- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Broadcasters gave the midterm elections a fitting finale last night after weeks of intense coverage that already had cast the off-year race as a dramatic harbinger of political change.

Between them, the cable and broadcast networks offered about 50 hours of commentary and analysis, amplified by celebrity anchors and often-confusing special effects and the din of bloggers.

Each network vowed it would not declare any winners before the polls closed and final results were received from sequestered National Election Pool analysts. That didn’t stop many of them from trumpeting early “projections” — sometimes with zero percent of precincts reporting.

Some broadcasters cast an anti-Republican pall to their reports from the get-go, referring time and again to the “unpopular” Iraq war, and the travails of former Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, and the Rev. Ted Haggard of Colorado.

Mr. Foley resigned from Congress after inappropriate e-mails he sent to former male congressional pages became public. Mr. Haggard, a high-profile evangelist, was fired as the leader of his congregation amid accusations of homosexual sex and drug use.

“Who knows what effect it will have on evangelical voters?” NBC’s Tom Brokaw said while dramatic video footage rolled.

“There are a lot of Republicans who are just not happy,” he continued, later framing the Iraq war as “a metaphor for credibility and accountability” for the Republican Party.

The midterms, CBS’ Bob Schieffer said, “may be shaping up as the Republicans’ worst nightmare.”

Former Clinton adviser Paul Begala warned Democrats that they might face intimidation at polling places in a morning interview yesterday on radio network Air America. He advised voters to take cameras and record evidence of wrongdoing.

“Republicans like to think of the polls as a gated community,” Mr. Begala said.

“It was an entire day of Monday morning quarterbacking, with correspondents and pundits providing every possible scenario and rationale that might have unfolded,” said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

“The amount of attention given to nearly zero information was dizzying — it was wall-to-wall coverage of a very small floor,” he added.

The scope of some coverage was sometimes monumental. With 40 correspondents and 15 hours of election fare, CNN tracked races on an electronic “smart board,” an onscreen political ticker, a “videowall” and its very own “voter irregularities desk,” meant to oversee polling place shenanigans. The network also assembled 29 political bloggers to spew continual analysis online, and on the air.

Down but not out, former CBS anchorman Dan Rather surfaced on the Comedy Central channel to comment on election results with fake-news anchorman Jon Stewart. CBS itself turned over election coverage to newly minted anchor Katie Couric, with mixed results. Her brand of cushy “soft news” recently landed her network in third place behind NBC and ABC, after a brief fling with the top spot.

Ramped-up coverage and analysis could inadvertently damage the Democratic Party, even according to the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney, who speculated yesterday that the midterms could be a hard act to follow.

“Even a gain may feel like a failure,” Mr. Nagourney said, later, adding that “overheated” expectations “might be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party’s spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle.”

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