- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fox News supplied an apt metaphor for the New Hampshire primaries. The network labeled its coverage “Politics Unleashed.”

The frenetic pace of news and analysis yesterday included the good, bad and ugly — from folksy reporting to rampant speculation and premature predictions.

“What matters is what finally washes up on the shore at night’s end,” Fox anchorman Chris Wallace said.

There was plenty of hubbub. Journalists outnumbered the 17 first-in-the-nation voters of Dixville Notch as they circled a ballot box at 12:01 a.m. The press prowled for crisis, intent on the latest emotional upheavals within the Clinton camp. Rick Klein of ABC News, in fact, had a characterization for the practice.

“There is palpable momentum for Barack Obama, which in the absence of real news has prompted a parlor game of sorts: How does the Clinton campaign react?” Mr. Klein asked.

Broadcasters spun their wheels until real results arrived, duly examining esoteric voting behavior. Candidates alternately were lauded and vilified. The press eagerly tapped into the political vernacular of the moment, bandying about “change” and “surge” with abandon.

It was no instant frenzy, though. Yesterday’s press “surge” has been building for some time.

“This is the earliest-starting race in memory, and the media has been on it with white-hot intensity for a year,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

With no incumbent and the potential for the nation’s first black or female president, the race itself is unique, he said. At the same time, coverage of the war in Iraq has lessened, leaving a news vacuum.

“There’s a convergence of an interesting race and another story beginning to erode. And people have finally voted. After months, there’s something besides a poll or a pundit or a guess to talk about, leading to an eruption of long pent-up anticipation. That’s to be expected,” Mr. Jurkowitz added.

Broadcasters were eager to embrace citizen journalists. CNN spent the day soliciting homegrown videos from viewers who were “on the streets, in the cafes and voting booths,” to be broadcast during prime time as real poll numbers arrived. Fox touted a prediction that “Democrats were capturing the [independent] vote,” made by Dean Barker, a progressive blogger from Bluehampshire.com.

Even with all the bells and whistles, the press vexes the public, however. A Sacred Heart University poll of 800 adults released yesterday found that only 19 percent believe press coverage. Three of 10 said the press was fair and balanced, while 87 percent said press organizations routinely try to influence public policy. Overall, 45 percent said the press was liberal; 15 percent said it was conservative.

The “most trusted” broadcasters, the survey found, were Fox News, cited by 27 percent, CNN (15 percent) and NBC News (11 percent), with ABC News, “local news” and CBS News tied at 7 percent.

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