An Election Day Like No Other, Says CBS News President Zirinsky

Norah O'Donnell and the CBS News team preparing for Election night
(Image credit: CBS News)

While some viewers, tired of the political spots and endless campaign coverage on cable, may seek out entertainment programming on Election Day, Susan Zirinsky, CBS News president, expects news viewership the eve of Nov. 3 to be through the roof. During what she calls our “year of living dangerously,” most every American has been affected by COVID, the economic crash or the social unrest around the country. Today marks their opportunity to weigh in on who to lead them to happier and healthier times. 

CBS News

(Image credit: CBS)

“These are life-and-death circumstances that are surrounding this election,” said Zirinsky. 

ABC, CBS and NBC go live at 7 p.m. ET and Fox at 8 p.m. ET. Cable news starts earlier. 

Beginning at CBS News as a college student in the network’s Washington bureau before the Watergate scandal undid President Nixon, Zirinsky has covered a bunch of election days across her career. What’s different about 2020’s? 

“Everything!” she said. “It’s a dynamically different election.”

CBS News has a new set at ViacomCBS headquarters at 1515 Broadway in Manhattan, and has its newsroom further uptown at the CBS Broadcast Center at 57th Street. Zirinsky said “a fair amount” of staffers will be on site, with COVID precautions carefully carried out. 

CBS News will label state races with a likely, a leaning or a toss-up before any projection on the winner arrives. Zirinsky mentioned transparency as a primary theme with viewers throughout the night. “We are telling you what’s happening at this minute,” she said. “We want to be careful, but not timid.”

CBS News has polled in all 50 states, and will have surveyed 100,000 voters for the CBS News Battleground Tracker when Election Day coverage begins. Both are a first for CBS News. “We have the strongest database to make the most accurate assessments,” said Zirinsky. 

Graphic of United States

(Image credit: CBS News)

Election Day is an event news gatherers live for, and all the wild cards in the 2020 election--an incumbent who has said he’d refuse to accept a peaceful transition if he loses, early and remote voting and a virus continuing to waylay much of America--increase the anticipation for newsroom denizens even more. “The election really will determine a very critical period in our nation’s history,” said Zirinsky. “The impact of what is happening in this election--everything is at stake.

CBS News will have Norah O’Donnell, anchor of CBS Evening News; Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning; Margaret Brennan, Face the Nation moderator; John Dickerson, senior political analyst, and correspondents Ed O’Keefe and Major Garrett, among others. 

On ABC, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos leads coverage in New York, alongside World News Tonight anchor David Muir, ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis and a correspondents crew that includes chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.  

NBC will have NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, Meet the Press moderator and NBC News political director Chuck Todd and chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, among others. 

Cable news, including Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, are loaded for bear as well. Fox News starts at 6 p.m. in New York, with chief political anchor and Special Report’s Bret Baier and The Story anchor and executive editor Martha MacCallum hosting, and Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace, senior political analyst Brit Hume, The Daily Briefing anchor Dana Perino and political analyst Juan Williams on as well. 

For WNYW New York, Dari Alexander and Steve Lacy anchor at 5 and 10 p.m., and Lori Stokes at 6 p.m. The station will do news cut-ins during Fox Democracy 2020 prime coverage. 

CNN has Dana Bash, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Abby Phillip and Jake Tapper in Washington. Election Night in America coverage begins at 4 p.m. 

On MSNBC, it’s Nicolle Wallace at 4 p.m. ET, Chris Hayes at 5 and Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, Joy Reid and Wallace anchoring starting at 6 p.m. 

Zirinsky said the CBS crew is ready to roll. “We feel the responsibility to get it right,” she said. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.