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TV News Converges on Historic Kavanaugh Hearing

At least 8 major U.S. TV networks launched a new show they believed would generate bigger ratings than anything being replaced on their Thursday daytime schedules.

The nation’s biggest TV-news outlets replaced game shows, “The View,” regular news programming and even “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” to cover a congressional hearing that is expected to become a lighting rod for national attention. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing of testimony from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of assaulting her sexually when they attended high school in the 1980s, represents a conflagration of the highest degree over whether the judge should be approved to sit on the Supreme Court and influence so many national issues.

CNN called the event an “Historic Hearing.” CBS News labeled it a “High-Stakes Hearing.”

Ford’s testimony made for early water cooler moments, When asked how certain she could be about who assaulted her, Ford responded “100%.:” ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos called her remarks “incredibly emotional, unlike any Senate testimony in my memory.” On Fox News Channel, Chris Wallace noted that Republicans had not done much to discredit Ford during the session, “Meantime, the Democrats are landing haymakers” by praising her resolve and willingness to appear in public with her accusations.

Some anchors wondered if having a legal surrogate asking questions on behalf of Republican senators was tantamount to a strategy that backfired. Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said: “You have to believe that the Republican senators right now are asking themselves whether or not this was a good idea – whether or not they have robbed themselves of their opportunity to ask pointed questions in a way that perhaps might be more compelling.”

The furious coverage shows the outsize effect government under the Trump administration is having on even something as quotidian as daytime TV. Most news events don’t warrant hours-long reports that interrupt normal programming. But the events taking place in the current news cycle are of such importance and of such interest to viewers that the TV networks are proving more willing to wipe out normal operations in favor of wall-to-wall live news. May of the networks did the same in June of last year when former FBI chief James Comey testified before Congress about his meetings with President Trump after he had been fired. CNN announced it would live-stream the testimony for anyone who wished to see it, whether or not they had a cable subscription.

Many of the networks planned to kick off coverage of the event with pre-analysis at 9 a.m., but CNN switched out of its “New Day” morning show at about a quarter to the hour, starting wall-to-wall coverage with Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer. In a nod to the intense interest in this legislative drama, CNN started to show commercials side by side with live scenes from protests and the congressional chamber where the hearing will take place. CBS News kept its “CBS This Morning” on the air after its traditional sign-off at 9 a.m. while NBC and ABC went to regularly scheduled morning programs.

By 9:30 a.m., most networks were deep into coverage. “This is an extraordinary moment in our politics the most anticipated and potentially explosive hearing in recent memory and the stakes are very very high, not just for the individuals involved of course but also for the President,’ said Savannah Guthrie during an NBC News special report. Elsewhere, Chris Wallace and Stephanie Rhule were dissecting the event, respectively, for Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

A panoply of well-known anchors took to the screen to cover the event.  Stephanopoulos and David Muir anchored ABC’s coverage, with Dan Abrams, Cokie Roberts and Sunny Hostin of “The View.” CBS viewers saw Gayle King, John Dickerson and Norah O’Donnell of “CBS This Morning.” Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Megyn Kelly and Andrea Mitchell led NBC News’ coverage. Judy Woodruff led PBS’ coverage, which was offered to more than 350 public-television stations across the nation.

Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum anchored for Fox News, along with Chris Wallace, Shannon Bream, Brit Hume and Andrew Napolitano. Tapper and Blitzer were joined on CNN by Dana Bash, John King, Gloria Borger, Nia-Malika Henderson, Joan Biskupic and Jeffrey Toobin.  Brian Williams led MSNBC’s coverage, with contributions from Stephanie Ruhle, Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson, Ali Velshi and Katy Tur. C-SPAN. meanwhile, provided nuts-and-bolts views of the proceedings on C-SPAN3.

Anchors seemed mixed on testimony later in the afternoon from Kavanaugh, who issued a verbal rebuke of the nomination process on live TV. “Clarance Thomas turned a corner when he came back after Anita Hill’s testimony and said, ‘this has been a high-tech lynching.’ Angry and furious and that really did turn the corner,”said NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. “The difference is that he didn’t cry. He was emotional and angry but he was as emotionally raw as the subsequent testimony so it’s a roll coaster here. You don’t know how that is going to play.”



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