Entertainment

Glued to the Playoffs on CNN

The roughest sport is on. Hockey can wait.

By Steve Burgess 25 Apr 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and culture for The Tyee every other Friday.

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King of the magic screen.

Big night for sports buffs last Tuesday. TV viewers had their choice of channels and coverage. While CBC offered Calgary playing a game seven in San Jose, the real centre of attention was Pennsylvania. Over on TSN, the Flyers were playing a game seven against the Capitals in Washington. And back in Philly and environs, CNN called the plays as Hillary Clinton took on Barack Obama in primary game-47-but-who's-counting.

One of the games went into overtime. One of them is still there.

Washington eventually lost the hockey game to Philadelphia in an extra period. Meanwhile in Washington's more popular, more violent, and vastly more expensive sport, the Pennsylvanians scored some big points as well. Keystone State voters ensured that the Democrat's marathon battle would continue by handing Hillary Clinton a decisive victory.

As usual, CNN covered it all with a degree of detail Canadian television simply cannot offer. Primary nights on CNN are political geek-fests (unless of course you think of politics as being about policy rather than tactics -- perish the thought). Trends are examined within an inch of their lives; hairs are first split and then quartered. There's a lot of dross but CNN deserves genuine credit for not talking to down to its politically active audience. In between the spin and the endless hyper-analysis of exit polls there was genuine insight on offer concerning the ever-changing direction of this epic battle.

Watching the 'train wreck scenario'

Pennsylvania was a killing ground for the Democrats. Hillary the fabulist described her adventures under Bosnian sniper fire; Obama tried to separate himself from his incendiary preacher and then wandered off to San Francisco where he unwisely spoke hard truths about small-town bitterness. Hillary knocked back whiskey shots with steelworkers, Obama went bowling. Looking back over the six-week primary campaign and all that pandering, Republican magus Bill Bennett cracked on Tuesday, "She did shots better than he bowled." When it was all over Clinton had won the Pennsylvania primary by a crushing 10 points. For Democrats and their northern cheering section, not a good night.

CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin called the results "the train wreck scenario." Obama emerged from the night badly wounded; as for Clinton, she appears to be like the fabled scorpion that stings the frog even though it means certain death for both creatures. No one really thinks she can win the nomination, but after Pennsylvania there are new doubts about Obama's ability to win the presidency.

Wow those special FX!

It was all summed up in mind-numbing detail by John King, CNN's Minority Reporter (King may be white as fleece, but that interactive map he manipulates is almost straight out of the Spielberg flick). King waves at the map and lines appear; he slices, dices, zooms in and out, all the while delineating the voting trends and possible scenarios.

King has a tendency to ramble a bit -- unavoidable when you're spitting out that much demographic information in a condensed period. But he also offers telling analysis. At one point he compared Pennsylvania's Tuesday voting patterns to the 1988 presidential election in which Michael Dukakis lost the usually reliably Democratic state to George Bush Sr. The comparison, King noted, is the same one Clinton's people will now be making to uncommitted super delegates -- namely that Obama proved on Tuesday that he cannot win small town and blue collar voters, thus putting the Democratic base at risk. Until Pennsylvania that argument reeked of desperation. Now it carries some weight.

Pull the goalie!

CNN's analysts are a mixed bag. The network wisely marginalizes xenophobic blowhard Lou Dobbs on such nights, giving him an early panel to moderate before shuffling him off to go prowl the Mexican border with his night-vision goggles. Wolf Blitzer, Soledad O'Brian, and Anderson Cooper take turns running panels of pundits. Some are partisan spinners from the Obama, Clinton, and Republican camps. (Tuesday night, CNN pundit and Clinton supporter Paul Begala claimed that all of his political contribution cheques come with the note: "For negative campaigning only.") Others are largely unbiased observers like Toobin and David Gergen.

So it was telling to see Gergen's analysis shift dramatically through the evening. Early on he was dismissive of Clinton's victory as too narrow to be significant: "The wheels are not coming off [Obama's] wagon." When it became clear that Clinton had beaten Obama by 10 percentage points, his message was very different. It was, he agreed, a bad night for Obama.

Flames netminder Mika Kiprusoff could probably sympathize with Obama's situation. When Hillary supporters interrupted their candidate's victory speech to chant Obama's "Yes we can" slogan, it was reminiscent of the derisive chants aimed at opposing goalies after a bad goal. But unlike Obama, Calgary was eliminated by the Sharks on Tuesday. That series is over. The Democrats were not so lucky. Their series looks set to continue until everybody loses.

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