CNN and its Magic Board

There's a lot of wizardry at CNN these days. There's Wolf Blitzer and his enchanted beard. There's Andersen Cooper and the mystical way he made everyone forget that he was ever the host of a reality show. And then there's John King and his magic board of election elucidation.

The "multi-touch board" itself is a marvel of modern technology. It works much like the virtual screens that Tom Cruise used in Minority Report, where you wave your hands over a display, and things move around and change. As compared to Tim Russert's white board and marker setup back in 2004, it's like an ice farmer and a Frigidaire (one with satellite TV in the door, inventory management, and internet access to e-mail your shopping lists to Safeway).

And veteran reporter John King, who's been CNN's chief national correspondent since 2005, makes it look easy. The idea is that through the use of the board, King can better illustrate election data, and track trends and results more quickly and more clearly. Sometimes, though, when he's the backdrop to the endless commentary going on courtesy of CNN's Four Horsemen of the Analysis (on May 6, Carl Bernstein, David Gergen, Alex Castellanos, and Leslie Sanchez), it can seem like he's just filling time to provide a visual that isn't someone's talking head. During the last primary, it was redrawing the Indiana districts over and over again, as though a new one would suddenly develop and change the direction of the whole contest. "We're now getting word," Wolf Blitzer might say, "that parts of western Ohio have temporarily seceded and become new parts of Indiana…early reports say that this has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's numbers needing a boost."

Even just watching someone draw onscreen can even sort of be a kick—John Madden built a sportscasting career on it. But sometimes it seems like CNN wants to use it too much—like they think that since they paid all that scratch for it, they're going to get their money's worth out of it, dammit. Which is understandable, if not all that helpful in every case for the viewer. Half the time, I find myself playing a sudden game of Pictionary with John King. It's the fourth district of Indiana! No, the fifth! Wait, draw that again. No, I got it, Silence of the Lambs!

Yeah, technology can be fun, and it's always interesting to see new tools being used in new ways. How is the multi-touch board different from Tim Russert's 2004 white board? Aside from thousands of dollars, I mean? Not much. It's shiny, if over the top. It's groundbreaking, even if it doesn't need to be. And it's fun, but pretty distracting.

So I guess it fits in with today's news media pretty well. -- Teague Bohlen

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