CNN goes long, again, with the Trump administration

Censorious Chris Cuomo was chewing up scenery Wednesday – and trying to devour an attorney for Donald Trump.

Yet again CNN took on the flavor of next month's made-for-pay-TV tussle between boxer Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor.

This week it's been Kellyanne Conway, Sabastian Gorka and Jay Sekulow in the challenger's box on the screen. The primary topic has been Donald Trump Jr.'s admissions about meeting with a Russian attorney, with at times a certain sense of "we-gotcha!" glee arguably coursing through the reporting.

"White House is Paralyzed By Email Bombshell" was on one chyron this morning. It was a reference to an unidentified politician's characterization of the White House atmosphere to CNN reporter Jeff Zeleny.

Wednesday brought Cuomo, who has a law degree, interrogating and jousting with Sekulow, a longtime attorney for conservative and religious causes who is well-practiced at the cable news game. As with the Conway and Gorka sessions, it continued well past its apparently allowed time, as if a boxing match that kept going to round six, seven, eight, you name it.

"I'm asking questions about what we still don't know and you're saying we do know because Don Jr. says nothing happened and the lawyer working for the Kremlin said nothing happened," said Cuomo with a touch of the prosecutor about him.

They were into minute 24 or maybe 25 of the network's third marathon interview of the week, replete with those hyped "breaking news" chyrons found across the bottom.

Cuomo left little doubt that he doesn't buy Donald Trump Jr. and the White House's take on young Trump's encounter with a Russian attorney. He underscored that he felt the publicist who was a conduit for the meeting should be fired if, as Trump Jr. asserts, claims about what the meeting would cover were indeed untrue.

He pressed Sekulow on whether the president does indeed concede that the Russians interfered with the election. Sekulow danced around that and was soon arguing what he deems an important distinction between an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation and the special counsel's investigation.

With barely disguised facetiousness, Cuomo declared, "He watches the show. I'm sure he's watching. He should feel free to tweet, 'Russia interfered in the election, they're not going to do it again.'"

As was the case with Cuomo's interview with Conway and colleague Alysin Camerota's session with Gorka, pleasantries were offered at the end, host and interviewee partaking in the ritual of thanking one another, etc., each likely privately furious with the other.

And one was left realizing how President Trump may even now lay claim to altering the very formats of shows. As Mike McCurry, press secretary for President Clinton, conceded, such long-form interviews are rare in a world in which TV formats are often predicated on assumptions of viewers' short attention spans.

Watch something go much past six or seven minutes and you start thinking you're watching C-Span or "The NewsHour" on PBS.

For sure, in the case of CNN, especially after it blew a big Trump story and bid farewell to three journalists, one might infer that it's a bit defensive these days and, as McCurry put it, "giving a hostile administration time to make its case."

One can sense that cable hosts are vying for the title of the toughest questioner when it comes to their equally combative Trump administration guests. Increasingly, it appears they feel emboldened to cross a line from tough interrogation to browbeating.

But, as McCurry notes, "All the conventions are out the window now in this highly unusual presidency. New rules are being written in real time."

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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