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On election night, the three-way race was too close to call—the one between the networks, that is. ABC's Peter Jennings was the most assured of the anchors and certainly the most relaxed, strolling the set or sitting back with fingers knitted over a crossed leg. Jennings could afford to be laid-back. His network had by far the deepest bench of reporters and analysts and, by a matter of crucial seconds, the fastest number crunchers. (Though Lynn Sherr, coaxing bar graphs to rise with a wave of her hand, was silly.) Jennings's liability was being saddled with David Brinkley, who kept rambling into inconsequential anecdotes.
NBC's more sedulous Tom Brokaw had a solid deskmate in first-time election hand Bryant Gumbel, who exhibited his usual computerlike efficiency in tracking regional races. Gumbel shone brighter at the anchor desk than he does on the Today couch.
As always, the big night brought out the folksy locutions for CBS's Dan Rather, who said he wouldn't report any results until we could "bet the baby's milk money." And Rather had to go to the colloquial woodshed often. Due to the thinness of CBS News's aging ranks, he logged more solo camera time than any other anchor.
CNN presented an impressive array of numbers, graphics and analysis about local and national races, particularly early on. Their coverage was ideal for political junkies but dense for casual viewers. Most of us just want a trusted figure to tell us what we need to know. Election night is the time every four years when network anchors earn their keep.
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