We've been watching inauguration activities for some six hours now, flipping between the vapidity of CNN, the uncomfortable gushing of MSNBC, and the acrid sour grapes of Fox News. It's a lot to take in. Wolf Blitzer has basically been muttering a tone poem since 11 a.m., Chris Matthews has snapped his tether and is floating around the studio, and Brit Hume spent the morning reminding us, with no small amount of hope in his gravelly voice, that second terms are often hobbled by unforeseen catastrophes. (By this evening, Fox had relegated the inaugural parade to a small, soundless box while continuing on with regular programming like The Five; Eric Bolling and company predicting taxy-spendy doom for America.) Plus there's Twitter, which all day has been a flood of jokes, clever observations, and links to various GIFs of Malia and Sasha doing cute things. All told, if you invite it in, this Inauguration Day can be an unending bombardment of noise and media. And while that probably sounds miserable to those who busied themselves with other things today, it's actually kind of fun.
Something about cable news, for all its hollow awfulness, and the Internet, in all its quickness and overindulgence, has made these Big Special Days far more engaging than they used to be. We've all become meta critics, commenting on not just the meat of the show — Beyoncé's national anthem, Joe Biden's exuberant glad-handing — but all the production values and editorial choices and crafted themes. Switching between the news channels means you get to have three (or more! There's always the broadcast networks, after all) similar but distinctly different experiences of the same event, like a real-time Rashomon. And it's oddly comforting to see how the networks steadfastly traffic in their familiar tropes. Yup, as expected, MSNBC is a dorky swirl of chunky-spectacled pointy-headedness. As we knew it would, Fox is delivering the strident, smug contrarian goods. And CNN is drowning in the middle-ground mire of its own making. There's some strange value in knowing what to expect from our coverage, even when the coverage is of something so ceremonial and, yes, silly as this inauguration.