A running diary of TV coverage of the Obama visit

On the hours of airtime devoted to speculation, colour, pale panelists—and stalling

8:05 a.m. ET To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld – and there’s a phrase you don’t hear very often today outside of Donald Rumsfeld’s house – there are three main kinds of news events covered by the cable news networks.

There are the known knowns. These are the news stories that can be covered in real time as they happen, in full view of the cameras. We’re talking about events that are guaranteed to be news, such as the release of a critical government report or Joe Biden opening his mouth.

Then there are the unknown unknowns – the events where TV news doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Larry King spends most of his life in this blissful state.

What we’ll be experiencing today is a case study in the known unknown. Everyone knows that news will be happening today on Parliament Hill, but no one will have any idea what that news is. There will be infinite coverage of finite information – leaving hours upon hours of airtime to be devoted to speculation, colour, pale panelists and the staple of coverage of the known unknown: stalling. Hope Don Newman had a big breakfast.

Join me around 10 a.m. ET or so for intermittent livebloggery – and by all means join in and submit any amusing or insightful nuggets you pick up while tuning in.

9:18 You are looking live at… a helicopter! But not just any helicopter – it’s Marine One, landing at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland. Now the President is taking Shoes One over to Air Force One.

9:27 On CBC Newsworld, Heather Hiscox just used the expression “wheels up” in reference to Air Force One. This brought back memories of my time in the PMO. “Wheels up” is the term political tour people use for what normal, non-strange people call “taking off.” Why do tour people refer to it as “wheels up”? I’m not sure. Possibly because it’s what those pretty people on The West Wing used to say. Possibly because they are sticklers for accuracy – and having viewed countless takeoffs, they have duly noted that the wheels, all things considered, do indeed go up. Anyway, it’s a catchy little expression, and it never takes long for everyone to start using it. “What time is wheels up?” we’d ask. Or: “Can we move wheels up ahead an hour?” It’s addictive, actually. For a while there I’d use it when making a lunch date. “We’re wheels up for the Ponderosa at 12:30!”

9:31 The people over on CNN are talking about energy prices. The ticker at the bottom of the screen is referencing the $2.3-million settlement won by a drunk man who got run over by a train. Don’t they know that the wheels of Air Force One are no longer down but, instead, up??

9:43 CTV has thrown to Rosemary Thompson, who is standing under an umbrella along a street somewhere in Ottawa. Her degree of confidence in her assignment cannot be said to be through the roof, for she just said: “I’m on what we expect might be the motorcade route.” Also in doubt: her claim that there’s “a lot of excitement this morning.” Rosemary bases this assessment on the fact that a few cars are honking as they pass her. By that standard, my Grandma creates tremendous “excitement” every time she drives 20 km/h on the highway.

9:46 Meanwhile, on Newsworld, a reporter is reporting live from… a bus. A bus on its way to Ottawa. The reporter is wearing a headset and, judging from the picture quality, is transmitting her report using the Internet circa 1982. Congratulations, blurry bus reporter we can barely hear! You’re the early frontrunner for Worst Reportorial Assignment of Obama Day.

10:11 Pretty sparse turnout on Parliament Hill. I can’t possibly imagine why. If you’re ever fearful of holding a party to which too many people show up, be sure to hire the Stephen Harper Group of Event Planners — killing the buzz since 2006!

10:26 Air Force One has landed in Ottawa. On CTV, Bob Fife tells Lloyd Robertson that the plane “just came out of the blue” – almost as though it were travelling at a high rate of speed and descending from a high altitude.

10:30 Pretty entertaining watching those stairs being driven toward the airplane for five minutes. Will they line up perfectly? Will they be the right height? It shouldn’t be long now until this is turned into a reality show: When Airport Steps Approach!

10:35 CNN goes live with a static shot of Air Force One at the Ottawa airport, talks about Canada for about a minute, then gets bored and cuts away to a story about the guy who threw his shoes at George W. Bush. How are we going to get CNN’s attention back on Canada?? Clearly, it falls to the Governor-General to put her stilettos to use. Aim well, Your Majesty!

