James Comey Testimony Plays Like Super Bowl of Politics for TV News Nets

The major news networks pulled out their biggest anchors, flashy graphics packages, and array of commentators on Thursday to cover nearly three hours of live testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee from former FBI director James Comey on the question of why he was fired by President Trump last month.

The fact that Comey opened his remarks with the unvarnished assertion that President Trump and administration officials lied in an effort to “defame” him personally and the FBI in general set the tone for the session. The questioning from the dais of mostly dour-faced senators never got too combative, nor did Comey seem to break a sweat despite sitting in the hot seat alone for more than two and a half hours.

Like a sporting event, the major news networks offered pre- and post-game coverage that dissected every word exchanged at the hearing. In a sign of the political significance of Comey’s testimony, ABC, CBS, and NBC scrapped regularly scheduled daytime programming to carry the Comey hearing live. The broadcasters wrapped their coverage between 12:50 p.m.-1 p.m. ET. But CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC were just getting started once Comey left the hearing room to continue his testimony involving classified matters in a closed-door session.

The testimony that delved into everything from Comey’s one-on-one contacts with President Trump to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation to his opinion that there is no doubt that the Russian government directed hackers to interfere with the U.S. election yielded a bonanza of material for cable news talking-heads to pore over at length.

MSNBC’s Brian Williams and contributor Nicolle Wallace marveled at Comey’s insistence on Russia’s role and Trump’s apparent lack of concern about its impact. “He never once asked him about Russian interference? He only told him to let his good buddy Michael Flynn off the hook,” Wallace said, incredulously, referring to Comey’s claim that Trump pressured him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Flynn, who was fired only weeks after his appointment for failing to disclose his contacts with Russian officials as Vice President Mike Pence assembled Trump’s transition team.

At Fox News, “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace declared that Comey’s session had been good for the president from a legal standpoint but bad from a political perspective. “If I were Donald Trump’s lawyer, I’d be pretty happy,” Chris Wallace said. But the repeated incidents of Comey calling Trump out on what he asserted were false statements and efforts to exert his influence over the FBI’s independence were damaging, Wallace opined.

CNN convened a large panels of experts with Anderson Cooper in the studio, and for good measure it had Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger and John King perched in chairs on the lawn outside the Capitol.

Bash keyed in on Comey’s admission that he sought to get his side of the story out by having a friend leak the contents of his now-famous memos of his meetings with Trump to the New York Times. “He’s not just a Pollyanna Boy Scout,” Bash said of Comey.

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