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Election Stalemate Remains a Bonanza for News Channels

Television * Meanwhile, CNN appoints a panel to review mistakes made in its election night coverage.

November 22, 2000|ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Viewers continued to flock to cable's all-news networks last week, giving all three a ratings windfall as the presidential election drama dragged on.

CNN, meanwhile, on Tuesday named three outsiders to an independent advisory panel to review what went wrong with its election night reporting and what role was played by the Voter News Service, a network and Associated Press consortium that provides exit poll information. Like the other networks, CNN twice made wrong projections of the winner in Florida.

CNN's review panel will include Joan Konner, a longtime broadcast journalist and former dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism; James Risser, a former newspaper reporter and former director of the John S. Knight journalism fellowships at Stanford University; and Ben Wattenberg, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Other networks are also conducting internal investigations into how they made the wrong calls that night. The errors spurred criticism in Congress, which will conduct hearings in January to explore how and where the process broke down.

The news channels continue to benefit from uncertainty surrounding the election's outcome, with far higher ratings compared to their third-quarter viewing levels. CNN earned top honors for the ratings week that ended Sunday, drawing an average 923,000 viewers in a 24-hour period, up from an average 288,000 viewers during the third quarter. In prime time, the network's average number of viewers surged to 1.5 million, up from 586,000, according to Nielsen Media Research figures provided by CNN.

Fox News Channel was in second place, attracting an average 560,000 viewers on a total-day basis, up from 144,000 in the third quarter. In prime time, the network jumped to an average 984,000 viewers from 330,000. As for MSNBC, it drew an average 540,000 total-day viewers, up from 199,000 in the third quarter, while registering 715,000 viewers on average in prime time, up from 298,000.

CNN is using the viewer windfall to test some possible new programming strategies. "ShowBiz Today" has disappeared temporarily from its afternoon slot, where it makes money for the network but often seems out of place when there is a big national or international news story. Legal analyst Greta van Susteren, usually seen during the day, has been anchoring her own evening program in addition to filing reports through the day.

MSNBC, meanwhile, has scrapped much of its daytime lineup, including taped biographies, to provide special election-related reporting.

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