Wolf Blitzer's favorite bit of boilerplate.

Media criticism.
Nov. 4 2008 9:37 PM

Wolf Blitzer Is "Watching Very Closely"

A crash course in Blitzer-ese.

Wolf Blitzer. Click image to expand.
Wolf Blitzer

Was Wolf Blitzer's first language English, or was it Esperanto?

On CNN's The Situation Room, which he anchors, Blitzer draws on such a limited vocabulary that I predict that when he dies and the coroner cores his skull, the world will learn that he possesses a brain the size of a walnut.

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Like a windup toy, Blitzer repeats the same stock phrases into the camera like an ad man. Other CNN talking heads working political stories with Blitzer aren't just his colleagues; they're "the best political team on television," an empty boast that ever echoes on CNN.

"I'm Wolf Blitzer," he intones like an automaton. "You're in The Situation Room." Actually, you're not in the CNN situation room. You're at home or at work or at the bar, of course, and it's Blitzer who is in the situation room. But apparently, that has not yet been explained to him.

The full extremity of Blitzer's very handicap is revealed, however, in those moments that he tosses the story to one of CNN's correspondents or attempts to impress viewers with CNN's devotion to a news topic. Blitzer announces that he or a CNN reporter "will be watching" or "has been watching" the topic "closely."

Before the second hour of tonight's election coverage had concluded, Blitzer had leaned on his "watching" construction so many times, I had to remove my shoes and socks to keep up with the count.

"We're going to watch it closely," Blitzer said at about 8:43 p.m. ET, it being the early electoral returns that were spelling terrible news for John McCain.

Here's a sampler of Blitzer boilerplate in action over the past couple of months, paired with the name of the thing being watched:

"Al-Qaida supporters seem to be watching this presidential campaign rather closely."
—Oct. 23, 2008

"We're watching this very, very closely." (Hurricane Ike)
—Sept. 12, 2008

"We're watching all of this very closely." (Hurricane Gustav)
—Sept. 1, 2008

"And Rick Sanchez is going to be watching that very, very closely." (Hurricane Gustav)
—Aug. 30, 2008

"Meanwhile, the Republicans are watching very closely." (The Obama nomination)
—Aug. 27, 2008

"We're watching it very closely." (Obama's vice-presidential pick)
—Aug. 20, 2008

"You're watching this about as closely as anyone, Zain [Verjee]." (North Korean shenanigans)
—June 26, 2008

"We're watching all of this very, very closely." (Obama's delegate count)
—June 3, 2008

"We're watching this number very closely." (Obama's delegate count)|
—June 3, 2008

"We're watching it about as closely as we possibly can." (How to count Michigan and Florida)
—May 31, 2008

Why can't Blitzer break out of his cliché patter? Doesn't he prepare before his shows? Won't CNN spring for a vocabulary builder? Or a speech coach? Is it not his fault because the network overworks him, and it needs to hire a co-anchor or a co-co-anchor to take pressure off him? Or doesn't anybody at CNN watch these broadcasts critically?

Addendum, Nov. 5, 10 a.m. Blitzer's Final Count

Thanks to Nexis, it can now be revealed that on Election Night, Blitzer went for the "watching" something "closely" construction at least 17 times, and on at least three occasions, he reached for its cousin, "looking closely." Here's Blitzer's final tally:

"There's a balance of power in the House and in the Senate that people are going to be looking at very closely, because you and I know, and our viewers know, the way Washington works, the executive branch is important, but the legislative branch is pretty important as well."

"Indiana and Virginia—those are battleground states. So we're going to be watching those very, very closely."

"What are you watching for most closely right now?"

"Fifteen states, and the District of Columbia at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, will be closing, and we'll be watching very closely to see what's going on."

"We're watching Georgia closely."

"We're watching this race closely, Virginia with about 3 percent of the precincts reporting, McCain with 56 percent, Obama, 44 percent."

"And West Virginia, we're going to watch all of that closely."

"We're watching Indiana very closely because that's turned out to be a battleground state."

"And we're going to watch very closely to see what happens in these states, because some of these states could be indicative of a trend that could be emerging in the course of this night."

"Now, we're going to watch it closely."

"[Shaheen] is ahead by almost 10,000 right now with almost 10 percent of the precincts in. This is a race that we're watching very closely as well."

"I want to take a look at some numbers coming in, ballots coming in, and some Senate races that we're watching very closely."

"So, it's shaping up. It's still very, very early. We're watching it closely."

"Campbell and John—Ohio—I don't think we can stress how important it is, and we're watching this state very closely."

"We're watching all these states. They're getting—they're very close in several of these states."

"We're watching all of these races very closely."

"I want to go to Campbell and John, because they're looking closely at this very important balance of power in Congress."

"We're watching those states very, very closely."

"Before I go over to John King, I want to show what's going on in these four Senate races that we're watching very closely."

"So that's why we're looking at this so closely."

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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