Historic health care vote Sunday offered another look at partisanship in cable TV news
On right-leaning Fox News Channel, the cries of tea party protesters resisting the legislation were never far from the stage, as anchors and reporters referred continuously to those parked outside the Capitol building as the day wound on.
On liberal-friendly MSNBC, pundit panels were stocked with on air personalities known for supporting the legislation and/or Democratic politics, including Ed Schultz and Lawrence O'Donnell.
CNN went hip-deep in its own anchor bench, bringing in Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, John King, Gloria Borger and Sanjay Gupta, with punctuation from partisan commentators. And there was always C-SPAN as an option, if you preferred to watch the debate on the House floor unfiltered.
It added up to a bizarre display of reporting, in which you could flick between different political perspectives like an eye doctor clicking through different lens prescriptions.
Feeling worried that tea party protesters were stigmatized by some hurling racial and homophobia epithets at Democratic congressmen? You could check out Fox News' Megyn Kelly wondering if civil rights pioneer John Lewis wasn't exaggerating the emotion of being called the n-word.
Concerned about the Democrats' place in history? Tune in MSNBC's O'Donnell asking former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan about the more extensive health care bill Tricky Dick reportedly wanted to implemented, before the Watergate scandal drove him from office.
Or you could tune into CNN, where Blitzer focused on the vote count and Democrats' increasing confidence in passage. The circus started in the early afternoon Sunday and continued throughout the day -- past NCAA basketball championship games, the prime time debuts of several important cable shows and golf legend Tiger Woods' first two press interviews after his massive infidelity scandal hit in November.
No other news could intrude for long upon this daylong orgy of analysis and observation. After a year of watching Congress and the White House stagger into the issue, this day of coverage felt like watching a truckload of sausage made on a national stage.
Was that indicted former GOP House speaker Tom DeLay criticizing the morality of Democratic lawmakers on Fox News? Did MSNBC have a panel of pundits dissecting the vote in prime time without a prominent conservative voice?
Were some lawmakers actually booing at the mention of the president's name -- and calling one anti-abortion Democrat a baby killer (did this person know what the term anti-abortion actually means)?
Polls may indicate that cable news viewers prefer their reports skewed to political ideas they already hold. But it was disappointing to see such an important debate distorted by the political perspectives of the cable newschannels covering it - a trend bound to get worse before it gets better.