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'We Have Some Breaking News': A Wild Day Makes Networks Scramble

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‘We Have Some Breaking News’: A Wild Day Makes Networks Scramble

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The CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, left, on Tuesday with Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the adult-film actress whom Michael D. Cohen acknowledged paying off. MSNBC featured an in-studio appearance by Mr. Avenatti.

At one point, Jake Tapper, the veteran CNN anchorman, had to interrupt a guest, turn to the camera and shrug. “I apologize, we have some breaking news,” he said, flashing a lopsided grin. “It’s like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit.”

Over the course of a whipsawing hour of television on Tuesday, journalists struggled to keep up with a developing drama that seemed to put the most outlandish “House of Cards” story lines to shame. President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, was pleading guilty in a Manhattan courtroom, at the exact same time that Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts of fraud after a trial in Virginia.

It was a pileup of news — and poorly timed for news divisions depleted by the usual August vacations. There were obvious signs of a scramble: Preet Bharara, the former federal prosecutor, shared his thoughts with CNN on a scratchy phone line whose signal dropped in and out.

Jeffrey Toobin, the network’s senior legal analyst, was at his weekend home in Connecticut when producers called to say a camera crew was heading his way. He ended up being filmed in his living room.

“My vacation is quickly evaporating,” Mr. Toobin said in a brief interview between on-air appearances. “The big challenge was keeping my dog out of the shot.”

Viewers, presented with a split-screen view of courthouses where cameras were banned, watched as junior producers sprinted from the exits bearing handwritten reports. “I’m being handed a sheet with the word ‘guilty’ on it five times,” the Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy said, waving a scrap of paper as he relayed the early word of Mr. Manafort’s verdict.

Or, as the NBC anchor Megyn Kelly put it on Twitter, “This is so nuts.”

MSNBC featured Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the adult-film actress whom Mr. Cohen, in his guilty plea, acknowledged paying off. And the network caused a brief stir by promising to air a surreptitiously filmed video taken by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former Trump loyalist. But the blink-and-you-miss-it clip of Mr. Cohen boarding Mr. Trump’s plane in 2016 proved less than revelatory.

Not surprisingly, CNN and MSNBC went commercial-free, the broadcast networks broke in with special reports and the word “Watergate” was thrown around by pundits with abandon. Even The Drudge Report, a reliable pro-Trump redoubt, did not see much of a silver lining for the White House.

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How The Drudge Report, which is reliably pro-Trump, promoted the coverage on its website.

“**TRUMP HELL HOUR**,” the website blared in red type.

One news outlet, though, adopted more of a wait-and-see approach.

“No one at the rally tonight will give a damn about Manafort or Cohen,” the Fox News host Greg Gutfeld said, referring to the die-hard Trump fans gathered to see the president speak in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday. His co-host on “The Five,” Dagen McDowell, agreed, saying the courtroom news had little to do with the president and instead “shows how off the rails the special counsel investigation has gone.”

In the first hour of coverage, Fox News was the only major news network to pivot to a different story entirely: the arrest of a man in Iowa, believed by some officials to be an undocumented immigrant, in the killing of a 20-year-old woman who had been missing for weeks. Setting aside Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen, the network aired live video from a news conference in Montezuma, Iowa, about the case.

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Fox News pivoted from its coverage of Mr. Cohen and Paul Manafort to report on an Iowa murder case.

“If you are out there in America, and you’re watching this and you’re thinking, ‘What do we really care about right now,’ I think the president will be talking about that,” the host Dana Perino told viewers. Chiming in, Mr. Gutfeld said the arrest was a potent new talking point for Mr. Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration.

“When you stack that up against these other tax evasions, guilty pleas, for an average American, it resonates,” Mr. Gutfeld said. “It is a practical, real-world issue. It’s not about these two men who — most Americans know their names? Maybe?”

Bret Baier, Fox News’s chief political anchor, listened gamely. But when it came time for his two cents, Mr. Baier called Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea “explosive” for Mr. Trump.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Updates Never Stop In Wild Day On TV News. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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