Wisconsin Recall Was A Bad Night For Cable News

None of the cable news networks did particularly well last night.

Politico’s Dylan Beyers laments the pathetic mess that was cable news coverage of last night’s Wisconsin Recall:

If ever there was a political event to lay bare the partisan ideologies of the cable news media, the Wisconsin recall was it.

MSNBC was blatantly rooting for Tom Barrett to defeat Gov. Scott Walker, even sending union champion Ed Schultz to cover an event with no apologies for the dog he has in the fight. (Earlier tonight, Chris Matthews even told Schultz that if he wasn’t an MSNBC host, he could be head of the AFL-CIO.) When it became clear that Barrett would lose, Schultz looked almost teary eyed. Not long after, the network’s contributors immediately began suggesting that this was, in fact, good news for Obama — who, after all, hadn’t even set foot in Wisconsin — and began attacking Mitt Romney.

Meanwhile,Fox News was blatantly rooting for Gov. Walker, and the moment it became clear that Walker might win, host Sean Hannity called it “a repudiation of big unions,” which did “everything they could do to demonize Scott Walker.” Guest Hugh Hewitt then predicted that, five months from now, Romney would follow Walker just “as Reagan followed Thatcher.” Fox’s Greta Van Susteren later hosted what amounted to a victory celebration for the Republicans.

Given this blatant partisan coverage, it was absolutely impossible to watch either network and weed out any clear understanding of the actual significance of the event, much less what effect it would actually have on the 2012 presidential election.

It would have been a perfect night for CNN to step in and provide some relatively unbiased, insightful, political commentary. Sadly, as this video shows, the world’s first all-news network spent most of the first hour after Wisconsin polls closed re-broadcasting footage from Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubliee:

CNN was actually the only network that devoted much time to the Jubilee to begin with, most likely because they happen to employ former Daily Mirror editor and British media personality Piers Morgan, so I suppose they had to air some footage last night to justify however much money they spent covering something that, in all honesty, isn’t really of interest to Americans. Nonetheless, it was disappointing that the night started out with Wolf Blitzer telling us that exit polls showed that the race between Walker and Barrett was “very close,” only to see him come back within the hour projecting a Walker win. What the heck happened in between? If nothing else, the initial exit poll data was being woefully misinterpreted.  On some level, I suppose I can’t blame CNN, though. It takes awhile for raw results to start coming in even in this technological day and age, and I’m not sure that an hour of listening to Anderson Cooper, Erick Erickson, and Paul Begala talk about the impact of an election before they even know what the results are might actually have been more boring than watching the richest woman in the world take part in a taxpayer-subsidized party. Still, perhaps they could have done what C-SPAN did and simulcast with one of the local television stations in Madison or Milwaukee. At least they would’ve had reporters on the ground.

But no, instead we got Piers Morgan gushing over some old lady on a balcony.

Of course, if CNN was disappointing, MSNBC and Fox were just pathetic in their partisanship. Night’s like last night are the reason I can barely watch either network for more than a few minutes anymore . Sadly, that kind of nonsense is what brings in viewers, and it shows in the fact that CNN continues to suffer from some of its worst ratings in years. If this is any indication of what Election coverage between now and November is going to be like, it’s going to get pretty painful.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    I didn’t watch because there was no drama whatsoever. They were projecting Walker’s survival almost immediately after the polls closed.

    There was no point to watch any election show after that.

  2. mantis says:

    Given this blatant partisan coverage, it was absolutely impossible to watch either network

    He could have stopped there, and it is true every day, not just last night.

    If this is any indication of what Election coverage between now and November is going to be like, it’s going to get pretty painful.

    It is, and it will be. Don’t watch. It’s the only way they will learn. It’s far less irritating to get live results from the Internet anyway.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Watching MSNBC while reading OTB at least provided the distinct pleasure of listening to Rachel Maddow insinuate that Romney liked Hitler, while commentors excoriated Doug for claiming that Maddow had simply become another partisan blowhard.

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    The point of CNN is that they are doing a bad job of coordinating CNN International and CNN US(Frankly, these two channels should be separated entities available to everyone worldwide). For CNN international the Queen´s jubilee is important, anyway.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I don’t know, I think there are lots of people who would enjoy watching Ed Shultz cry.

    It’s not as good as a Walker defeat would have been, but it’s something. It’s a little bit of sweetness in an otherwise bleak evening.

  6. Kinky Beats says:

    Sean Hannity vs. Ed Schultz in a caged death match.

    That’d be the only time you’d catch me watching the cable news channels.

  7. John Burgess says:

    @Andre Kenji: No, I think it was more CNN trying to save some pennies by rebroadcasting material on the Jubilee that it had already paid for. CNN is tanking and it needs to cut costs.

    I do wish CNN and iCNN (the international version) were both available in the US. They are such very different creatures that I think viewers would be shocked to see just how different.

  8. Racehorse says:

    I think that Piers Morgan’s coverage of events in London was much more important and interesting.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    OK, let’s face it – cable “news” is not news. It’s talk radio on a flat screen. Once you realize that none of this is all that shocking.

  10. G.A. says:

    Sean Hannity vs. Ed Schultz in a caged death match.

    Now a claymation pundit death match show would be awesome:) Celebrity Deathmatch, one of the last good things on MTV…