Inauguration Frenzy Covers All Screens


NEW YORK For the media, Inauguration Day was a cross between the Rose Parade, the Olympics and a military maneuver: Think saturation coverage, technological innovation, reams of color and commentary, a tone as momentous as the occasion chronicled -- and what could be near-record ratings in the U.S. and around the world.

Tuesday dawned with the images of a National Mall that filled rapidly in advance of Barack Obama's swearing-in at noon, swelling to more than 2 million. That made it one of the biggest U.S. crowds ever, a fact reiterated by virtually every pundit.

By the time the sun set, the broadcast and cable networks had chronicled -- with barely any commercials -- not just the inauguration ceremony but almost every moment save for a private prayer service and a few minutes of the Capitol Hill luncheon.

The events themselves and the TV coverage went off mostly without a hitch, even if the timing was hopelessly thrown off schedule late in the morning and never really recovered. NBC stayed on the air until 5 p.m. before taking a local break; CBS and ABC carried on as the parade began much later than expected. The cable nets continued through the night.

There were some raised eyebrows at noon with the botched oath of office administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. The oath caused some quick checks of the Constitution to see that, yes, it was Roberts who had gone awry -- though it didn't really matter because Obama already was the president, even without the proper oath. And the joyous tenor of the day turned somber for a time when Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts suffered a seizure at the luncheon with the new president. Reporters and anchors scrambled to get the story, with confused early word over whether it was Kennedy or Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who had collapsed.

Much of the coverage was admiring, with only a few discordant notes.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that he was less than impressed with the inaugural address. More common were reactions like those of Fox News Channel's Brit Hume, who praised Obama's address; Shepard Smith told viewers he had never seen anything like this, even with the election of the pope.

"Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, right or left, pro or anti this candidacy, it appears that Americans by the millions are enveloping it with love and hope," Smith said.

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