Live From 'The Situation Room'

CNN's Feist aims to draw viewers into the network's political coverage

Why This Matters



TITLE: Political director/senior executive producer of political programming, CNN

EDUCATION: B.A., political science, Vanderbilt University, 1991; J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 1999

EMPLOYMENT: Federal Judicial Center (Washington): researcher, production assistant, summer 1991; CNN (Atlanta): video journalist, 1991; CNN (Washington): associate producer, producer, senior producer, assignment editor, 1992-97; Capital Gang, Evans & Novak, Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer: executive producer, 1997-2000; Wolf Blitzer Reports: executive producer, 2000-03; Crossfire: executive producer, 2002-03; senior executive producer, political programming, 2003-05; senior executive producer, political programming and The Situation Room, 2005-06; current position since August

PERSONAL: b. Jan. 21, 1969; married, two daughters

When Sam Feist talks about The Situation Room, CNN's flagship newscast,
he lights up like the video wall that dominates the set. As CNN's new political
director, he sees The Situation Room not only as a show but as a command center
for the network's political coverage: "a powerful room that gives us the tools
to watch what's happening in the world and then share it with our viewers."

If The Situation Room is CNN's political command
center, Feist, 38, is its general. Since taking charge last August, he has
energized the network's political coverage with new technologies and formats
meant to draw viewers into the newsgathering process.

And the changes have energized CNN's ratings, bringing it closer to
rival Fox News Channel in the key 25-54 news demo.

Ever since he produced Ridgefield, Conn.'s first televised mayoral
debate for his high school station in 1983, Feist has tried to make politics
lively for TV viewers. And apart from a stint with the TV-production arm of the
federal courts, he has spent his entire professional life at CNN.

After interning at CNN's London bureau during the Gulf War, Feist
enrolled in the network's producer training program in Atlanta and landed in
the D.C. bureau during the 1992 campaign. While working on the show
Inside Politics Weekend, he forged an enduring
collaboration with anchor Wolf Blitzer.

"Even then, I could see this was a star," Blitzer says. "He's a
brilliant guy, and he's moved up the chain of command, which is what you're
supposed to do."

While producing weekend shows like Capital Gang,
Feist got his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center, blocks away from
the CNN offices. "I don't think there's better academic training for Washington
journalism," he says, adding that he persuaded some of his professors, which
included Watergate legend Sam Dash, to be guests on his programs.

During the 2004 campaign, as senior executive producer for political
programming, Feist showed a flare for event programming. During the primaries,
he trailed the presidential candidates aboard CNN's Election Express bus,
drawing a crowd at the famed Merrimack diner in Manchester, N.H.

At the Republican convention in New York City, he set up a working diner
for delegates and journalists and had the on-air team report from an open
platform on the convention floor rather than the traditional skybox.

But it was CNN's Election Night 2004 coverage that set the stage for
Feist's ambition to "reinvent the way politics is covered in a daily newscast."
At the suggestion of Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman, the network set up
in front of the 96-screen NASDAQ video wall in Times Square.

The ability to create a mosaic of illustrated information provided the
template for The Situation Room, which Feist and Bohrman
developed and launched in August 2005.

When Feist became political director last summer, he merged the
political-reporting unit with the programming division with the aim of creating
an uninterrupted flow of political reporting through CNN's various programs and

He was particularly pleased with the new outfit's performance on
Election Night '06, when CNN won the night in both total viewers and the key

Lifting the veil

"We tried to lift the veil," he says. "Our goal on Election Night was to
take what happens off the air—all of that electricity, all of those
fascinating conversations, and the information we have available—and put it
on TV."

After the midterms, Feist hit the road to get a jump on the coming
presidential contest and scored a major coup for CNN: a partnership with ABC
affiliate WMUR Manchester, N.H., and the Union Leader
newspaper to host the first debates of the primary season in New Hampshire this

With a new Election Express bus in the works—and another tour of duty
for the Election Express Yourself, an RV that CNN rolled out for midterms to
interact with voters—Feist looks forward to showing viewers that CNN will
cover the campaign from outside the Beltway.

Says Feist, "When you go out and actually talk to the voters and engage
their passions, that makes its way into the coverage."