You’re on the Clock

Posted: Jan 18, 2007 12:00 AM

Back in 1999, CNN decided to see in the new millennium in style. The network announced in a news release that it would provide, “100 hours of comprehensive, global news coverage of millennium-related events and turn-of-the-century issues, including live reports from almost 60 CNN correspondents positioned at key locations around the world.”

It may seem odd that a news organization is sending out a news release -- shouldn’t it be CNN’s job to report the news, not make it? But let’s set that aside.

The network’s rolling live coverage kicked off at 4:30 a.m. (Eastern) on New Year’s Eve, “giving users an opportunity to watch the virtual first dawn of the year 2000 and to follow celebrations worldwide,” as the network put it. Ah, but by the time I reported to work at 8 p.m. that day, it was already clear there would be no story. That is, the story was that nothing happened.

Computers didn’t shut down. Bank vaults didn’t pop open and spew forth cash. Nuclear missiles didn’t launch themselves. After the billions of dollars spent to retrofit computer programs, the New Year brought us Dick Clark and drunken revelers in Times Square -- nothing more. Y2K was a bust.

Sometime on Jan. 1 (before most viewers had even recovered from their hangovers), less than 48 hours into the vaunted 100 hours of coverage, CNN called it all off and returned to regular programming. It was the shortest 100 hours in history.

We’re now in the midst of the longest.

During the election campaign last fall, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership announced they intended to do six things to “meet the everyday needs of all Americans.” In her own words, she promised to:

? Enact all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

? Increase the minimum wage.

? Expand stem cell research.

? Negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

? Cut interest rates on student loans.

? End subsidies for Big Oil and invest in renewable energy.

And to make sure her agenda passed before her post-election popularity could evaporate, Rep. Pelosi vowed to pass all the above within 100 hours.

Now, we can quibble about Pelosi’s agenda. For example, for most of us, “winning the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror” would be a top-6 issue we’d like to see Congress address. That’s certainly more important than, say, subsidized student loans. And instead of focusing on simply lowering drug prices, it would certainly be better to completely reform Medicare.

However, there can be no debate over time. 100 hours is, basically, four days. The new Democrat-controlled Congress was sworn in on Jan. 4. Since the clock started at that point, the famed “100 hours” ended sometime on Jan. 8. Anything not finished by then is actually outside the 100-hour window.

Strangely, that’s not how Pelosi sees it, though.

Her Website features a handy clock, counting up from 0 to 100 hours. Legislative hours, that is. As of Wednesday, Jan. 17, the clock was just passing the 27-hour mark. And, Pelosi noted, the first four of her “big 6” issues had already passed the House. Only two issues to go, and 73 hours to spare. The House could take the weekend off and still achieve its goals.

Well, in fact, it’s already taken two weekends off. Two three-day weekends, at that. You see, the clock only runs when Pelosi wants it to run.

Maybe Pelosi’s on to something here. Maybe we’re all too wedded to this idea of accomplishing things in real-time. Imagine if we could apply her clock-management skills to other aspects of our lives. For example, the NFL: Maybe the clock should only run when one team scores a touchdown. The Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts would probably still be on the field.

Or consider the popular TV show “24.” The hook here is supposed to be that the star has only one day to save the country. But in the real world that would be pretty limiting. Jack Bauer’s flight back from China would eat up most of his allotted time. And who wants an exhausted superagent? Let’s stop the clock when Jack’s traveling or napping. It should run only when he’s shooting somebody or blowing something up. That way viewers can get the most excitement possible within that 24-hour timeframe.

The possibilities are endless. We can even retire the cliche “at the end of the day,” since clearly a day never has to end.

Speaker Pelosi took office vowing to put her gavel “into the hands of America’s children.” That makes those of us with children nervous; we’d rather have the adults in charge.

But if the kids simply must run things, couldn’t we at least insist they learn how to tell time?