Television networks recognized a historical event Tuesday by breaking into programming as President Barack Obama signed legislation changing the nation's health care system.
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all cut into regular daytime programs, and the event earned wall-to-wall coverage on MSNBC — including a clock counting down to when the presidential pen would hit the paper.
"The Obama administration considers this their legacy moment," ABC's Diane Sawyer said. The network opened its coverage by showing tape of Franklin Roosevelt signing Social Security legislation and Lyndon Johnson creating Medicare.
It marks another phase of the Obama presidency, NBC News' David Gregory said.
"He achieved something really, really big," he said.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
Brian Williams signed off from NBC's report by noting that despite the White House celebration, "there is a lot of anger in the land."
Much of that anger was evident on the airwaves, and it was clear that making the bill law would not end the bitter debate.
"The battle was lost," Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck said on his program Monday. "The war is not over. The war is just beginning."
Indeed, conservative talk show hosts were ablaze following passage of legislation that has been a major topic for them over the past year.
"I think this is a sad day for this country," said Fox's Sean Hannity. "I think we saw a shredding of the Constitution. I think the rule of law was cast aside."
Radio host Rush Limbaugh said that "this is about fundamentally wrecking and destroying the United States of America as it was founded."
Ratings released Tuesday showed extraordinary interest in House passage of the health care overhaul Sunday night. During the hour starting around 11 p.m. Eastern between the final vote and the president's acknowledgment of it with a speech, the three cable news networks had 7.2 million viewers, the Nielsen Co. said. During a typical Sunday night at that time, they average 1.3 million.
Fox News Channel usually dominates the ratings, but for this event CNN took over. During that hour, CNN averaged 3.3 million viewers, compared with 2.4 million for Fox and 1.5 million for MSNBC.
Fox gave Tuesday's bill signing full coverage, but sensed that its viewers had only so much interest. When the president spoke at the Interior Department less than an hour later, with Vice President Joe Biden by his side and two American flags as his backdrop, CNN and MSNBC carried the remarks. Fox did not.