Looking at the Media Coverage of Tuesday’s Elections

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

The United States might be spectacularly divided when it comes to our politics, but there’s one thing we all should agree on: media coverage of our elections is outstanding.

Tuesday night’s coverage, particularly on TV, was top-notch.

ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and the cable news networks, particularly MSNBC, all provided Americans with coverage that was long on analysis and reporting and properly short on hyperbole and speculation.

The coverage, of course, is not over. Votes are still being counted. As expected, Election Day will turn into Election Week.

But looking at Tuesday night, the big winner was TV viewers. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

Star of the Night

As always, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, with his big map, was a must-see every time he was on the screen. Not just because he had the latest numbers, but because he had all the trends. I talked to Kornacki back in August about how he was preparing for Tuesday night, and he went through how he studies up on all the nuances in the pivotal counties that help determine elections. For Kornacki, Tuesday was a culmination of months and even years of preparation and experience.

Kornacki was at his best Tuesday when looking at races in Pennsylvania and Georgia, comparing this year’s critical Senate races to how Joe Biden and Donald Trump fared in 2020. Kornacki also showed the gaps between how the senatorial candidates compared to the gubernatorial candidates of the same party.

For example, the numbers were showing that Georgia GOP senatorial candidate Herschel Walker and Pennsylvania Democratic candidate John Fetterman were both not performing up to the levels of the governor candidates of the same party. That showed how voters — particularly Democrats in Pennsylvania and Republicans in Georgia — might have been splitting their votes. He was just as good when his MSNBC colleagues threw him questions, quickly coming up with answers and easily adjusting his analysis.

He also was especially impressive when talking about how Mehmet Oz, who is running against Fetterman, wasn’t meeting the Trump 2020 numbers in Pennsylvania — numbers that weren’t good enough to win the state. His several-minute breakdown gave an early preview of how the hotly-contested Pennsylvania vote would turn out.

And his breakdown of the House races just before midnight was spectacular. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said, “That was remarkable. I don’t think I know anything in the world as well as Steve knows the House races.”

Even when he wasn’t talking, MSNBC used a “Kornacki Cam” to let viewers know that he was hard at work. A “Kornacki Cam?” You gotta love it.

King of the maps

While Kornacki is always superb, it should be mentioned that CNN’s John King and his big map also are worthy candidates as the stars of the night. Like Kornacki, King is fast on his feet and expertly can break down races by using recent voting history and his experience to give viewers a look at what is happening in real-time and how it could play out over the rest of the night. A good example of King’s work was this piece in which he explained how competitive House races can predict a red or blue wave.

With seemingly a million races to track and voting numbers coming in at a dizzying and relentless pace, Kornacki and King were never rattled, were always sharp, and everything they said armed viewers with more knowledge.

Cool coverage

The Washington Post debuted its Elections Model page, with up-to-the-minute results of every House and Senate race, as well as a governors page. The Post also linked to races in all of the states. It’s well-designed and extremely informative. And another really good Post project: “Tracking which 2020 election deniers are winning, losing in the midterms.” At 11:30 p.m Eastern on Tuesday, the Post reported that more than 130 election deniers (out of 291) had won their midterm race.

Meanwhile, The New York Times brought back its Needle graphic, which shifts to and fro depending on projections of who will win control of the House and Senate. CNN’s Oliver Darcy accurately describes it as the “anxiety-inducing” needle. That’s accurate because of how those who followed the 2020 presidential election stressed over every subtle shift of the needle.

It’s also occasionally frustrating for readers when the Needle has to be shut down for a while, as it was Tuesday night. The Times ran a note that said, “We’re looking into an issue with our estimates in Louisiana. We plan to turn the needle back on soon.”

Again, that’s frustrating, but the right thing to do is to make sure the coverage and projections remain as accurate as possible, even if that means turning it off for a while. Besides, it wasn’t down for long and was a go-to resource all night long.

Random thoughts

It’s still a bit odd to see longtime Fox News newsman Chris Wallace on CNN. And we’re still getting used to seeing Kasie Hunt on CNN, too.

Good news/bad news from a CNN voter exit poll on Tuesday. Roughly 8 in 10 of voters in this year’s midterms said they were at least somewhat confident that elections in their state are being conducted fairly and accurately. But about 7 in 10 feel that democracy in the country is somewhat or very threatened.

MSNBC is seen as the network for “liberals,” but the coverage all night was outstanding. Besides Kornacki, the strong suit was panel discussions about issues. That panel, moderated by Chris Hayes, included former RNC chairman Michael Steele, former Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and MSNBC host Symone Sanders Townsend, who is the former chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris. And while Rachel Maddow is liked by liberals and loathed by conservatives, she does an outstanding job running an election broadcast, performing like a really good basketball point guard setting up the people around her while showing off her skills.

Speaking of MSNBC, former Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki was prominent on coverage Tuesday night, and she looks to have the potential to be a TV star.

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