10:38 Obama emerges into a February morning in Ottawa to, in Peter Mansbridge’s words, “touch Canadian soil for the first time as President.” Good luck finding some — that might take the whole six hours.

10:43 From the excitement of Obama’s arrival, CBC goes immediately to an interview with Trade Minister Stockwell Day. There were no survivors.

10:46 Live pictures of Obama speaking with the GG, followed by the inevitable analysis of What Their Body Language Meant. Consensus: Obama = [girlish squeal denoting awesomeness!]

10:51 Both Lloyd Robertson and Peter Mansbridge appear to be wearing Order of Canada pins. As am I: Kicked Farley Mowat’s ass for it. (The anchor on CNN, meanwhile, is wearing approximately 45 pounds of makeup.)

10:59 A CBC reporter chimes in from the motorcade route, noting that very few Ottawa residents have taken time out of their day to stand on the side of the road and watch 40 vehicles speed past them uneventfully. This doesn’t bode well for the capital getting a NASCAR race.

11:11 Tom Clark sits down with Jim Prentice, the Environment Minister. Meanwhile, Susan Bonner chats with Bob Rae. Ladies and gentlemen, we have now officially entered the Window of Restroom Opportunity portion of today’s program.

11:16 “Maybe We Can Too.” A subtle dig at the current PM, and the best sign on the Hill we’ve seen so far. Shouldn’t be long now until Kory Teneycke sprints from his office to sacrifice himself by heroically throwing his body on it.

11:20 CTV gets deep into the policy issues, pointing out that Obama is a Leo while Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff are Taurus. After the commercial break: their favourite boy bands.

11:23 Lloyd Robertson claims Ignatieff’s favourite sport is soccer. But then Ignatieff comes on and says his favourite sport is baseball. Across the country, thousands of senior citizens weep openly at the shocking realization that Lloyd Robertson just lied to them.

11:29 CBC enters its seventh minute of showing a static shot of an empty street. International politics — catch the fever!

11:31 Nine minutes now of nothing happening. Just 13 more and this will officially be Ken Finkleman’s new TV show.

11:33 Cop cars! Dozens of cop cars! It’s either the motorcade or those Duke boys are up to no good again.

11:37 Rosemary Thompson says she saw the President wave as he passed by in the motorcade. I haven’t seen a woman this excited since John Goodman took off his shirt. (Full disclosure: the excitement stemmed from the presence of a nearby emergency eye wash station.)

11:43 Just a classic moment. Obama shakes Harper’s hand at the front door of Centre Block, then the President gestures out towards Parliament Hill and asks, “Do you mind if we go out there? I just want to give a quick wave.” It’s fun to imagine what must have gone through Stephen Harper’s mind. Out there? But there are PEOPLE out there!!

11:44 Harper joins Obama out front and sets a new record for number of waves given by a politician to a crowd not cheering for him.

11:58 Time for an intermission. Back later for the news conference, when Barack Obama will presumably say, “Do you mind if I go out there? I just want to answer a couple questions,” and Harper thinks to himself: Out there? But there are REPORTERS out there!!

12:16 You’re probably wondering about that photo op in the Prime Minister’s Office just now. I’ve looked into it and, yes, it was just awkward enough to qualify as a subplot on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s just a matter of months until Stephen Harper becomes Canada’s first prime ministerial Emmy nominee! Your move, Jeremy Piven.

2:03 Everyone on CBC keeps talking about what a “historic” day this is. How do they know I just bought new underwear?

2:33 CBC is reporting that Barack Obama and Stephen Harper met privately for 33 minutes this morning, 23 minutes longer than scheduled. That sounds like a lot, but you have to factor in that Harper needed the first 15 minutes to remove the smile he’d had installed for the arrival.

2:38 This may only be me — but I just read Andrew Coyne’s blog and all of a sudden I’m thinking I might not invite him to my birthday party. God only knows how he’d react to that whole “singing in unison” thing. Slaves!! You’re all mindless cake slaves!!!!!!

2:45 Um, isn’t it kind of rude to begin a news conference by speaking at great length in a language the other guy can’t understand? Stay classy, Stephen Harper!

