The cable news networks kicked their coverage of the Republican convention into gear on Tuesday, even as Hurricane Isaac loomed large.
All three networks covered Mitt Romney's formal nomination by the party in varying degrees. Fox News took just one commercial break, with CNN and MSNBC taking a more lax approach. (Bret Baier was heard to wonder why there wasn't more of a celebration of Romney's formal victory.) Viewers were treated to familiar scenes depending on which network they tuned into. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews and Al Sharpton hammered Republicans. On Fox News, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly chatted with Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol.
Isaac made landfall in New Orleans at 8 PM Eastern, two hours before Chris Christie and Ann Romney give the night's biggest speeches. CNN had the most even split between coverage of the convention and coverage of the hurricane. Having sent two of its biggest names, Anderson Cooper and Soledad O'Brien, to New Orleans, it cut to them frequently for extended periods, along with several other correspondents. Viewers saw both battered by wind and rain, waiting for the storm to crash.
CNN's chyrons told the story as well as anything: facts about Mitt Romney took up one half of the screen, while a storm tracking graphic took up the other. At 7 PM, CNN featured a literal split screen, with Cooper on hurricane watch and Wolf Blitzer in Tampa. Blitzer cut quickly to Cooper. Fox News also spent most of its hour with hurricane updates, with Shep Smith in New Orleans. Smith was the first to notify viewers that the hurricane had hit land.
MSNBC, which puts more of an emphasis on politics than the other two networks, stuck with the RNC, with Rachel Maddow leading coverage. When Isaac made landfall, though, Maddow shifted focus. "We're responsible for covering that because it's as big a story, frankly," she said as she cut off politics talk to get a brief update on the hurricane. "This is a big, big deal."
Over the next hour, CNN spent the most time on Isaac, regularly breaking away for extended reporting from Cooper and his team. Cooper got wetter and wetter as the weather got worse. "I've got water everywhere," he said to a meteorologist at one point. "I've got water in my ear. I can't hear you." Fox News and MSNBC devoted much more time to convention speeches and punditry.
When the most high-profile speeches such as Rick Santorum's began, however, all three networks stayed firmly in Tampa.
The main broadcast networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, began their coverage at 10 PM. All three led their coverage with updates from Isaac.