Sunday news shows: Who won, who lost on a day of political football

Fox News Channel controversies

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The hard hits. The sneaky play-calling. The spectacle of it all. Who wouldn’t love the Super Bowlish news shows that preceded the real Super Bowl? Like the game itself, the news shows made for enticing TV – and rabid partisanship. Instead of Saints vs. Colts, it was liberals vs. conservatives in winner-take-all showdowns that spotlighted the best and the worst of punditry and provocation. Here were the winners and losers:

Most Unprepared Guest: Sarah Palin. When smarmy, conservative Fox News anchor Chris Wallace asked Palin to give examples of her argument that President Obama was “telling the American people to sit down and shut up.” she stuttered and fumbled, looking very much like the uninformed, unprepared Sarah Palin of the 2008 president campaign. She managed to extricate herself out of her mental jam, though she was clearly surprised to be called on her point by a fellow conservative. You can see it here, in the fourth minute:

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Worst Underachiever: Alan Greenspan on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Greenspan, the former Federal Reservev big-wig, was listless in his comments about the U.S. economy, telling moderator David Gregory in a kind of comatose drawl, “If stock prices continue to go down, I’d be concerned.” At that point, Greenspan was rebutted forcefully by former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who praised the Obama administration, saying, “I believe the financial markets are stable.”

Biggest Intra-party Smackdown: Paulson’s of John McCain. Gregory asked Paulson if he voted for Obama in 2008, and this is how Paulson responded: “I was very impressed (with) candidate Obama …. Candidate McCain gave me more anxious hours.” Two years after his unsuccessfull presidential campaign, McCain is still getting political slaps to the face.

Most Boneheaded Tie-in to the Game: CBS’s decision to have “Face the Nation” do a live show from the Super Bowl stadium in Miami – and have the show focus on football, not politics. Among Bob Schieffer’s guests: CBS sports announcer Jim Nantz, CBS sports analyst (and former NFL player) Shannon Sharpe, and CBS sports analyst Phil Simms (also a former NFL player), all of whom gabbed about (what else?): football. It was overkill to say the least – a pandering to the network’s coverage of the real game hours later, which was made worse by Schieffer’s dubious rationalization before the cameras: “On Super Bowl Sunday it’s hard to get a conversation going about anything but the Super Bowl.”

On the Other Hand: Nantz did say one thing worth repeating: CBS and other networks that broadcast football are partly to blame for the NFL’s emphasis on hits and tackles that try to dismember opposing players. The reason? CBS and other broadcasters highlight those dismembering plays. “We’ve had them sponsored in the highlights – the ‘Hit of the week’ and other various names that really promote players to go out there and viciously lay someone out,” Nantz said.

Most Candid Pundit: CNN “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz asked Democratic heavyweight James Carville – who was in Miami for the game: “Does your agenda today include the consumption of alcoholic beverages?” Carville, never one to hold back, said the only thing he could have said: “It most certainly does.”

Most Hyped Interview: CNN’s with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, done by Candy Crowley in a new Sunday show called “State of the Union With Candy Crowley.” Clinton talked on an on and said nothing of real substance. On the subject of reports that Al Qaeda may strike America in the next several months, for example, Clinton announced: “You have to be constantly vigilant … (But) I think it’s really important for people to just go along with their daily lives … You can’t be fearful … of what’s happening.” For Crowley, the most interesting thing Clinton said may have been this: “Well, Candy, first of all, congratulations on your new show. I really wish you well. You have a lot to contribute to Sunday morning television.” She does, but her interview with Clinton was a case of style over substance.

Finally, the “Pot Calling the Kettle Black Award”: To Fox News analyst Liz Trotta, for belittling CBS News anchor Katie Couric. Trotta, who once “joked” on live TV that Obama should be assassinated, suggested that Couric wasn’t a seasoned-enough journalist – that, when it comes to foreign affairs, Couric is a pale comparison to the late Peter Jennings. It’s true that Couric’s international bona fides are pathetic, but Trotta – a former foreign correspondent – is Couric’s underling (and Jennings’ for that matter) when it comes to offering cogent commentary on TV. In her pre-Super Bowl stint on Fox, Trotta denigrated feminists for wanting more women on the Sunday talk shows. Trotta is to political TV what the New Jersey Nets are to the world of sports: An entity that’s trying hard to score points and failing badly for everyone to see.

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