The worst show on a cable news network is still The Journal Editorial Report.

The worst show on a cable news network is still The Journal Editorial Report.

The worst show on a cable news network is still The Journal Editorial Report.

Media criticism.
May 12 2008 6:04 PM

The Worst Show on a Cable News Network

It's still The Journal Editorial Report.

Paul Gigot. Click image to expand.
Paul Gigot

If you're sick of cable news reducing everything it discusses to a left-wing argument versus a right-wing one, tune your TV set to the weekly half-hour of conservative concurrence that is The Journal Editorial Report on the Fox News Channel.

Hosted by Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, the show draws its guest list almost exclusively from Gigot's staff and contributors to his page, making each installment an extended exercise in groupthink. Dim groupthink. Dim groupthink punctuated with laughter and knowing nods.

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When The Journal Editorial Report invites outsiders onto the show, it tends not to stray from its ideological comfort zone. In 2008, outside guests have included Newt Gingrich, John Sununu, Republican pollster Whit Ayres, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, and three Fox News Channel contributors: journalist Michael Barone, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and New York Post columnistand  "Fox News Analyst" Kirsten Powers, the lone Democrat.

I wish I could write that The Journal Editorial Report has gotten worse since I first reviewed it two years ago, but it hasn't. Instead, it has preserved its 2006 badness as if it's an archeological artifact. Gigot still serves mostly softballs to his staff and guests, and the show makes almost no news. As if to acknowledge the show's ongoing badness, Fox still buries The Journal Editorial Report in the 11 p.m. Saturday time slot, when most of the nation's televisions take their weekly nap.

The closest the show has come to breaking a pulse was the June 8, 2006, episode. Marvin Kalb—now a Fox News contributor—appeared to defend the New York Times' publication of its story about the SWIFT program, which the Journal editorial page had attacked. But even that segment dragged. The more you watch The Journal Editorial Report,the more you come to admire the skills of a broadcast news veteran like David Gregory, who can play the devil or devil's advocate with equal aplomb. If advancing the Wall Street Journal editorial page's ideology is the show's intention—and I think it is—its producers would be better off hiring a host like Gregory who could torture some fresh intelligence out of Gigot and his staff.

Instead, viewers endure the formlessness of Gigot's "interviewing" his writers about what they've written and published in the Journal. During the May 10 show, Gigot addressed his questions to editorial-page writer Joseph Rago, who wrote a May 5 bylined column about a wiggy professor at Dartmouth who reportedly threatened to sue her students on the grounds that "their 'anti-intellectualism' violated her civil rights," as Rago puts it in his piece.

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Gigot conducts his interview as if he's unfamiliar with the story that his own page ran. He asks, "Is she still threatening to sue the college and superiors at the college?" and "Is this very common at Dartmouth in the sense that a lot of professors, this kind of thinking?" as if he doesn't know the answers. A better writer than he is an actor, Gigot bleeds the segment of whatever spontaneity it may have promised.

But The Journal Editorial Report isn't a complete loss. By repurposing editorials and columns from the last week, it provides a substitute Wall Street Journal editorial page for people who can't read.

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What's your idea of the worst cable news program? The Situation Room, where Wolf Blitzer can't stop lying about his network having the best political team on television? Nancy Grace? The Beltway Boys? Geraldoat Large? Glenn Beck? Forbes on Fox? Verdict With Dan Abrams? Send your nominations to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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