NEW YORK – ABC, CBS and NBC all cut away from President Donald Trump on Thursday as he spoke from the White House to make an unfounded accusation that the presidential election was being stolen from him.
Trump had tried to commandeer the nation's airwaves at a time when the evening newscasts are shown on the East Coast, after a day when the slow drip of vote counting revealed his leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia dwindling.
MSNBC's Brian Williams also interrupted the president. Fox News Channel and CNN aired the president's full address, after which CNN's Anderson Cooper said Trump was “like an obese turtle on his back, flailing in the hot sun realizing his time was over.”
Network personalities had sharply criticized Trump after his angry, middle-of-the-night speech following Election Day but aired that talk in full. Trump was more subdued Thursday, yet offered a litany of complaints about “suppression” polls, mail-in voting and fraud that he never specified.
“We have to interrupt here, because the president has made a number of false statements, including the notion that there has been fraudulent voting,” said NBC's Lester Holt. “There has been no evidence of that.”
CBS' Norah O'Donnell broke in to ask correspondent Nancy Cordes to fact-check Trump's assertion that if “legal votes” were counted, he would easily win the election. Cordes said there is no indication of a substantive number of illegal votes cast, and said Trump's reference to votes arriving late was “another falsehood.”
MSNBC cut away from Trump to anchor Brian Williams.
“Here we are again in the unusual position of not only interrupting the president of the United States but correcting the president of the United States,” he said. “There are no illegal votes that we know of, there has been no Trump victory that we know of.”
After ABC ended its coverage, the network’s White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, also said there was no evidence of illegal votes.
“What he seems to be frustrated by is ... that it takes time to count votes,” Karl said. “It's always taken time to count votes. But especially in this election.”
While CNN kept Trump on the air, a chyron displayed under him said, “Without any evidence, Trump says he's being cheated.”
Anchor Jake Tapper looked weary when it was over.
“What a sad night for the United States of America to hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election, to try to attack democracy in that way with this feast of falsehoods," he said. “Lie after lie after lie. Pathetic.”
CNN analysts David Axelrod and Van Jones both said they were angered by Trump's attacks on authorities in Detroit and Philadelphia, suggesting they amounted to racism.
On Fox News Channel, commentators Bill Bennett and Byron York said that just because Trump did not allege specific instances of irregularities doesn't mean there haven't been any. But the president and his lawyers need to present evidence, they said.
“What we saw tonight is a president who believes that at the end of the day, when all the votes are counted, the election is not going to to go his way, so he's trying to plan an alternate route to retain the White House,” said Fox White House correspondent John Roberts.
The New York Post, a prominent Trump media ally, headlined a story on the speech, “Donald Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address.”
CBS News' John Dickerson said Trump's speech “felt like kind of a deflated recitation.”
The third day of election coverage on the networks was like a high school math class, filled with numbers geeks like MSNBC's Steve Kornacki and CNN's John King explaining the intricacies of the votes being reported.
With Biden chipping away at Trump's leads in states crucial to any chance of the president getting the necessary 270 electoral votes, it was unlike any math class in that it was building to a big ending.
Associated Press writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.