Powered by one high-spirited analyst and one pretty-shiny-thing new studio, MSNBC and Fox News trounced CNN in the primetime hours of the presidential election. Fox had been touting the unveiling of its new set for the past month, and it was indeed an eye-catcher, pulsating with throbbing red and oceanic blues.
This provided a glowing showcase for Megyn Kelly, the queen of all she surveys these days, and Bret Baier, sturdy but somewhat humbled by his forced apology a few days ago for reporting that the FBI was heading for a “likely indictment” of Hillary Clinton.
The stand-out personality of the night was MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, who stole the title of King of the Map, long held by CNN’s John King. Kornacki cut a dynamic figure: his sleeves rolled up, his hair artfully askew, his body always leaning in toward the camera, his eyes wide with excitement. He came across like a perennial grad student (he’s actually 37). More important than any of this is that he had the performance, the authority, to match his eager-beaver image. Kornacki rattled off a machine-gun spray of facts and statistics about the tiniest counties, the implications of various demographics, all the while giving his big screen precise taps to enlarge and expand upon the points he was making.
Compared to Kornacki, Big John King looked like he was all thumbs, and over on Fox, well, Bill Hemmer seemed like an awfully nice guy, but even he was telling Brett and Megyn to feel free to interrupt him any time he started tapping his electoral map. Kornacki, as a contrast to anchors Rachel Maddow (all scholarly firmness) and Brian Williams (all brittle wryness), gave his cable network a power surge.
As for CNN? On election night, they were the sad-trombone network, with a glum Dana Bash and the sonorous Wolf Blitzer dragging down the absolutely heroic efforts of Jake Tapper, who was solid as a rock, and often one of the few tough journalists consistently throughout the entire season.