What Channel Should You Watch on Election Night?

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Even if you want to avoid Election Night on Tuesday, you won’t be able to. Every channel will have wall-to-wall coverage, essentially all night: There aren’t even any sports events scheduled for the night. (ESPN2 is airing “Death Diving World Championships From Norway.”) And it’s not like anyone’s having viewing parties: The Break The Glass Ceiling parties of 2016 would be too fresh on everyone’s minds even if there wasn’t a pandemic going on. You’ll be on your couch, waiting to see if democracy survives. It’s as good a place as any.

But what channel should you watch? Where do you land on such a pivotal night? Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate has argued that no pundits should be allowed on the air until Wednesday morning, which is smart and prudent and obviously isn’t going to happen. So here, for the nervous, for the anxious, is a Viewer’s Guide for Election Night.

Some of you may be reading this and saying, “Well, obviously I’ll be watching Fox News, that’s the only channel I ever watch. In fact, my dog accidentally stepped on the remote the other day and switched off Fox News for a second, and I shot him for it.” Know that this Viewer’s Guide is perhaps not for you. For the rest of you: Here’s a Guide for roughly what percentage of your time you should devote to watching each channel on this most emotional of nights. You’re going to want to be flipping around, to get out some of that jittery energy.

CBS (20 percent). CBS is most famous electorally for Dan Rather’s wild metaphors from Election Night 2000 — “this race is shakier than cafeteria Jell-O!” — but it’s a much more staid place. Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, Margaret Brennan, Ed O’Keefe and (my personal favorite) “60 Minutes” correspondent (and “Slate Political Gabfest” podcaster) John Dickerson are all reasonable and level-headed and exactly the people you will want to keep you sane. When you want to be kept sane, anyway. Because you’re not watching to stay entirely sane. If you were entirely sane, after all, you’d be watching Netflix. Thus …

MSNBC/NBC News (25 percent). Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt and the gang will be on the NBC mothership, but everything you get from them, you can get from the CBS crew. No, MSNBC is your channel for either liberal celebration or liberal lamentation: It will get very, very intense over there, no matter what happens. Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams are anchoring throughout the night, and Chris Hayes will ride alongside them early on before taking over deep in the evening. The real fun here will be the guests: James Carville’s gonna show up and say something crazy at some point, no question. Steve Kornacki is the data guy here, by the way, and the one to keep you anchored on the math and figures. Though your superstar in that regard is over at …

ABC News (10 percent). ABC News has FiveThirtyEight genius Nate Silver, who will be popping up throughout the night to tell us all what’s really going on out there. Silver’s team at FiveThirtyEight will have their Election Night live blog going all day and all night, but if you want the light version, the one slightly less likely to make you claw at your face in terror, ABC News is the way to go.

PBS/C-SPAN/BBC America (10 percent). These three channels will do a terrific, understated, cautious and rational job covering the election, so any time you need to bring your temperature down, give them a visit. You will inevitably end up getting bored, and worried that something more exciting and crazy is happening on one of the other networks, so you’ll switch eventually no matter how much you know you shouldn’t. The good news is that when someone asks you what channel you watched the election returns on, you can say “PBS” and make the person who asked you feel inferior, and you won’t even be lying.

CNN (25 percent). This is probably your best bet, all told. They have decades of experience covering breaking news, and the news doesn’t get more breaking than this. Wolf Blitzer is a funny guy to make fun of, but he’s good at his job and has a very serious beard, and Jake Tapper’s entire life has been building toward this moment. Anderson Cooper will absolutely have a terrific double-take at some point; Dana Bash too. They also have David Axelrod and their own little Nate Silver in Harry Enten. The downside: You will occasionally come across Rick Santorum. When that happens, heck, you might as well switch to …

Fox News (5 percent). If you’re going to get the Propaganda Ministry, you might as well get it from the people who are good at it. Frankly, you’re going to want to keep an eye on Fox News anyway to see how they are framing reality at that particular moment, and there’s always a chance there’s another Karl Rove moment like in 2012. However: If Trump wins, you absolutely will not want to go here. To be fair: You probably won’t want to go anywhere.

ESPN2 (5 percent): Don’t sleep on the Death Diving World Championships From Norway. By the end of the night, you might need all the death diving you can get.

Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

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Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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