Sunlight Live vs. TV Media


There are a lot of reasons that I never watch television news, particularly cable news. This “CNN analysis” of the Blair House health care summit is an example of why I choose not to get my information from any of the major TV news providers like CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.

We are told by a bunch of experts that yesterday’s live-broadcast health care summit was a “spectacle” or a “stunt” and then given a patchwork copy-and-paste job of polls and rehashed explanations for how the summit won’t help improve the perception that Washington is broken. The “analysis” goes so far as to be self-referentially critical in quoting historian Douglas Brinkley as saying, ” [all] everybody will see tonight on news broadcasts are the sparks of tension between [President] Obama and [Sen. John] McCain. It’s like the 2008 election never ended.” And yet this “analysis” does exactly what Brinkley worries about in his quote. To CNN, it is like the election never ended. It’s a partisan, campaign-style reporting piece with little actual information — kind of like the “analysis” you see on cable news for these events.

In a recent MSNBC advertising spot Chuck Todd is quoted as saying something to the effect of “I wish everyday were election day.” Which he probably does, but everyday isn’t election day. For coverage of something like the Blair House health care summit, news consumers aren’t looking for a bunch of talking points from Alex Castellanos matched by a bunch of talking points from Donna Brazille. They’re looking for information that helps expand and enhance their understanding of what summit participants are discussing.

Yesterday, when Sunlight was covering the summit live, we repeatedly heard from people who were annoyed at the CNN “analysts” for talking over the summit. People wanted to pay attention, receive factual supplements to the punditry, and stay informed about what they didn’t know–at the same time.

That’s where Sunlight Live filled in the gap. We provided people who wanted to watch the health care summit with crucial information throughout the seven-hour event with no partisan analysis and no opinions. This included influence data–campaign contributions, personal finances, connections to lobbyists–on the members as they were talking along with previous statements made by participants and related biographical information. Along with this, we provided links to CBO reports, CRS reports, the various plans and bills under debate and various of health care statistics as they were mentioned and answered questions from our audience about their contents. All of this was done in real-time–with a lot of research preparation. If you didn’t want to hear a bunch of people talking about politics on CNN you could turn to Sunlight Live to talk to a bunch of people discussing the information being discussed at the summit. In fact, one of the best aspects of our coverage is that viewer comments helped drive a lot of the coverage and live research that we were doing. As someone who can’t stand the one-way communication nature of television and the constant barrage of campaign-centric focused coverage of politics you find there, I’d say that the perspective Sunlight Live helped to create was refreshing. (I might be a little biased here.)

The actual summit itself should not simply be referred to as a “political spectacle.” While the event may not have provided the kind of transparency some seek in televised forums, the event did provide for opportunities to make the event transparent by adding context and data. That CNN or the other cable channels chose not to do this is to their own detriment.

I can also assure you that none of our researchers and reporters providing information work for outside consulting firms or health care companies like the talking heads you’ll find on television. We don’t have conflicts of interest, just an interest in talking with you about the conflicts lawmakers may have.

So, the next time that Sunlight Live is covering a major policy event I want you to get up out of your chair and walk over to your television. And then I want you to turn off your television and tell it, “You’re not interesting and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Then walk over to your computer and get online and help us cover the event by participating in the conversation.