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.

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  • Jerry

    If wanting transparency is having an agenda, I guess this site does have an agenda.

    Isn’t it illuminating to see what lurks beneath the dark waters of government, and who come out of hiding to protest the light?

  • re: The next step is re-tasking MMOG gaming technology to create interfaces that put thousands of these events at our fingertips

    Oh dear God. As someone who inhabits Second Life as an avatar, I have to tell you that you are talking from a deep lack of knowledge of how this stuff *really* plays out.

    You want to live in a medieval world? Where reputation ranking and ganking of newbs prevails as a culture? You want to Worldofwarcraft politics and make only the strongest in tribes, best at killing the most monsters, the people who show up and decide, click politics and the “tyranny of who shows up”?

    Gaming interface doesn’t come without gaming culture, and that is deeply suspect.

  • Oh, come off it. You’re a leftist blog with an opinion — and that’s ok — not some vanguard of transformative new “transcendent” technology “beyond politics”.

    I haven’t watched television in five years — hey, I was cool about five years before you were. But I’m very glad television news exists for what it is, along with everything else that supplements this diet which we can all see on the Internet.

    What’s most creepy about you guys is that you don’t know your place in the policy ecosphere. You’re just a lobby, just a 501-c-3 or whatever, made by big IT corporations. You have an agenda — and that’s ok, everybody does. It’s pretending you don’t have one and represent some fabulous new apolitical All-Seeing Eye that is very Orwellian. You don’t.

  • Dennis

    I had the summit streaming via Sunlight Live in the top corner of my screen while I worked. I thought it was very well done, and I would tune in again.

    The future of media is immersive, virtual, and interactive. This is a great start.

    The next step is re-tasking MMOG gaming technology to create interfaces that put thousands of these events at our fingertips.

  • I have posted a link on my PoliticalCircusBlog to your website. You are providing a great service to voters that crave information about politics. Great Website!

  • Wish I’d known about this earlier. Fortunately, I did not waste too much time watching the TV channels. Next time I’ll be on Sunlight Live. That’s a promise!

  • MB

    PS. Do pre-tax benefits (health insurance, 401k etc) reduce payments for Medicare’s payroll tax?

  • MB

    Hi, I found out about this after the summit, so I missed it. But. I was at work anyway and could not pay as close attention as I wished. I gave up on FDL’s live blogging and wound up listening to the rest via, which had a very good quality web broadcast. I thought the discussion was excellent. Obviously they omitted big issues. But overall the conversation was interesting and useful. Very important points were made. The tenor and tone was respectful. Space was created for our public debate to expand and to clarify confusion among the public. All positive but if I only relied on media’s post-game coverage, I would not have known how positive the experience was to increase understanding. It is urgent for the public to better understand the major themes and basic concepts about health reform. The summit actually made a contribution to this important effort in understanding. But the press does not seem interested in that. They just want to fan the flames of confusion and resentment.

    I’m reading the transcript online, which is better than nothing. But I wish you could team up with cspan so they can re-broadcast with your color commentary about the financial ties. It’s easier to watch this stuff on tv.

    BIG question. Clicking through links provided in the transcript, I found the website for federal employees healthcare. What is the story about “premium conversion”? Fed employees can choose to have their premium payments pre-taxed or not. Really? Is this choice available to all workers? My perception is that my payroll premiums are pretax, end of story. But for many years I have wondered if the pretax benefits of healthcare, 401k etc will reduce my Social Security benefits in retirement.

    No one has ever been able to answer that question. Until I found this FAQs link, which says, “Premium conversion may slightly reduce the Social Security benefit you will receive upon retirement. The extent of the impact depends upon several factors.”

    Their math says it’s a very slight reduction in benefits over time. BUT. Does this imply that pretax health insurance benefits undercut the Social Security system, which in general is under siege from ideologues and some genuine financing challenges? So, is this another example of our current health insurance system leaching out other components of financial security for Americans?

    I’ll take my answer off the air. :-)

  • Keep up the great work! We need more live streaming like this for all the American voters out there who are trying so desperately to be informed despite a media that is as partisan and beholden to special interests as so many of our current congressional reps. Thank you! Please keep doing this!

  • LudditesLive

    I am deaf so streaming which is usually uncaptioned wasn’t available to me. However, pre-President Obama talked about all the C-Span coverage we would be getting and I must admit I wasn’t prepared for C-Span 3 being the route he was referring to even last week.

    No one gets C-Span 3 which is supposed to cover all the hearings we no longer get on C-Span 1 and 2. Both Dish and Direct Tv refuse to broadcast 3 and my husband picked one of them by fluke.

    Streaming needs to be done all over the place from cams in the Congressional Parking lot on. We have to know and it apparently is up to us to go and get as close the the truth as is possible with this tangled web of corruption.

    As to the talking heads, being deaf has its advantages. I will work at my computer and leave the tv on behind it and every now and then look up, check out the face and am able to predict close to 100% of the time what that person is saying about the topic show below in letters I can read. It’s just a cheap way to spend air time and I don’t really think many people take them seriously. Hope not.

  • I was so pleased with the Live experiment. It sounds like you’ll keep running with it. A holy grail is access to “chunks” of relevant information (i.e. “contextual data”) for each politician. The OpenSecrets data about contributing industries is a great start.

    BTW, I saw Cato had a live stream with live blogging too. IMHO the Sunlight Foundation should have a role in (if not be) *the* source for neutral, contextually rich, live video.

  • Noel, there are always better options. You don’t have to listen to Chris Matthews all day. Although I know you like to.

  • I had no idea, and here I was streaming it from msnbc feeling like I had no other option.

    “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” -P.B.

    You got it.

  • Mary

    I listened to this via the AP which just let the converstion take place (thank you). I would be interested to see where the campaign dollars came from for those in the room.

  • Jake Brewer

    I think you hit the nail on the head with a lot of points here, Paul. While I too have a bias, think Sunlight’s coverage was far superior to that of the cable outlets.

    The most ridiculous and downright offensive part of the CNN piece in my mind was this from Douglas Brinkley:

    “Only the infirm or unemployed could have possibly sat home and watched it all.”

    There were nearly 10,000 people not just watching but *engaging* on our site alone. To call people who were able to tune in from their offices, from their college campus, from Capitol Hill, from home (where a lot of people work and do many other things), and even an AP history class we heard from “infirm or unemployed” is so out of touch I don’t even know where to start.

    Douglas Brinkley, wake up.