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Changes Apparent in Election Coverage

This year’s race for the presidency was marked by a change in media coverage from elections past, including in the television coverage of election night. Learning a lesson from the 2000 and 2004 elections, in which states were called for candidates based on exit polls and eventually had to be reconsidered, the networks and cable stations did not make any definitive statements until they felt sufficient data was in.

According to the New York Times, the six news organizations that compile exit polls (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and The Associated Press) did not release any results until 5 p.m., which is four hours later than results were released in 2004.

CNN did not call any states until 7 p.m., when they announced that Vermont had gone for Obama and Kentucky had gone for McCain. All of the television stations waited until 11 p.m. to project that Obama had won the presidency.
Unlike the caution exhibited by the television anchors and correspondents, the New York Times states that some Internet sites—specifically Slate, Huffington Post and The Page—were eager to be the first to project a winner. As early as 9:30 p.m., Slate posted that Obama had won, and The Page did the same minutes later.

Robert Isabella, FCLC ’09, said, “For the most part I was fine with the way the media covered the election. I don’t have a TV, so I was following the election online. My only real problem with the media coverage was that I thought they called Pennsylvania too early, but since they called it for the eventual winner they obviously didn’t make a mistake in doing so.”

After following the election coverage on National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the three big networks, CNN, MSNBC and FOX News Channel (FNC), Monique Fortune, adjunct professor of communication and media studies at Fordham, said that she felt that NPR and PBS did the best job.

“I really felt that the public stations employed a conversational tone in their coverage,” she said, citing their use of a range of expertise, including presidential historians and academics as well as traditional consultants and analysts. Fortune also said that she appreciated the diversity of reporters on PBS, naming Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodward and Ray Suarez as examples.

“PBS focused on simply presenting the information and letting voters make assessments on their own,” Fortune said, and contrasted this method to the coverage exhibited on the networks and big cable stations. Fortune said she felt a “show biz twinge” to the coverage done by the three big networks and spoke of their extensive use of flashy graphics and complicated LED maps.

Rev. Michael Tueth, S.J., professor of communication and media studies at Fordham, agreed. “The coverage spent too much effort, time and money on technological gimmickry, especially the holograms.”

Fortune said, “I am increasingly worried about the cable stations, CNN, MSNBC and FNC. I felt that at times, they let ego run away with them.” While observing anchors such as Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper on CNN, Fortune said that she sensed at times a “vocal competition” between “personalities trying to out-talk each other,” which facilitated a competition-like comparison of knowledge, instead of an informative conversational atmosphere.

As for the outpouring of emotion that many anchors and reporters exhibited after the announcement was made that Obama was the president-elect, Fortune said, “That simply shows that journalists are human, too.”