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XM radio channels '08 election run-up

COMMENTARY

The satellite station offers 24/7 coverage of the presidential race for insatiable politicos. Overdose is possible.

October 22, 2007|Marc Fisher | Washington Post

Be careful what you wish for. In this era of media superficiality, newsroom budget cuts and celebrity worship, there's also a growing call for depth and tough reporting on the crucial issues of our time, such as the election of a president.

Enter the next phase of niche media: XM Satellite Radio has launched a 24/7 channel devoted exclusively to presidential politics.

So I subject myself to 24 hours of Channel 130, "POTUS '08" (the name is the acronym for president of the United States). There, I learn that "the question of the day," "the one question I have to ask," "the big question," "the real question right now," "the question I can't let you go without asking" are the questions that XM's political voices ask their guests an average of three times an hour:

"Is it over?" "Should we go home?" "Does she have it?" "Has Hillary gone over the top?" "At this point, she can't be stopped, right?"

The responses on POTUS (where, as XM puts it, "everyone is an insider") are various versions of "Yes," delivered with basso-profundo confidence hedged slightly in hopes that a competitive Democratic race might yet return, or spoken with a knowing chuckle. Again and again, reporters, bloggers and consultants declare New York Sen. Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee, after which Channel 130's announcer reminds us that there are 403 days to go before the 2008 election.

Me, I'm ready to sell my vote to anyone who can stop the words.

I nearly fall to my knees in weeping gratitude when I hear the dean of American political reporters, the Washington Post's David Broder, slip in a rare note of caution: "Until actual votes are cast, anybody who talks about a front-runner is making a mistake."

But before Broder can get back to his phone, POTUS serves up another half a dozen pundits assuring us that it's all over.

There's a show jampacked with bloggers in their pajamas -- really, it's called "Pajamas Media" -- who have read each other's writing and are here to tell us that "Hillary is so far ahead it's almost time for her to make the pivot to looking ahead to the general election" (Glenn Reynolds), and "She does have it sewn up absent an absolute explosion" (John Podhoretz), and . . . .

Dear God, make it stop.

XM is cobbling together POTUS with a sprinkling of magic and a thimbleful of hope. There are no ads on the channel; it's just one more stream of content designed to lure people into paying a monthly fee for lots of radio choices. So POTUS won't be hiring reporters to go out and get the news. That's too old school.

Instead, POTUS has four radio pros, anchors who interview anyone who has ever written a book about presidential politics. (Believe me, I have heard them all in 24 hours.) Aren't there any Viagra ads they could play?

Wait, there's news. Heavens to Betsy, the end of the third-quarter fundraising period is nigh! Call in the experts. What does it mean? What will the campaign finance reports say? Tell us now, because we cannot wait for the actual reports to come out tomorrow.

Don't get me wrong: There's cool stuff on POTUS. The program directors of XM's music channels deliver snippets of political songs from different pop eras. The trivia bits are OK. A marketing executive from Miami plays Obama ads running in three states and explains how the candidate plays to different audiences.

Then I realize I am listening to the same interview with Duncan Hunter -- yes, a man named Duncan Hunter is running for president -- for the fourth time in nine hours. And I still don't know who he is.

(Answer: a longtime Republican congressman from Alpine, Calif.; pro-defense and anti-immigration hard-liner.)

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