The news cycle these days is so fast and furious that reporters sometimes zoom off into hyperspeed. That undoubtedly explains why CNN’s Heidi Collins last night was taking viewers into some sort of bizarro time warp. (Thanks to an alert viewer, who — like the rest of the audience — was undoubtedly left in the dust.)

Collins, filling in for Paula Zahn, reported on the massive air strikes launched by Pakistani troops, reportedly in an effort to capture al Qaeda’s Number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Does the U.S. have any independent confirmation that Zawahiri is actually surrounded, Collins asked Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

“No,” replied Myers, “the fact is, we’re still trying to understand that situation.”

If Pakistani troops actually did have Zawahiri surrounded, and if they were to capture him, “how much impact, then, would this … really have?” Collins continued.

“It would be an important step,” explained Myers. “But it would not end the terror. It’s not going to end with their capture. But it’s important, nevertheless.”

Okay, now hang on. Collins is about to leap even farther into the future.

“Wondering if you think the potential capture of Osama bin Laden’s Number 2 man would be enough to help ensure victory for George W. Bush?” she asked Joe Conason, author of Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth, and Victoria Clarke, a CNN contributor and former Pentagon spokeswoman.

Taken aback, Conason responded, “I think people will decide this election on issues eight months from now. And we can’t even be sure what they’ll be.”

Clarke, who undoubtedly took some left-field questions in her previous job, seemed momentarily caught off guard by Collins’ line of questioning, but rebounded like a pro.

“I’ve got to tell you,” she said, “I was laughing before we came on this evening, thinking that only in a couple of towns like New York and Washington could we be talking about what the political implications might be of something that might or might not happen.” (Italics added.)

Thanks for clearing that up, Victoria. It makes those of us still trying to fathom the present, much less the future, feel a little better.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.