The New Hampshire Primary: Ranking the Networks

Going into last night's primary in New Hampshire, voters the world round had three viral YouTube videos to consider. And all three from Hillary Clinton's camp:

1.) Hillary's voice-cracking performance at a campaign stop. The media characterized it as a "tearing up," though I sure didn't see any salt water, and much debate was made over whether she faked it or not.

2.) Bill Clinton's attack on Obama, calling it a big 'ol "fairy tale." Bill's I-don't-give-a-fuck rant was both acerbic and over-the-top, but somehow he did succeed in inspiring some second thoughts on Obama's ability to achieve the change his campaign promises.

3.) The near make-out scene between Hillary and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews. At a press conference, Hillary castrated Matthews, implying that he was obsessed with her. After it ended, Hillary made it up to the spit-talking journalist with a pat on the cheek and a pout. Matthews pinched her cheek.

In the end, Hillary won out, despite the pre-election polls predicting that Obama would win the New Hampshire primary by a substantial margin. But what of the networks? When all is said and done, the primaries aren't just a battle royale between the candidates, but a race between news stations to present the strongest coverage and win the most viewers. The audience stats aren't in yet, but here's how I'm calling it:

MSNBC and CNN: Tie for Best


Will someone please tell me: When did the CNN newsroom become the bridge of Star Trek Voyager? Watching CNN, these days, is like watching your computer screen: multiple windows, hyper-detailed maps and zero personality (Wolf Blitzer oughta either retire or start experimenting with mind-expanding drugs). With MSNBC playing the liberal media and FOX continuing with its sub-par right-wing coverage, CNN's aiming to be what it's always been: the straight news source with integrity. Fair enough, if I wanted an overabundance of raw data, CNN's where I'd turn. But, in the end, their meticulous coverage hurt them. They weren't able to call the late-night Democratic results until after Obama conceded. (I'm still undecided on Dana Bash, the thin-faced reporter who is simultaneously hard to look at and, yet, really sexy.)

MSNBC, on the other hand, was afire with character. Tom Brokaw and Joe Scarborough spent much of the evening in apologies: Brokaw to McCain for counting him out, Scarborough to himself for getting too swept up in the Obamenon (Gloria Steinem is mostly to thank for Scarborough's turnaround). Throughout the night, to the sound of bleeping email pagers, MSNBC called each race's conclusion well before the networks and filled the dead air with evenly half-baked and philosophical discussion on what these results will mean for the rest of the season (the philosophical bit being Keith Olbermann's poetic asides on epistemology: why do they even bother predicting if they're going to get it wrong?).

Matthews was obviously still hurt by the obsessed-with-Hillary thing and recent attacks in the blogosphere calling him chauvinistic. But that's what great about MSNBC: Whether its Matthews' crushes or Olbermann's "Special Comments" or Tim Russert's giddiness at the new generation of voters, the network made the conscious decision to start taking politics personally, while CNN still seems completely isolated.

But one point to consider is the screen layout. CNN, as I mentioned, was all computer desktoppy, while MSNBC realized that viewers were more interested in seeing the speeches clearly and full-screen. Though I'm calling it a draw, I'll admit (and, of course, I'm a bit biased) that I spent more time on MSNBC than watching "America's best political news team." (Plus, I love, love Rachel Maddow and sincerely hope she replaces Tucker Carlson).

FOX News: Trailing in Third Place


Watching FOX during the primaries was like watching the TV Guide Channel, with a good half of the screen taken up with gaudy, scrolling graphics. Maybe gaudy isn't the right word. Cheesy, maybe? They were interrupting speeches with Top Gun sound affects as useless animations flew around the screen. Either way, they cut off John McCain's chin during his victory speech with their info bars and the camera was underexposed during Mike Huckabee's concession speech. Even worse, half the time I flipped to FOX the anchors were simply reading the news directly off the info bars.

C-SPAN: A Respectable Fourth


So, C-SPAN was as dull as it always is, taking calls from voters and presenting raw interviews. You've got to give them props, however, for broadcasting Desperate Housewives' star James Denton wearing a "Steelworkers for Edwards" sweatshirt -- this was the only real celebrity appearance of the night.

CNN Headline News: A big, big, Duncan-Hunter-level loser


I hate Glenn Beck, so I take extreme pleasure in the fact that the blowhard pundit wasn't invited to cover the election. Instead, he was relegated to non-election news on CNN's dumbed down sister station. His big interview of the night? US Comptroller General David Walker, who Beck complimented for finally speaking out... on what? Who knows. No one was watching.