Midterm media coverage: A night in search of a narrative

NEW YORK (AP) — For news organizations covering the midterm election results, it was a night in search of a narrative.

Tight races across the country confirmed the nation’s divide and kept reporters — armed as they were with statistics and projections — wary of drawing conclusions about the political future. It was an election night that even TV news couldn’t impose a storyline upon.

“This is going to be bare knuckles all the way, and we might not know the answer for quite some time,” analyst Brit Hume said on Fox News Channel.

He was talking about Pennsylvania’s Senate race between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz, but could just as easily have been talking about several others.

“It’s why you brew coffee,” John King grumbled after yet another spin through rural Georgia counties on CNN’s “magic wall” trying to decipher that Senate race.

Fetterman came onstage to declare victory after 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday, but The Associated Press had not called a winner in the tight competition.

The New York Times brought back its “Needle” to project party control of the House and Senate. It barely budged through the evening, showing a toss-up in the Senate and a narrow GOP lead for House control.

Past midnight, AP wrote that “control of Congress hung in the balance early Wednesday.” Similarly, The Washington Post’s lead headline said “Control of Congress up for grabs as many key contests across the country remain unsettled.”

Both Garrett Haake of NBC News and CNN’s Manu Raju did live shots after midnight in a largely empty room where Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy had been hoping to hold a celebration of an impending speakership.

“It’s a long night to go,” Haake said, “but this has turned out to be much more of a slog than Republicans expected on the way to a House majority.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said that “it’s not a slam dunk for anyone on either side of the aisle.”

Kellyanne Conway, the former aide to President Donald Trump who was a commentator on Fox News Channel, grew impatient with on-set discussions about Republicans not performing up to expectations or hopes.

“It’s enough,” she said. “We’ll take it.”

Television networks made an extra effort on Tuesday to have personnel on hand to deal with threats to democracy, such as election deniers or attempts to prevent voting. Instead, there wasn’t much for them to do.

News organizations made skillful use of a raft of statistical analyses. ABC News showed a chart outlining how election deniers were performing in the election. CBS’ polling broke respondents into intriguing categories — like “pressured parents” and “young and restless.”

CBS took a break from its midterm coverage for Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show,” where he read election results and listened to analysis from news anchor John Dickerson.

Through it all, news organizations stressed transparency, and how counting election results had become more difficult because of increased early voting and different state rules in how the vote was counted.

“This is more complicated than it was 10 years ago,” CNN’s King said, “because people are voting in different ways.”


David Bauder is AP’s media writer. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dbauder

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