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Watching the Watchdog: Snoozing Through "The National"

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Veteran television producer Tim Knight will contribute a regular blog to HuffPost, analysing and rating the top news shows in Canada. Today he analyses last night's CBC News program, "The National." Next he'll look at CTV National News and report back on Thursday.

Episode: The National, CBC News

Date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Anchor: Peter Mansbridge.

Lead Story: Too Important to Understand -- Super Tuesday is "the most important day of the race so far for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination." Mansbridge laudably takes time to try to explain in the introduction what it's all about but ends up making the unwieldy process more or less incomprehensible. (I say this sympathetically, having covered two U.S. elections for two American networks myself.)

Paul Hunter does a rather routine job of reading over somewhat random footage and edits about Super Tuesday until, as happens so often with reporters, he's on-camera at the end. That's when he suddenly becomes human, thinking aloud rather than merely reading. And suddenly, for the first time, we viewers take part in the drama of the story with him.

Possible Side Effects -- Kelly Crowe's story about "unprecedented" shortage of drugs in some provinces because of problems at Sandoz, Canada, makes sense until she mentions in passing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently wrote to Sandoz warning of problems with its "quality control." Oddly, Crowe doesn't try to find out if those problem drugs threaten our health.

Right to Know vs. Bafflegab -- Should political party staffers testify before House committees? Laurie Graham is marvelously tenacious pursuing Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Dean del Mastro, into the elevator. She endlessly demands to know "Why would you come here and say Liberals should and Conservative staffers shouldn't (answer questions in the House)." To her credit, Graham just won't take bafflegab for an answer.

Not Yet Ready for Prime Time -- Interesting public service story from Duncan McCue warning Canadian drug dealers against even trying to do business directly with Mexican drug dealers. Two recent Canadians murdered down there indicate to former drug squad Mountie that we're just too naïve for the drug big time.

Unexpected New Role for Bank -- No explanation offered why Royal Bank is offering settlement cash to people defrauded by Montreal crook Earl Jones. Surely the bank can't be just doing the decent thing? Obvious example of just providing facts without bringing understanding.

It's Not Me, It's You -- With a federal budget coming down in just three weeks, Mansbridge asks the Bottom Line panelists "What's so bad about running a deficit?" Nearly 20 minutes later, I still haven't a clue. Words like "structural" and "cyclical" are thrown around a lot. And the difference between "deficit" and "debt" is investigated but never clear. Only bright point is that Mansbridge suddenly becomes a lot more human now he can talk to real people, about things that interest him, rather than just reading the teleprompter at the camera.

The Naked Truth -- Now the best story of the evening: Decidedly voluptuous Jann Arden poses nude for Zoomer magazine. Deana Sumanac reports delightedly and with considerable respect on "a woman on the brink of 50 in all her glory, with no touch-ups." To her credit, weatherwoman Claire Martin calls Arden "a braver woman than I am." And rather seductively admits "underneath these clothes, I'm naked too," before getting on with the weather.

Verdict: All in all, a fairly mediocre news hour. Too many questions left dangling. And should The National really devote 20 minutes to four people's views on something as complex as an upcoming budget (which none of them, of course, have seen) when there are so many other truly important stories to cover?

Wonder if the budget panel could have been turned into a debate, which would at least have forced the members to take sides, and not just sprout random views more or less appropriate to the latest Mansbridge question.

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