Networks Promise Cautious Tone in All-Night Coverage

Posted November 1, 2004 at 4:32pm

Election night coverage at the major TV networks has been revamped to avoid the debacle that occurred four years ago.

NBC has removed television monitors from its decision desk to avoid influence from the rest of the networks. CBS has added phrases like “too close to estimate” to hedge its bets. And all the networks will surely be more cautious in their calls than in previous years.

In addition to differences in coverage individually, the Voter News Service run by the major networks has been scrapped and replaced by the National Election Pool. The NEP will use votes tallied by The Associated Press from exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Following is a breakdown of each network’s programming plan for Tuesday night.

ABC

The network launches its election coverage at 6:30 p.m. with its nightly news program, “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.” With Jennings anchoring ABC News’ entire coverage, the network will feature its familiar faces until the presidential election has been decided.

Jennings will be joined by “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos, “Good Morning America Weekend Edition” anchor Kate Snow, and commentators Cokie Roberts, George Will and Fareed Zakaria.

An interesting feature of ABC’s programming this year will be “Ballot Watch.” In it, the network will focus on “voting mistakes, errors, or practices which may affect the outcome of the presidential race,” according to a network news release.

CBS

Dan Rather, who has covered every presidential election since 1964, will anchor CBS News’ Election Night coverage. That broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to run through 2 a.m., though if events warrant, coverage will continue beyond the planned wrap-up.

In addition to analysis by “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer and “60 Minutes” correspondents Ed Bradley and Lesley Stahl, CBS will send correspondents out to key battleground states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

CBSNews.com will be updated throughout the night and will provide the same exit poll data available to the networks as the results come in. The Web site will also carry live victory celebrations and concession speeches.

CNN

Wolf Blitzer will anchor the cable network’s broadcast from the Nasdaq market site in New York’s Times Square, beginning at 7 p.m. CNN will utilize the 96-screen video wall in the stock exchange, the largest of its kind in the nation, to bring viewers all of the results.

In addition to Blitzer, CNN will have correspondent Bill Schneider and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin covering the races, while crews will be deployed to key battleground states.

One of the features of CNN’s coverage will be a town hall-style meeting in front of a live audience. This event will be run by “Crossfire” hosts Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson, Robert Novak and James Carville and shown throughout the night on CNN.

C-SPAN

C-SPAN will feature coverage focused on facts more than flash. Coverage will begin at 9 p.m. and run through 3 a.m., featuring concession and victory speeches from races across the country and a graphic in the lower part of the screen with results from The Associated Press.

As has long been C-SPAN’s custom, viewer phone calls will be taken during the broadcast to hear voter reaction throughout the evening. Following the live coverage, C-SPAN will rebroadcast concession and victory speeches.

Fox

Fox News Channel’s election coverage will begin at 7 p.m. and continue until a winner has been decided. Brit Hume will anchor the coverage and will be joined by Juan Williams, Bill Kristol, Susan Estrich, Fred Barnes and Roll Call Executive Editor Morton Kondracke in New York.

For this year’s hotly contested states, Fox News has created an exclusive Election Day poll. Among the swing states featured in the poll are Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Greta Van Susteren will spend the evening reporting on ballot initiatives, and Michael Barone will be reporting the results of the NEP exit polls. As the other networks are doing, Fox will send reporters to various battleground states across the country.

NBC/MSNBC

Among the plans for NBC’s election night coverage are two rather unique art projects: The New York-based network plans on turning the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink into a giant jigsaw puzzle map of the United States and using the General Electric building as an electronic bar graph.

Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert will be reporting from the Big Apple, and as results come in, pieces of the puzzle will be filled in with either red or blue states.

In addition to its coverage in New York City, NBC will be reporting on voting irregularities across the country with the help of a toll-free hot line voters can use to complain about problems; (800) MYVOTE1 will be open to the public until polling closes. NBC will investigate potential problems throughout the night.

MSNBC’s coverage will be anchored by Chris Matthews of “Hardball.” Coverage begins at 6 p.m., will run until 3 a.m. and will feature a panel comprising Andrea Mitchell, Jon Meacham, Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan.

PBS

PBS offers slightly less frilly coverage than the rest of the major networks. Most affiliates will cover local races during the early evening hours, and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” will begin coverage of the national races at 10 p.m., running through 1 a.m.

PBS plans to rely mostly on AP projections for the national and Senate campaigns. Viewers tuning into PBS should expect less analysis and conjecture into who is winning various races but more raw data.

In the Washington, D.C., area, both WETA and WMPT will show their regularly scheduled programs until 10 p.m., when they pick up the three hours of national coverage.