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Last night there was no avoiding the election, no matter whom you were rooting for. So what was the highlight of television’s coverage of the 2012 election?
Just about every network covers the election, and it’s not always easy to decide which one to choose. Do you go with the slanted takes of MSNBC or Fox? The statistic- and infographic-obsessed CNN? For me, the choice was easy: NBC had turned the skating rink outside of 30 Rock into a giant map of the country and was filling in the states with the appropriate colors as results came in. Did any other network have that? No, they did not. That the network also turned the side of its headquarters into a giant bar graph showing the changing electoral college count didn’t hurt either. Only disappointment: It looked like someone groomed Chuck Todd for once. He didn’t look like he’d slept in his clothes, and I barely recognized him.
I rarely watch Fox News. Outside of my general disagreement with the network’s partisan lean, I also find its aesthetic boxy and overbearing. (That said, I’d much rather watch it than whatever the hell CNN is trying to do.) But as my Twitter feed lit up with cries of, “You have to see what Karl Rove is doing right now!” after the network called the election for Obama, I flipped over, just in time to watch Megyn Kelly wander down a long hall, greeting coworkers on the way, like this was something straight out of a backstage musical or something, then coming to... a room full of nerds, sequestered away, keeping the SS Fox News humming. It was great fun, and it was even more fun once the other members of the Fox News panels started taking barely concealed digs at Rove. It’s rare to see this sort of outright passive-aggressiveness on this sort of coverage, and this was about as good as it got.
I did not watch as much election coverage as I should have, but for me the highlight of the night was a punchy and surprisingly irreverent Brian Williams saying of various referendums throughout the country “There’s a whole lotta weed on the ballot.” This amused me to no end, because it’s funny to hear the phrase “whole lotta weed” emerging from one of our most revered (if shenanigans-prone) newsmen, but also because of the amusing mental image of a ballot coated in weed. That may not be a moment that will stand the test of time, but it amused the hell out of me in the moment.
In 2008, I chose CNN as my election friend, only to realize that they didn’t call it for Obama until nearly an hour after NBC did—and that they don’t really report on what other outlets are saying. So this time around, I went with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, who I can generally take only in small doses. Just as last time, NBC (and by extension MSNBC) called the election considerably earlier than their competition, which provided some early relief. My wife and I were hoping that the concession and victory speeches would come fast and furious so that we might take our 2-year-old outside to watch the POTUS return home—he lives just a few blocks away from us. But we waited like everybody else during that hour between everybody calling it and Mitt Romney conceding, aided only by the hyperbolic Maddow, who was dreaming up conspiracy theories (“WHAT ARE THEY UP TO? WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG?”) that turned out to be unnecessary. And then we went to sleep, happy that we weren’t in for weeks of recounts.
As someone who finds cable news infuriatingly uninformative most of the time, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of CNN’s coverage, and in particular John King’s manipulations of the big interactive map. The Daily Show and others have mocked CNN’s obsession with whiz-bang technology, but here it was used well, with King drilling down within states to show how even when looked like Romney had a lead, he’d already gotten most of the votes he could expect from the rural counties, while Obama still had gains to make in the urban areas. I bounced around the other networks and didn’t see that same level of detail. (ABC’s coverage was particularly embarrassing, with a lot of fumbling around by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos.) Whenever CNN moved over to the pundits, my wife and I fired up the DVR and caught up on our shows while keeping an eye on Twitter, but every half hour or so we’d go back to CNN and wait for King. I do have some beef with how King interpreted the data sometimes—pointing to a vast field of red and saying the country is still overwhelmingly Republican doesn’t really take into account that land itself doesn’t vote—but as far as presenting the data itself, I was well-satisfied.
Honestly, I can’t really say with any authority what the highlight of last night’s election coverage was, because I deliberately avoided most of it, choosing instead to hide from the pundits and my Twitter feed in a screening of Wreck It Ralph. Normally I enjoy watching live events like the election unfold on TV and Twitter, but the weeks leading up to this one were so frustrating and anxiety-inducing, I figured maybe it would be better to just disengage from the whole thing for a change. And I’m really happy I did, as pretty much the only thing that can make the experience of watching Wreck It Ralph more enjoyable is emerging from the theater and being greeted by a flurry of celebratory text messages. All that was left to do was go home and watch the victory unfold and the confetti rain down (and Sasha Obama tell her dad to make sure he waved to the people behind him onstage, which he did and then thanked her for reminding him, which COME ON is the cutest thing ever). While waiting for the speech, though, I did watch a little of the MSNBC coverage, the highlight of which was definitely Rachel Maddow quoting a classic Onion headline.
I relied on Patton Oswalt heavily this election cycle, particularly during the debates. So it’s no surprise that my favorite moment of last night was his pretty perfect Facebook post summing up the night’s events.
I teared up more at that than anything last night, save maybe Elizabeth Warren’s acceptance speech. After months of listening to hate toward women just fall out of the mouths of elected officials all over the country, it was positively life-affirming to see it all smacked down. Here’s hoping our next election can do without the phrase “rape apologists” entirely.
