Cindy Adams woke up on Election Day knowing exactly where to spend her evening. There were parties all over town. Lefty celebrities would be out in force. But the longtime gossip columnist for the New York Post wanted to be at the place she felt would be “the heartbeat of the world”—namely, the CNN Grill.
Like many of her pals in the media, Ms. Adams had first frequented the CNN Grill during its original iteration at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. There, the cable news network had sequestered a centrally located sports bar, plastered the walls with flat-screen televisions tuned to CNN, concocted some thematic drinks (the caucus cooler!) and threw open the doors.
Word spread fast. The food, the booze, everything was free. Soon, the CNN Grill was crawling with a tipsy mix of journalists, politicians, celebrities and CNN talent. What a watering hole, Ms. Adams thought. She chronicled Charles Barkley sipping on a Grey Goose and cranberry cocktail, praising Barack Obama and ogling Charlize Theron.
At the Republican National Convention, the next week, the CNN Grill reappeared, taking over a hockey bar in St. Paul. Ms. Adams reported that the Grill would cost CNN an estimated $1.5 million that week and declared it “civilization” for New Yorkers in exile.
On the night of the election, the CNN Grill sprung up again, this time on the 10th floor of the Time Warner Center, in the company cafeteria. True to form, there were copious amounts of burgers and bloggers and beer. In her column the next day, Ms. Adams gave a nod to the relentlessness of the grill-master, CNN U.S.’s president, Jonathan Klein. “If two Boy Scouts run for sanitation chief in Salt Lake City,” wrote Ms. Adams, “Klein will throw up a CNN Grill in the Mormon Tabernacle.”
What a savvy expenditure, Ms. Adams thought afterward. Look at all the good PR! “The conversation is wonderful,” Ms. Adams told The Observer recently. “The food is semi-crappy. But who cares?”
After all, the excess of the party—hundreds of lanyard-draped somebody-nobodies and nobody-somebodies feasting from dusk to dawn by the pale light of Lou Dobbs’ wattage—seemed to exude perfectly the excess of the news organization hosting it. “They never saw a pundit they didn’t like,” said Ms. Adams.
“CNN always goes over the top for big election nights,” she added. “They go as over the top as they possibly can.”
Not that you necessarily needed to have sucked down a milkshake at the CNN Grill to have experienced the sensation of America’s original cable news network laying it on thick. All you had to do was tune in to the network’s wildly successful and, at times, overly rich election coverage. For much of the 2008 election, going-as-over-the-top-as-you-possibly-can might as well have served as the organization’s mission statement.
Along the way, CNN sponsored seven debates (by contrast, CBS, the Tiffany network, threw exactly none). In the run-up to the election, it piled up a roster of all-star political pundits, in a free-agent signing frenzy that would make George Steinbrenner blush. Throughout the campaign, it unleashed an array of new audio-visual technology, some of it culled from the world of military defense contractors.