Highs and lows in early TV cov­er­age

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - David Zu­rawik david.zu­rawik@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/davidzu­rawik

For the last 18 months, CNN has cho­sen to live or die with po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives play­ing a prom­i­nent role in its cam­paign cov­er­age.

De­spite wide­spread crit­i­cism, the chan­nel stuck with that strat­egy on elec­tion night, and mainly died with it in the early go­ing.

Start­ing with the 5 o’clock hour, when polling re­sults were made avail­able, CNN fea­tured Corey Le­wandowski, for­mer cam­paign chair­man for Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, and Bakari Sell­ers, a for­mer South Carolina state leg­is­la­tor who has be­come one of the chief TV sur­ro­gates for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. There were oth­ers on the set. In fact, it was choked with pan­elists. I will never un­der­stand why, with all the fine jour­nal­ists it has hired, CNN in­sists on show­cas­ing tainted politi­cos.

Af­ter all the le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism CNN has taken for hiring Le­wandowski and fea­tur­ing him even as he was still be­ing paid by Trump, you’d think that net­work ex­ec­u­tives would bury him on elec­tion night. But they did the op­po­site at the start of the night.

One of the big­gest sur­prises was the strong early start at MSNBC­dur­ing the 5 o’clock hour with Chuck Todd — the reg­u­lar host of that time pe­riod — pre­sid­ing. Steve Kor­nacki did a great job with the exit poll data, pro­vid­ing in­sight into those early num­bers in a way nei­ther CNN nor Fox was do­ing.

Kor­nacki, whose high-en­ergy, shirt­sleeve pre­sen­ta­tion is a per­fect match for elec­tion nights, gave view­ers the first clear look at how se­niors and mil­len­ni­als were vot­ing — and how ed­u­ca­tion and gen­der were di­vid­ing them be­tween Clin­ton and Trump. And gen­der has been the big cul­tural story through­out this elec­tion.

Once the first team ar­rived on the air at Fox at 6 p.m. with Megyn Kelly, it was no con­test among the ca­ble chan­nels as to who had the most en­gag­ing elec­tion­night pre­sen­ta­tion. For­get the much­hyped new Fox stu­dio space — Kelly is the draw. She brings an en­ergy, sharp­ness of fo­cus and just plain sparkle to the screen that makes the Fox tele­cast feel like open­ing night on Broad­way with a great play and star-stud­ded cast.

Not that the rest of the cast at Fox rose to her level.

The core four at the Fox an­chor desk — Kelly, Bret Baier, Brit Hume and Chris Wal­lace — are four solid TV jour­nal­ists. But the pro­duc­tion stum­bled in the early go­ing, with too much talk about the new set and the in­abil­ity to ex­e­cute sim­ple cuts to cor­re­spon­dents in two other cities at around 7:40 p.m. Then the au­dio on Dana Perino was messed up about an hour later. There is no ex­cuse for that kind of slop­pi­ness.

And if CNN is di­min­ished by the likes of Le­wandowski and Sell­ers, what do you say about Karl Rove — the for­mer top aide to Ge­orge W. Bush and a con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive — at Fox News?

Onething you can say is that it’s time to lose his white­board act. I love old-school, and it was cute to see him hold up that lit­tle white­board on Fox in years past while CNNwas­groov­ing on its high-tech “Magic Wall” with John King.

But when Rove held up the board Tues­day, it looked old and silly. The num­bers he had from North Carolina pro­vided noth­ing that had not al­ready been seen and heard on CNN and Fox.

This is an­other politico with con­flict­ing loy­al­ties who needs to be re­moved from cen­ter stage in elec­tion cov­er­age. He may know ev­ery county in the coun­try, but he minces the num­bers too fine to have any mean­ing for the av­er­age viewer. And his list­ing of all his Repub­li­can bud­dies in those coun­ties seems end­less — and only makes me won­der how many con­flicts of in­ter­est are in­volved in his re­la­tion­ships with the peo­ple he names.

CNN’s per­for­mance im­proved dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing the 8 o’clock hour as races tight­ened in Florida and Vir­ginia and there were mean­ing­ful re­sults to re­port and parse in Ohio and North Carolina.

The best mo­ments came in a stretch from about 8:10 p.m. to 8:18 p.m. with an­chor Wolf Bl­itzer stand­ing along­side King, who was work­ing the Magic Wall as well as it has ever been worked as they dove deep on a see­saw race in Florida.

Bl­itzer stopped King’s anal­y­sis for each lead change, and they were com­ing within min­utes of each other. It was as good as it gets in the early part of an elec­tion night with CNN jour­nal­ists of­fer­ing view­ers straight in­for­ma­tion and on-the-fly anal­y­sis.

And the best thing about it: Not once dur­ing that whole stretch did you see Le­wandowski, Sell­ers or any of the other par­ti­san mouth­pieces.

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