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CNN wins big, while MSNBC loses in election coverage

One of the most encouraging lessons to take from the landmark TV election coverage we were lucky enough to witness in recent months is the truth that good journalism can be good business.

In naming winners and losers in TV election coverage, I can say without fear of contradiction that there is no network, channel or news operation that did better in more ways that CNN.

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And no one did worse -- at least on election night -- than MSNBC with Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews seemingly more focused on trying to steal air time from anchorman David Gregory than providing viewers with information and insight.

The latest bit of confirmation comes in the form of Nielsen ratings that show CNN beating all networks and cable channels from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. election night with an average audience of 13.3 million viewers. (The best network performance was 12.5 million for ABC.)

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CNN's audience was more than twice as large as the 5.9 million who watched MSNBC, which finished last among the cable news channels. (MSNBC finished 2.2 million viewers behind the lackluster Fox News Channel. Who would have thought that possible with the ratings boost Rachel Maddow seemed to be giving NBC's sister channel)

The list of individual winners at CNN is long and strong. Start with John King, of course, and the Magic Wall. As nice as the technology was, let's not take the wrong lesson from it: It was King's down-to-the-precinct level knowledge and passion for politics that made it so exciting and illuminating on caucus and election nights.

Also, let's not forget the hardest working and most informed team of campaign-trail correspondents on TV: Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bash, Jessica Yellin and Candy Crowley.

And none of this happens with CNN President Jon Klein and his commitment to down-the-middle journalism that emphasizes verified facts, context and balanced analysis instead of the highly-partisan, ideologically-driven cheerleading-and-hectoring presentation on MSNBC.

NBC News management made an effort, at least, to move Matthews and Olbermann off the anchor desk after their embarrassing performances at the national conventions. But it was mainly show.

While Gregory was named anchorman, Matthews and Olbermann acted like they were still the ones leading coverage Tuesday night. In fact, they even started bickering again on-air as they did at the conventions.

And guess what? America tuned them out on one of the most important news nights of our lifetime -- and went for the fact-and-information-based journalism on CNN.

Let's hope the lesson is not lost on other news executives -- particularly at the local TV news level.

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