzezinski rushed the season a bit in her sleeveless dress. Willie Geist, having grown out of the role of ball boy or mascot, held it down admirably. Panelists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin sat as patiently as nice boys on Christmas Eve waiting for Julianne Moore to visit the set and promote her turn as Sarah Palin in the HBO version of their book, Game Change. Morning Joe is sponsored by Starbucks and these days there are actual bags of coffee on set, as if Mike Barnicle is going to show up and start steaming milk. Politics looked like showbiz with half of the sex and thrice the venality. Intro music included Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy," which still rocks.
Over on Fox News, Fox & Friends, which has quit pretending, was in denial; they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Oreo cookie, and stoked alarm about gas prices and "the nine states fighting to take back their freedom from President Obama" and fomented rage about the fact that "more Americans than ever are on food stamps.” Later, Laura Ingraham materialized to excuse the recent bullshit famously emitted by Rush Limbaugh and, by extension, to excuse the major candidates' failure to condemn it outright, behavior running a gamut from mere cowardice to raw cretinism. They went to commercial with Buddy Holly’s "That'll Be the Day," which still bops.
All the serious news programs—and also the morning shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC—discussed the issue of whether it qualified as a gaffe that Mitt Romney's wife, expressing gratitude for her good health in the most simple and meaningful way, said, "I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing." The shows discussed this in a tone like, It would be totally immoral to take that quote out of context, so how soon can we expect that to happen?
You may have heard that CBS's new morning show attempts to be serious. You don't need to fret about that. Despite an exclusive interview with Rick Santorum's wife and her false consciousness, they mostly stuck with the juicy stuff—Prince Harry's travels, Jonah Hill's movie, the 100th anniversary of the Oreo. In connection with that last bit, Mo Rocca asked an expert: "Do you have an opinion of Nutter Butter?"
Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio and a Santorum supporter, lurched onto Soledad O'Brien's show on CNN. He said that Santorum has given "very nuanced speeches, every one of them." I made a note to avoid all interactions with the Ohio legal system. A few hours later on Fox News, DeWine blared that Santorum appealed to "average voters," and I once again really enjoyed being above average.
At some point in 10 o'clock hour, a catchphrase emerged. This contest was so ugly that it was like "a knife fight in a phone booth." Everyone on every channel concurred with this, and cheered the fight on, and the phone rang off the hook. In the afternoon, I tried watching C-SPAN3's coverage of the AIPAC conference—where the disembodied heads of Gingrich and Santorum floated in dystopian fashion as they war-mongered irresponsibly against Iran. Then I felt the need to check the entrances to my local fallout shelters. Upon arriving back home with my bottled water and canned goods, I stumbled into Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN, where Blitzer was characterizing this awful spectacle as "a very, very brutal kind of primary." At 5 p.m. Hardball (MSNBC) came on—with eagles and trumpets in the channel's special-occasion theme—and Chris Matthews was jazzed: "I love that big night music," he blared, and somewhere in there asked Joe Scarborough, who'd put on a coat and tie now, what he thought of Julianne Moore.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.