Crossfire on the Today Show Plaza

Why not invite the heads of the Republican and Democratic National Committees on your show to "talk" about the upcoming election/s? Exhibit A.

For producers of television news shows everywhere:

Exhibit A for Why Not to Invite the Heads of the Republican and Democratic National Committees (Or Their Equivalents) On Your Show to “Talk” About the Upcoming Election/s (in the form of a transcript of the final seconds of just such a discussion between the RNC’s Ken Mehlman and Terry McAuliffe, former head of the DNC, on NBC’s Today Show Friday morning):

McAULIFFE: … They can’t blame the Democrats. They’ve controlled the spending for the last six years. Record deficit. Spending up 8 percent.

MEHLMAN: The deficit — the deficit …

McAULIFFE: Under Bill Clinton it was up 3.2 percent.

MEHLMAN: … the deficit declined by 40 percent this past year.

[Today anchor] MEREDITH VIEIRA: You know what, guys, we got to stop here. We could — guys, we could talk forever. We’ve only got two and a half weeks …

MEHLMAN: The deficit’s 40 percent lower this past year than it was before …

VIEIRA: … till the election. Guys. Hello?

McAULIFFE: New direction for America. You know, culture of corruption …

VIEIRA: Talk amongst yourself. We’ve run out of time. We have two and a half weeks …

McAULIFFE: All right, Meredith. Good to be with you. Right.

VIEIRA: … till the elections …

MEHLMAN: We’ll continue — we’ll continue this in the green room.

McAULIFFE: Vote Democrat.

VIEIRA: … but you know what? That’s a lifetime in politics. Thanks. Ken Mehlman, Terry McAuliffe.

MEHLMAN: We’ll continue this in the green room.

We think these two should never have been let out of the green room — let alone on air. As CJR Daily noted frequently during the 2004 campaign, this sort of televised “exchange” does little for viewers beyond confuse (and irritate) them with a whiplash of rapid-fire talking points and cherry-picked “facts” delivered by two automatons speaking faster than any Today viewer can possibly process in a forum that does not allow for fact-checking of any sort by the journalist purportedly running the show. Why not just give McAuliffe and Mehlman five minutes of air time, gratis, for dueling commercials?

The upshot of what we learned from this “discussion” was: the onetime head of the DNC believes “Democrats are going to win both the House and the Senate if the election were today,” while the current RNC chairman is convinced that “Republicans are going to keep the majorities in the House and Senate.”

Today’s viewers would have been better served if producers had passed on McAuliffe v. Mehlman and instead doubled the time devoted to almost any other segment on Friday’s roster (like maybe that useful piece Vieira did about snooping on your kids).

And yet, with November 7 right around the corner — how many television news hours between now and then? — something tells us we haven’t seen the last of McAuliffe v. Mehlman.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.