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As Cable News Laughs At Michelle Bachmann’s Wrong-Camera Speech, Here’s The Whole Story

As White House senior adviser David Axelrod began an appearance on MSNBC’s Last Word Tuesday night, he joked to host Lawrence O’Donnell “am I looking in the right camera?” Get it? It’s a Michele Bachmann joke!

It remains unclear how many politicos and cable hosts will use the wrong-camera gag, but judging from the first twelve hours or so after Rep. Bachmann’s “Tea Party Response” to the State of the Union, the joke probably hasn’t run its course. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow–before getting down to attacking CNN for carrying the speech in the first place–did an extended bit of TV theater mocking Bachmann’s just-off-camera-gaze.

So how’d Bachmann end up delivering a live, nationally-broadcast speech without ever looking into the camera? CNN political director Sam Feist was the first to reveal the issue was two cameras, one set of eyes:

@SamFeistCNN: Bachmann was looking into the Tea Party Express camera sted of the network pool camera. Fox News was pool.

We caught up with Feist today on his way back to Washington after overseeing SOTU coverage from New York. He says the wrong camera situation became immediately apparent when Bachmann’s live feed popped up on monitors in the CNN control room. Knowing that this was an unusual pool situation–normally there’s only one designated pool camera (in this case, from Fox)–but Bachmann’s speech had two cameras, the second from the Tea Party Express. “We guessed as soon as we saw it,” said Feist, that she was looking into the second camera, not the pool cam.

Because CNN was receiving a raw feed from a pool camera, there was no way to send a quick message from the control room saying “um, could you look over here?”

“We see the image coming in from the pool,” said Feist. “Usually it’s arranged so there’s only one camera. I wasn’t in the room, so I don’t know the circumstances” of what led to the weird pool shot of a person seeming to be talking to somebody else.

What Feist is certain of is that he has no regrets about airing the speech, despite criticism from some, notably Rachel Maddow. “We did five, six hours of live coverage of the State of the Union. It seemed appropriate that the Tea Party response, which ran five or six minutes, fit into that coverage. It was an important political moment, and I think it was the right thing to do.”

Watch some of the morning mockery–and debate over the substance–from Morning Joe, courtesy of MSNBC:

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