ABC is the big winner in election coverage

November 04, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

With the networks sharing the same polling data, there was not much difference in early national projections and the calling of state elections last night.

But there was a world of difference in presentation. ABC broke from the gate strong and sure, leaving everyone except CNN in the dust.

The most obvious differences were at the anchor desk and in the visuals created by producers and technicians to help viewers make sense of the vote totals.

Peter Jennings, who co-anchored with David Brinkley, was in a class by himself.

Shortly after 7, for example, CBS' Dan Rather was already coming across as over-excited, telling viewers, "The voting tonight is so exciting it makes the wax pop out of your ears."

Meanwhile, Jennings was clearly excited, too, about what appeared to be a big voter turnout and tight races in several key states. But his delivery was calm, assured, low-key and almost understated as he strolled through the first 10 states explaining what it meant that New Hampshire went to Bill Clinton and that George Bush had to hold off a challenge from Clinton in Indiana. Jennings was the calm in the eye of the election-night storm of statistics and expectations.

L Almost as impressive were the visuals and technology at ABC.

Meanwhile, CNN seemed to have correspondents all over the country, and their live reports were solid if nothing else in the early going. But the anchor desk lacked sparkle. There was no strong center or focus -- with Catherine Crier and Bernard Shaw -- for all the words and numbers being furiously funneled into Atlanta.

NBC certainly wasn't in the same league as ABC or even CNN, but its early coverage seemed organized in a way it has rarely appeared to be on big stories in recent years.

In addition to its Rather woes, CBS also seemed to be having more trouble than any of the other networks in translating the shared data into insights. It was a beat or two behind throughout the first two hours.

On the local level, it was a night of unprecedented competition among Baltimore stations as they set out to cover election night with the specter of ratings report cards, tomorrow thanks to overnight audience measurements.

WJZ (Channel 13) started out pursuing the voter-turnout story harder than any of its rivals. It seemed to have fewer resources in the field, but a surer sense of direction back in the newsroom.

The best moment for WBAL (Channel 11) in the early going came when Dr. Benjamin Hooks, who has been working as a part-time analyst for the station since April, explained the importance of various House races to African-American candidates.

WMAR (Channel 2), meanwhile, had a lot of strength in the field, but the various players at its anchor desk -- Stan Stovall, Sally Thorner and analyst Dr. Frank Morris -- rarely seemed to be on the same page of their playbooks during the first newsbreaks.

Jeff Barnd, at Channel 45, seemed a lot stronger and assured in his solo newsbreaks during entertainment programs on the local Fox affiliate.

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