Circular Logic

Let's lose the pie chart scorecards, CNN

In addition to the squiggly lines that I so detest, CNN’s debate broadcast featured another useless feature: the pie-chart score card.

For those who don’t have HD cable, or weren’t watching CNN HD, let me explain. The images of Obama and McCain side by side were flanked by six pie-charts, three on the left and three on the right (see here from the first debate). Each pie chart was manned by a CNN contributor/commentator/analyst/quasi-journalist. All the usual suspects were there: John King, Rowland Martin, David Gergen, and others.

Each pie chart was divided into two halves: blue for Obama and red for McCain. And each contributor was to record their “plus points” for either candidate in the top part of the red/blue half, and “minus points” on the bottom.

The result was a disaster. With no way to know why points were being awarded, viewers were left perplexed by six red-blue circles claiming valuable real estate on their screens. Whenever a candidate earned a point, a quadrant would pulse for a few seconds (King, McCain, Plus), pulling my eyes away from the action and to the points tally.

The confusion was clear among the contributors as well: Gergen awarded only a handful points throughout the whole night, where as Martin went points crazy, handing out many dozens of plus and minus points.

And when the debate wrapped up, CNN didn’t even bother doing a total tally, leaving the pie charts reading McCain (12+/4-), instead of arriving at a final number (8). Viewers were left doing their own arithmetic, and scratching their heads over what it all meant.

CNN’s investment in the pie charts and other bells and whistles shows that they are taking the elections seriously, and that’s a good thing. But, all this money might be better spent on reporting, no?

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.