As Noel referenced, ABC’s Diane Sawyer seemed a little rough around the edges, though he graciously stops short of outright calling her drunk. But there was definitely something going with her, whether she was merely punchy from an election night—and a campaign—that continued to drag on and on, or old-fashioned hammered, having made an early projection of chardonnay into her gullet. Exit polling data remains inconclusive, but the resulting video montage is a delight, with Sawyer looking charmingly bedraggled as she leans on her elbows, drawls her words, holds George Stephanopoulos hostage with sentences that never end, quizzes another correspondent over the use of exclamation points in Obama’s campaign slogan, frequently laughs to herself, and demands music because she wants to dance. (Or announce a projection—whichever.) Of course, it’s equally likely that Sawyer was just tired, but—as today’s newsfeed and the obligatory launch of Drunk Diane Sawyer on Twitter confirm—pretending that Diane Sawyer got shitfaced on election night (like so many did) was way more fun than sitting around waiting for Ohio and Florida to get it together.
I tried to watch MSNBC for a while, but I gave up after I reached my maximum dosage of Chris Matthews. Instead, I switched over to CNN, where I got to watch Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper get very, very excited about Florida. More than that, though, I got to watch David Gergen, whose slow-talking matter-of-factness was kind of adorable. I wasn’t quite sure how to put that into words, though, until I read a tweet Sarah Silverman wrote about Gergen, where she called him “the cutest turtle,” and encouraged someone to “feed this cutie a leaf!” It was the perfect way to take the edge off a pretty stressful night up until that point.
Let’s face it: Fox News owned Election Night, and proved again why it’s the most-watched cable news network. Though I was bunkered into the cozy liberal hidey-hole of MSNBC much of the night, Twitter kept beckoning me over to Fox, where election coverage was not the usual touchscreens and pundits-in-a-semicircle, but a full-blown psychodrama, intensifying as Romney’s path to electoral victory thinned to vapors. Todd already mentioned the clear highlight of the night—Karl Rove’s denial of the network’s own call for Ohio and the gut-busting spectacle of Megyn Kelly walking (and walking and walking) the endless corridor to the “decision desk,” where bemused numbers guys were left to explain that the outstanding precincts near Cleveland would break for Obama. But running a close second for me was Sarah Palin’s remarkable drop-in interview with Greta Van Susteren. She looked hastily put-together, for one—Grantland’s Andy Greenwald tweeted, “If there’s any justice in the universe Sarah Palin’s new haircut will become the ‘Rachel’ of the 21st century”—but her bewilderment and despair over Romney’s imminent defeat, despite her lukewarm support of his candidacy, was markedly different than her usual “mama grizzly” defiance. The key moment: Van Susteren, clamoring for a silver lining, teed up a rhetorical question about Obama winning, but not by enough to get a clear mandate. Palin’s response: “A win is a win.”
We don’t have cable and couldn’t pick up Fox News, so we had to rely on Twitter for reportage on Karl Rove’s meltdown (and for histrionic tweets from Victoria Jackson and from Donald Trump, who has since deleted his demand for a new American revolution, possibly because hundreds of people tweeted back to remind him what generally happens to ultra-rich plutocrats in a revolution). But we spent the night shuttling between the networks and the NPR and CNN and Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times websites, and by 1 a.m. CST, I was thoroughly tired of all the analysis and second-guessing and recriminations. As I said on Twitter, the news networks immediately beginning their analysis of what the Republicans need to do to reclaim the presidency in 2016 is like stores starting to sell Christmas crap in August—wearying, infuriating, self-serving, and way too soon. Give us a moment with this election result, will you? So honestly, my favorite part of the evening was after President Obama’s victory speech, when all the chatter cut out and the music came up and we got to watch Michelle Obama with a huge grin plastered over her face, scooping up handfuls of confetti from the stage and tossing it onto the children up there with her. I’m glad someone got to have fun last night.
I’ve spent the past six months splitting my time between The A.V. Club and The Onion, so I had the good fortune of spending election night with the immensely talented staff of America’s Finest News Source. My duty was to keep an eye on other media, so I was more or less glued to Tweetdeck and the bewildering number of tabs I had open in my browser. We had a TV tuned to CNN, where Cable News’ Most Respected Gray-Haired Men delivered the night’s results and the slumping news giant subjugated all of its low-ratings anxiety into a smorgasbord of unnecessary graphics. John King’s Magic Wall gets all of the attention, but about Tom Foreman walking around the virtual Senate? At one point, he even leaned against a virtual desk and propped his foot up on a virtual step. I don’t know how that works, but it was impressive—and exceedingly inessential.
After John King used the powers of CNN’s “magic wall” to put my wife to sleep, I struggled through my own exhaustion in hopes of picking up a contact high from the enthusiasm radiating from the president’s temporary headquarters at McCormick Place. Instead, I found myself hooked to the songs chosen for the celebration by Austin, Texas’ club fixture DJ Mel, which played very quietly in the background of the CNN talking heads’ election postmortem. To be entirely honest, I was mostly amused by the assembled Obama supporters’ apparent lack of rhythm, even to tracks by Al Green and Earth, Wind & Fire where the groove is essentially Esperanto for getting down. At the very least, they should’ve been able to wave their flags to the beat of “Let’s Stay Together.” And then Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care Of Our Own” came on, and misty-eyed time commenced, and I put the scoffing on hold to enjoy a purely uplifting moment. Thanks, Boss!