March 25, 2019

Wary Networks Dawdled on House Call, Until Fox News Led the Way

Mr. Hannity had drawn criticism after participating in a Trump rally on Monday, which Fox News later deemed “an unfortunate distraction.” (On his radio show, Mr. Hannity said he was “always off on election night on Fox News — have been for my whole career, thankfully.”)

Tuesday’s coverage was expected to reach millions more viewers than a typical midterm year.

ABC, CBS and NBC allotted a supersize block of time — three hours in prime time — to feed viewers’ appetite for political news. Usually, midterms only merit an hour of coverage on the Big Three broadcast stations, usually starting at 10 p.m. Cable news networks, whose ratings now regularly beat rival channels like ESPN, constructed glossy new sets for the occasion; Fox News, for instance, built a hub outside its studio on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan.

With anchors juggling nearly 500 races across the country, the visual breakdown of votes dominated much of the early coverage.

For about three hours after the first polls closed at 6 p.m., networks relied heavily on their digital touch-screen maps. On CNN, Mr. King’s fingers zoomed his screen in and out of Broward County in Florida. On MSNBC, Steve Kornacki, shirt sleeves rolled up, worked himself into a frenzy tracking races across multiple states.

At times, it was difficult to discern exactly where the election was turning, especially as pundits zeroed in on two key races in Florida — for governor and for Senate — that were considered bellwethers. In both cases, the Democrats appeared unable to claim a win, prompting Mr. Jones’s onscreen lament.

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Mr. Kornacki, in an interview last week, said that NBC executives realized there might be interest in granular district races after MSNBC scored huge ratings for a special congressional election in Pennsylvania in April.

“In the history of television and cable news, you couldn’t go live wall to wall with a special election in a congressional district in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and expect to get any kind of an audience,” Mr. Kornacki said.

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