"Chung stakes out spot in prime time with unconvincing bravado"
The Dallas Morning News
June 25, 2002
by Ed Bark


Special guest Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show put his finger squarely on the pulse of Connie Chung Tonight by telling the host, "It's an honor to be here, especially following arson and pedophilia."

Lucky him, he now can devote his full attention to parodying CNN's newest "news" program. That should be easy as pie judging from Monday's stupefying premiere.

Ms. Chung, formerly of CBS, NBC, CBS again and ABC, nonetheless seemed out of sorts, out of sync, even out of her league. Deploying tabloid teases and sound effects that sounded like incoming missile attacks, she went to battle against Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor with a show that surely will have him laughing uproariously if he ever bothers watching it. In other words, it was pretty bad.

Perhaps even a battle-scarred vet like Ms. Chung is entitled to a few opening night jitters. She's never anchored her own live program before, and that requires thinking on one's feet. A thought occurs. Ms. Chung just doesn't look up to this task. So how's she going to do it five nights a week?

The one-hour program began with a brief segment on the big news of the day – President Bush's call for the removal of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Ms. Chung talked to CNN senior White House correspondent John King and then to Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

"The Palestinians have to be disappointed," she informed Mr. Blitzer, who of course had to agree.

No time to tarry, though. CNN had spent much of the day promoting Ms. Chung's two big "exclusives." One was an awkward live interview with a brother-in-law of accused Colorado arsonist Terry Lynn Barton. Then came her "heart-wrenching," pre-taped interrogation of Milwaukeean Paul Weiser, a possessor of child pornography who was turned in by "Dear Abby" columnist Jeanne Phillips after he wrote her seeking advice on how to deal with his fantasies about having sex with young girls. He's now on probation.

Titled "Cry For Help" and affixed with a variety of tawdry teases, the two-part Weiser interview was bridged by an "Up to the Minute" news update from CNN newcomer Anderson Cooper. He might be more familiar to some as the host of ABC's Mole II: The Betrayal. Training grounds for network news anchors just aren't what they used to be.

Ms. Chung earlier was interviewed on CNN's Crossfire, which immediately preceded the debut of Connie Chung Tonight. And while her pedophilia interview ran, CNN's omnipresent "News Crawl" reminded viewers that Mr. Stewart would be appearing on Connie Chung Tonight .

Remarkably, Ms. Chung didn't have anything stenciled on her forehead. She could have used that valuable space to tout her inept interview with three members of the U.S. World Cup soccer team, to whom she gave "fives" beforehand.

Mr. Stewart hung around as the designated court jester for that one. Maybe he was still in shock from Ms. Chung asking him whether he'd been approached to replace either Dan Rather or Peter Jennings.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

"You're very good at anchoring," she assured him. "I'm telling you, you really are. You do it very well."

Here's the scary part. Don't think for a minute that she didn't really mean it.


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