CNN versus Fox News on John McCain’s death

John McCain died at home in Arizona at 7:28 PM EDT on Saturday, August 25, and it took less than an hour for the news to be made known to the world. The media had been prepared for this day on Friday by the McCain family’s announcement that the 81-year-old Senator had discontinued medical treatment for his aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor and was preparing for the inevitable.

I had the Fox News Channel on when the news of McCain’s passing broke, after 8 PM ET. Within seconds of each other, all three major cable news channels went to non-stop coverage of McCain’s life and death, most of it commercial free for the first several hours.

An email sent by Fox News at 9:58 PM ET announced:

FOX News Channel (FNC) will present continuous live coverage tonight surrounding the passing of Senator John McCain (R-AZ). FNC broke in with live coverage in the 8PM/ET hour and continued with a special edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine (9PM/ET), where host Judge Jeanine Pirro honored the senator with chief political anchor Bret Baier, chief national correspondent Ed Henry along with former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

FNC’s Jon Scott will continue the network’s live coverage with the latest developments and tributes from 10PM/ET-12AM/ET.

This news release suggested that the story of McCain’s passing had legs and would dominate FNC’s, and presumably the other news channels’, coverage into the overnight hours and beyond.

After Jeanine Pirro went off the air at 10 PM ET, I became frustrated with Fox News’s coverage – it seemed to settle into an endless repetitive loop of a small number of still photos and short video clips from McCain’s life with audio of reporting by in-studio anchor Jon Scott and commentary by several guests – all of it and them almost entirely off-camera.

CNN Aug. 25, 2018 8:26 PM ET screen shot by Peter Barry Chowka

After about 25 minutes of FNC playing in the background as I multi-tasked, I switched to CNN which at that point, 10:25 PM ET, was midway through the first complete showing of a brand new hour long documentary, John McCain: Moments that Made the Man, reported and hosted by Dana Bash. Bash is the D.C.-based chief political correspondent for CNN and a constant presence on the network. Shorter segments of this documentary, I learned later, were used in the hours leading up to its 10 PM ET premiere on the channel.

Having missed the start of the complete showing of Bash’s documentary or any promotion for it, I was unsure at first if it was something new or old. It soon became apparent that what I was seeing was the program’s premiere showing, although it has a 2017 copyright date on the end credits, suggesting that it was a long-form obituary prepared way in advance of McCain’s passing. Not a bad idea, actually, and one that was standard practice in the newspaper business for decades.

Obviously not a fan of CNN these days, I did appreciate this production, especially coming so soon as it did after McCain’s passing. It was, after all, a serious attempt to review his life’s high, and a few low, points and to place him into (CNN’s) perspective with new interviews conducted by Bash with people like Hillary Clinton. The use of archival film, video clips, and still photos also added a lot to its value.

With mainstream media biographical programs like this one, I tend to take the narration and predictable hagiographic point of view with a grain of salt, while I pay closer attention to the soundbites and historic archival material documenting the past that helps me to form or expand my own opinions. The interviews confirmed that, in death as during his long life in national politics, John McCain was the Democrats’, and the media’s, favorite Republican.

CNN John McCain: Moments that Made the Man screen shot by Peter Barry Chowka

Bash’s John McCain: Moments that Made the Man got two showings within three hours, the first replay of it coming at 1 AM ET Sunday. It’s to be assumed that it will run again today, Sunday, August 26, and possibly later in the week, as well. When CNN returned to live in-studio hosted programs from Atlanta Saturday evening and early Sunday, they were largely back to form with highly opinionated coverage. Due to that fact, the new CNN documentary for me, by default, was the program of the night.

Note: I did not have a chance to monitor MSNBC’s coverage.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and The Epoch Times.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

If you experience technical problems, please write to