The 2006 elections have garnered more broadcast coverage than the last midterm elections, much of it billing them as bringing political change, and although the networks have vowed that they will not make any premature calls tomorrow night, virtuous reserve may not stem partisan flirtations.
“Victories for Democrats anywhere in the country will be cast as a repudiation of President Bush and the war on Iraq, on a Republican Congress and possibly on conservative policies in general,” said Brent Baker of the Media Research Center.
“The networks may have learned their lessons about calling a race before the polls have closed. But they’re going to seek any hints which could portray an overall trend in favor of Democrats,” Mr. Baker said. “If a Republican loses in Indiana, where the polls close at 7 p.m., they’ll seize on it right away.”
The Republican Party has been the broadcasters’ whipping boy: In the weeks prior to the election, only 12 percent of the news stories on the Big Three networks favored Republicans, according to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which counted almost 170 midterm-themed stories by Oct. 22, compared with 35 by a comparable date in 2002.
Election-night coverage will feature big names and multiple components. ABC, NBC and CBS will offer hourly updates and one-hour specials at 10 p.m.
ABC will use dozen correspondents, a special edition of “Nightline,” continual coverage online and even commentary from former Sen. Fred Thompson, a Tennessee Republican and a senior analyst on ABC Radio. NBC will bring back former anchor Tom Brokaw to the news desk alongside Brian Williams and Tim Russert. CBS will hand the election night reins to newly minted anchor Katie Couric.
The cable networks are frantic. After five prime-time hours of “multiplatform” results delivered by 40 correspondents, CNN’s coverage will continue until 5 a.m. when the network airs “complete postgame election results.” MSNBC has predicted that the election “could lead to a seismic shift in political power” and will hold forth on the idea from 6 p.m. through 6 a.m. Wednesday. The Fox News Channel begins coverage at 7 p.m. with Brit Hume, Fred Barnes and others on analysis, and Chris Wallace to cover those tricky exit polls.
Those polls and the ever-important voter projections will again be provided to the National Election Pool (NEP) — a consortium of five broadcast and cable networks and the Associated Press — by veteran pollsters Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
The AP will cover more than 6,000 races, with some 5,000 correspondents.
Election-night junkies have yet to forget errors made in the 2000 presidential race, and again in the 2002 midterms after the Voter News Service could not guarantee the accuracy of their information and overeager and/or biased journalists were left to fend for themselves.
Will we see shenanigans tomorrow night?
“There is no way to guarantee that a mistake in identifying a winner will not happen again,” noted the NEP. “If it does, the public can be assured that the mistake will be publicly acknowledged and corrected as soon as possible.”
By Elaine Donnelly
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