John King didn't wear a tie on the first day of his new CNN daytime news program, "John King, USA" — the better, apparently, to approximate the network's Anderson Cooper-style brand of "Tommy" journalism, as in "See me. Feel me."
King is square jawed and handsome, looking every bit like an anchorman. But like the Wolf Blitzer-hosted "The Situation Room" that precedes it, his show is a painfully shallow attempt at middle-of-the-road, straightforward journalism, failing to find the wide sweet spot between the opinion poles on Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
Like his election night reporting, King's show remains overly enamored with "magic wall" gimmickry, as if touch-screen technology is going to impress viewers or convince a younger audience that cable news is hip. Ditto for the cute titles given to various segments ("The Clash," "Play-by-Play") — which are really just ways to dress up partisan hacks swapping talking points — or the comedy bit that closed the hour. "We're gonna have a lot of fun on this program," King said. If we want fun, dude, we'll watch "The Daily Show" — which you seem determined to serve up fodder.
King would be more tolerable if his down-to-Earth political reporting was smarter, but it's simply not. The big "get" Monday was an exclusive interview with Ted Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, which had its moments in the context of the healthcare reform vote. But the highlights pretty much ended there.
At one point, he called the latest CNN poll on President Obama's diminished approval ratings "stunning," which is statistically dubious comparing the numbers to other recent polls. (See Charles Blow's recent New York Times column for a more detailed explanation of the polling data and the media's exaggerated analysis.)
Later, King delicately dipped his toe into the Tiger Woods cesspool, calling the golfer "a talented and gifted communicator." Honestly, does anybody think Woods is famous for his scintillating small talk, as opposed to his fiendish skills with a driver? That's simply inane.
King replaces Lou Dobbs, who was both controversial and a pompous windbag, triggering protests against the network. But the channel still feels that it has to wrap "news" in what the late basketball coach-turned-commentator Al McGuire used to call "French pastry," and winds up looking foolish in the process.
As I've said before, Fox News execs doubtless sleep better at night knowing that CNN's corporate feet are riddled with bullet holes. And those of us who would appreciate a smart alternative on CNN without a clear ideological skew will have to keep looking.