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NPR Critic Reviews TV Coverage Of Inauguration Day


Besides its status as a political event, today's inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris was a TV event, a day-long TV spectacle featuring everyone from Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez to Tom Hanks and Jon Bon Jovi. Here to talk about the day's TV coverage is our TV critic Eric Deggans.

Hey, Eric.


KELLY: So this was a live event pretty much all day long, pretty much whatever channel you were on. What struck you as you watched?

DEGGANS: Well, what surprised me is that I didn't miss the crowds as much as I thought I would during the swearing-in event. I mean, it was staged so well. The cameras were often focused on the stage. You didn't really miss that lack of crowds. And whoever had the idea to place this sea of thousands of flags on the National Mall so you didn't have that stark image of, you know, an empty space - they deserve a serious raise because I think that was a brilliant visual.

KELLY: It was.

DEGGANS: And the situation kind of lent this muted feel to everything that kind of fit the circumstances of the moment. I mean, the message of President Biden's speech is that the country's been through a lot, is still facing these challenges and it's time to unite. And the TV images kind of matched that message and lent this air of pragmatic celebration that really suited their larger mission, I think.

KELLY: Meanwhile, former President Trump had his own sendoff ceremony. He was at Joint Base Andrews taking off for Florida. That was all televised live. What did you make of it?

DEGGANS: Well, if President Biden exuded authenticity, then this was the opposite. It was artificial. It was a bit disorganized. Trump seemed kind of overtanned and understated in a ceremony that maybe tried to detract from the idea that he was slinking away from the White House and leaving the country so much worse economically and in terms of public health than it was when he was inaugurated. It was also kind of contradictory. His speech was rambling and improvised, though aides had circulated a pre-written speech that he seemed to ignore. He wished the administration - the new administration good luck and great success, but he left his vice president to actually attend the inauguration. And once his speech was done, even the music he played leaving the stage was kind of odd, like NBC anchor Chuck Todd noted. Let's listen to a clip.


CHUCK TODD: But I'm just - sorry, I'm...


VILLAGE PEOPLE: (Singing) It's fun to stay at the...

TODD: "Y.M.C.A." - I mean, really? I'm sorry. I'm just sort of struck by the - the music doesn't match the solemnity of the moment.

DEGGANS: Yeah. That's Chuck Todd speaking for most of us viewers (laughter).

KELLY: Speaking for you, it sounds like. In terms of cable news, if I had been watching Fox versus CNN versus MSNBC, would I have watched a very different day today?

DEGGANS: I think so. Now, most TV outlets seem to agree that Biden gave a great speech after his swearing in. But after and before that swearing in, there were a lot of differences as anchors and commentators in the different channels kind of weighed in. And right-wing outlets like Fox News Channel and Newsmax seemed to talk up Trump's best achievements as president. They had conservative politicians like Senator Lindsey Graham. They were defending his record and arguing against an impeachment trial in the Senate. Mainstream news outlets seemed more focused on pageantry earlier in the day before the swearing in ceremony and then more inclined to talk politics afterward. Still, you can wind up believing very different things about this moment, depending on what channel you watch.

KELLY: And real quick, Eric, there was this whole parade of celebs in primetime tonight. How did that go from a TV point of view?

DEGGANS: It was great. If you watched the videos during the Democratic National Convention, it was similar. You know, they had tributes to essential workers and teachers. They had famous performers like Jon Bon Jovi singing. It capped a day of TV messaging that was smart, classy and consistent. It was a pretty good first step for this administration, I think.

KELLY: All righty (ph). TV critic Eric Deggans, thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.