2:47 I wonder what Obama is thinking about as M. Harper goes on and on in French. Lunch? Trades the Chicago Bulls should make? How he’s now totally going to cozy up to Mexico instead? And now Harper is addressing Obama directly in French. YOU KNOW HE CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU, RIGHT??

2:51 I know you come here for in-depth analysis of important policy issues, and I don’t want to disappoint you, so: Is it just my TV or has President Obama dyed his hair? Wait, nope, I just changed the channel and it looks all natural again. Crisis averted.

2:57 Harper’s just been asked a question in English by an American journalist. Maybe he’ll answer in Italian!

3:03 I’m watching the press conference on CNN, and it’s hard to pay attention because of the titilating and/or fascinatingly vague nature of the news ticker items on the bottom of the screen. “Parents seek second opinions in death rulings,” is a classic of the genre – just enough information to give you almost no sense of what’s going on. “Men see bikini-clad women as objects, psychologists say,” is another. If there were a ticker item relating to the news conference itself, it might read: “Man speaking French to English person for some reason.”

3:09 Obama just said climate change is not going to be solved quickly. This is bad news for me: I have next Tuesday in the office pool.

3:18 Stephen Harper describes the current crisis as a “synchronized global recession.” Thank God that Canada will be spared the economic ravages of this worldwide peril based on the fact that it can’t exist within our borders because it didn’t exist within our borders before. (Ladies and gentlemen, the joke that never gets old!)

3:21 Ohmigod! Obama just said he loves our country!!!! That clip is going to be played over and over and over, bringing smiles to the faces of Canadians from coast to coast, except those standing near Andrew Coyne, who just ripped off his shirt and grunted, “Smiley words make Hulk mad!”

3:29 I’ve just done the math and, based on the number of words that Stephen Harper has spoken to the media today, and factoring in the average number of words that he typically speaks to the media each month, we should next see the Prime Minister attend a news conference on Wednesday, the 14th of Never.

3:34 CNN judges it a “very understated” news conference. Guess it did lack a certain amount of frontal nudity.

3:40 CNN has moved on to the latest news about the Bush shoe thrower (I didn’t really pay attention – probably his feet are getting cold by now). Back on CBC, the inevitable (and excrutiating) discussion of How Well the Leaders Got Along is in full swing. Some lament that they didn’t refer to each other by first name. On the other hand, former ambassador Gorden Giffin claims to have seen a “glimmer in their eyes.” Only time will tell if they exchange mash notes in homeroom.

3:51 OK, OK, now. Easy, tigers. I’m not going to go all Coyne on you, but it’s been 20 minutes and I’ve already heard four references by reporters to Obama’s “I love this country” statement. This thing is going viral, in the sense that it’s a horrible infection that’s making me feel ill. A little perspective, please: a quick Google search reveals that Obama has also professed his “love” for America, democracy, the people of Nairobi, the free market, town hall meetings, Wilco, the Hawaiian Plate Lunch and Scrabble. So we’re in there with board games and alt-rock, but we’re not exactly going steady.

4:02 Don Newman is reporting that the Obama motorcade has veered off course and headed to the Byward Market so that the President can experience an Ottawa winter tradition: no, not windburn; I’m talking about a Beavertail — pastry fried in oil, fried in more oil, then dipped in oil, then applied directly to the thigh. And none of the networks has live footage of this historic event! What is this: the middle ages??

4:13 CTV reports that Obama actually bought cookies and a scarf in the market. They’re uncertain whether he stopped for a Beavertail. For Pete’s sake, when will we finally get a firm answer about the Beavertail so our long national nightmare of uncertainty can end?

4:17 The presidential motorcade arrives at the airport for a meeting with U.S. Embassy staff, and then another with Bob Rae and the Liberal Leader. Air Force One and Michael Ignatieff are currently being deiced.

4:23 Alas, duty calls elsewhere. Also, I’m bored now. And I’m craving a Beavertail. So thanks to everyone for following along and I leave you with these final words: “I love this country!” Now feel free to fawn all over me for saying so.

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