Does it matter that cable newschannels allowed pundits to host Tuesday election coverage?
Remember when one of the big controversies during last year's election season was the use of opinionated pundits on MSNBC to report election returns?
That may feel like a quaint memory if Tuesday's election reporting is any indication, as Fox News Channel and MSNBC both folded coverage into their existing, opinionated pundit shows in prime time, assuring that results would be immediately dissected in the partisan terms favored by each channel's host lineup.
CNN also offered coverage hosted by its prime time anchors, Campbell Brown, Larry King and Anderson Cooper, but given those hosts' tendency to strike an evenhanded tone, the ideological tilt-o-meter didn't ring much for me.
On Fox, that meant conservative hero Bill O'Reilly spent much of his show chewing over issues with former George W. Bush electoral mastermind Karl Rove (he did have news anchor Bret Baier deliver election news in breaks). Later, Sean Hannity was interviewing former Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen, who lost his bid for re-election after tossing that racial slur at a worker for a rival campaign, talking about Republicans winning back the Virginia governor's office.
On MSNBC, liberal heroes Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow presented returns within their shows as well, chewing over the results with an intensity rarely seen for off year elections, which in St. Petersburg Tuesday drew less than 30 percent of voters -- a typical result across the country.
Of course, this focus on a handful of state and city races -- I couldn't believe Fox News was reporting results in Virginia's attorney general race, as if a national audience really cared -- helps cable news outlets, which see big ratings spikes when the audience perceives big news is afoot.
And given ratings figures which seems to show the ideological focus of Fox News and MSNBC earning prime time viewership ahead of CNN in October, it's a development to be expected. But it doesn't offer viewers much perspective or context.
Personally, I agreed with the Daily Show's take on all of it last night -- recorded before the prime time coverage even started:
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