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Coverage of Comey testimony plays out with partisan spin

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/8/2017 By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in by Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., foreground, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool) © The Associated Press Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in by Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., foreground, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — The extensive coverage of former FBI Director James Comey's Senate testimony on Thursday gave Americans time to pause and focus on the slowly unfolding story about President Donald Trump and Russian involvement in the presidential campaign, but no rest for partisan spinners.

Broadcast networks cast aside their regular schedules for three or four hours. So did cable news networks, bracketing Comey's session before the Senate intelligence committee with hours of its own talk.

"Capitol Hill has not seen a day like this in years," said ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Evidence of the fierceness of the political battle came in the bits and pieces of Comey's testimony emphasized on different outlets and social media accounts. The was particularly true when Comey said that he leaked contents of a memo about his conversation with Trump to The New York Times through a friend, later identified as Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. Comey wanted to get his account out, perhaps encouraging the appointment of a special prosecutor.

"This whole thing is a giant nothing-burger," the conservative web site Breitbart News wrote as Comey talked, "except for Comey implicating himself as a leaker."

On the liberal site Talking Points Memo, the same detail was hailed as evidence of "how Comey outflanked Trump."

"Depending on which camp you're in, you could say that Comey totally condemned President Trump today, or you could say the president was exonerated by Comey," commentator Dana Perino said on Fox News Channel. "The thing is, this was just another log on the fire, because America is going to continue to push forward on this."

Television commentators did not break in to Comey's testimony, but through headlines put onscreen — called chyrons — they were able to choose often contradictory points of emphasis. That was the case when Comey talked about Trump's discussion with him about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

On Fox, for example, a chyron read, "Comey: President did not order me to let Flynn probe go." On CNN, the message read "Comey: I took Trump's request about Flynn as a directive."

All of the attention paid to the hearing, and its somewhat repetitive questioning — put special emphasis on some of its more unusual or humorous moments, like when Comey explained to Sen. Angus King of Maine that he had to break a date with his wife when Trump called him for a dinner at the White House.

"That's one of the all-time great excuses to break a date with your wife," King said.

Sen. John McCain was roasted online for a line of questioning where he appeared to conflate separate investigations on the Russian connection and on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server.

Besides the traditional networks, Spanish-language station Telemundo aired the testimony with a voiceover translation. Telemundo, in the moments before Comey started, also showed a simulated reconstruction of Trump and Comey meeting in the White House, with conversations in Spanish printed in cartoon-like bubbles over their heads.

Not every television network showed Comey. Fox broadcast stations offered coverage anchored by Shepard Smith, but in New York the local affiliate showed Wendy Williams' talk show instead, with a printed message that anyone interested in Comey should seek out an online stream.

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