The U.S. presidential election is the biggest day for cable news channels, and the coverage of this year’s battle between Democrat candidate Barack Obama and his Republican counterpart John McCain will be exhaustive. Here’s your guide to the talking heads you’ll be spending the day with on CNN and FOX News Channel (with a few others thrown in for good measure.)

CNN:

Wolf Blitzer

Heading up the self-proclaimed “Best Political Team on Television”, the chronically serious Blitzer is host of CNN’s three-hour political news program The Situation Room. The man with the coolest name in news, actually, pretty much anywhere, started with Reuters in Tel Aviv in 1972, and, after 15 years as The Jerusalem Post’s Washington D.C.’s correspondent, joined CNN in 1990 as the station’s military affairs correspondent. Now do you understand why he’s so serious.

Anderson Cooper

Cooper hosts Anderson Cooper 360º, a prime-time politics news/talk show during which cameras swoop around him like something out of a Ridley Scott film. The silver fox moderated the CNN/YouTube Democratic and Republican Primary Debates and his book, Dispatches from the Edge, topped the New York Times bestseller list.

Campbell Brown

Brown hosts Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, which seems an unfortunate name for a daily program about politics. Presumably she nicked the idea from rival talking head Bill O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone, which airs in the same timeslot on FOX News. Brown started off as a reporter in Topeka, Kansas, before moving to Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore and finally Washington D.C.

James Carville

The Democratic strategist who helped Bill Clinton get elected in 1992 — and helped Hillary fail this year — Carville is something of a celebrity. He has worked on election campaigns for the British, Canadian and Israeli Labor Parties. Carville is also a prolific author and has appeared in such films and TV shows as Old School, The Wedding Crashers, The Assassination of Jesse James, Spin City and Family Guy.

FOX News Channel (FNC):

Brit Hume

FNC’s Washington D.C. managing editor and host of Special Report with Brit Hume — the highest rating political program on U.S. cable television — Hume will anchor FOX’s election-day coverage. He has been covering U.S. politics since 1973 and he never smiles.

Shepherd Smith

According to his bio, Smith’s “fast-paced and jam-packed anchoring” is a window into the future of television news. God forbid! He apparently reports nearly 70 stories in an hour and his evening show, The FOX Report, features the segment “Around the World in 80 Seconds”; FOX News’ quota of global content. According to a TV Guide poll, Smith is the “second most trusted news anchor” in the U.S. Shep’s coverage in the last month or so has notably shifted to a more, shall we say balanced, tone, he even shook his head incredulously when interviewing Joe the Plumber on Israel recently. He also looks like a Thunderbird.

Sean Hannity

If the polls prove to be as prophetic as the Democrats would hope there is a very good chance Sean Hannity won’t be sighted on FOX’s election coverage. Hannity co-hosts Hannity & Colmes, a prime-time talk show, and, while he and his channel go to great lengths to profess their objectivity — We Report, You Decide™, Fair and Balanced™ etc — Hannity is as conservative as they come and will probably have an aneurysm if Obama wins.

Bill O’Reilly

Host of The O’Reilly Factor — the highest rating cable news program — the fiercely conservative O’Reilly is FNC’s most popular and controversial performer. He also hosts a syndicated, daily two-hour radio show, writes a column and is a best-selling author. He has even turned his attention to children’s books, writing The O’Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for American’s Families. If you don’t believe me, here’s the proof. And there was that whole loofah incident.

The Women of Fox News

For an endless procession of blondes — go here.

MSNBC:

Keith Olbermann

Rolling Stone calls him “the most honest man in news,” The New Yorker leans more to wanker, but there’s no denying that watching Olbermann is entertaining. He may sign off with Edward E Murrow’s traditional “Good night and good luck” but he’s no old school objective commentator. “With his glasses, he looks like a Fifties newsman — Clark Kent behind an anchor’s desk — while his stentorian delivery can sound almost self-consciously retro, the sort of voice (of God or your high school principal) mocked nightly by Stephen Colbert,” says Rolling Stone. “But there’s a sharp contrast between the way Olbermann looks and sounds and what he’s actually saying.” ‘Rant’ best describes this newsman’s delivery style — Network style — Olbermann shot to notoriety as soon as he threw the appearance of objectivity out the window and labelled President Bush “absurd” and “childish” among other insults…For some the refreshing novelty of watching anger spew forth from a newscaster has worn off, and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the rage under a new, less infuriating Presidency… Watch Olbermann’s top five rants here.

The Comedy Channel

Jon Stewart

The New York Times has dubbed him “the most trusted man in America” and his program The Daily Show “a genuine cultural and political force.” When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.” That, and it’s really funny. Stewart told The Times that he’s looking forward to the end of the Bush administration “as a comedian, as a person, as a citizen, as a mammal.”

Stephen Colbert

According to Time, “Colbert (pronounced Colbear), 41, is the bawdy counterweight to cable-news talking heads who each night, just a few channels away, deliver a fresh supply of material for parody. In Colbert Country, a guest is more of a foil than a source of intelligence. The high and mighty drop by anyway, along with the mediocre and recently demoted. As a spin-off graduate of the Jon Stewart school of comedy, Colbert launched under intense scrutiny and quickly delivered.” The man works a camera angle better than Anderson Cooper and peppers his commentary with more references to himself and God (in that order) than Bill O’Reilly.

Peter Fray

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