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CNN's Hype Machine Goes Overboard

(Column updated at 11:16am, the morning after.)

So have you heard there's going to be a Democratic debate tonight? And one with normal people like you and me posing questions via streaming video? You haven't? Just turn on CNN. Chances are you'll find out before the next commercial break.

A few weeks ago, CNN was accused of "milking a story" when they parlayed an on-air argument between Wolf Blitzer and Michael Moore into a into a prime-time "Larry King Live" debate with CNN's resident medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Was this low-cal Lincoln-Douglas the most scintillating hour of TV in recent memory? No, it wasn't, but would I rather see people discuss the merits of American health care and Michael Moore's approach to filmmaking than reading more from Paris Hilton's diary? To quote Kevin Pollak from "A Few Good Men," 'Every day of the week and twice on Sundays.'

The critic in question, Jon Friedman of MarketWatch, made the case that Wolf Blitzer was fishing for sensational soundbytes and trying to grab a few extra eyeballs, at the expense of a probing interview:

Lately, CNN has stretched the definition of news to a nearly incomprehensible level. What has genuine news value and what is a thinly veiled ratings grab? CNN may have plenty of company here, but I expect a lot from this network.
I wasn't quite with Friedman back then, figuring that a conversation about health care was about as good as you're gonna get in the dog days of summer. But today's advance coverage of CNN's YouTube debate hasn't just jumped the shark – it passed that marker an hour ago – it's gone all-out "Buckwheat is Shot"

A bit of background, there was a skit on "Saturday Night Live" back in the 1980s satirizing the media's overkill following the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. In the skit, they had Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat get shot, with the point of the skit being that the media was so enthralled by the footage, that they'd look for any attempt to replay it – going so far as to ask the doctor operating on Buckwheat "Excuse me, Doctor. Have you seen the video of Buckwheat getting shot?"

Thus far today on CNN and its affiliate Headline News (as I write this at 10:34am, EDT) there have been 44 reports about the YouTube/CNN debate, according to (>DING

I know tonight's debate is novel and first-of-its-kind and has the potential to advance the political discussion a tad, but CNN owes its viewers more than an 8 hour pre-game show during their broadcast day. While they may have been guilty of a "thinly veiled ratings grab" a little over a week ago, today's cable news hucksterism insults the most casual viewer.

(Update: As of 11:56am, the total is now 50.)

(Update: It's now 1:35, Kyra Philips is interviewing a San Fran MD student about the question he uploaded. We're up to 60 segments/promos.)

(Update: As of 3:12, we're now up to 77 segments -- that's 17 references in 97 minutes. And the pace is picking up.)

(Update: 4:18. At this point, CNN is only inadvertently covering news aside from the YouTube debate. CNN and Headline News have now discussed tonight's "groundbreaking" and "first of its kind" debate 92 times today.)

(Final Tally: Up until "Lou Dobbs Tonight" put an end to the hype at 6pm EDT, there were 117 discussions of the YouTube debate.)

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