And the Winner Is...Not Network TV Election Coverage
The preview stories promised a historic face-off: the first time all three newly-minted network TV anchors would face each other while covering a crucial news story -- the midterm elections.
But the drama of the moment was sapped by a few simple facts. Anyone who cared what was going on had already been watching cable TV for hours, where the amped-up channels started calling races the minute East Coast polls closed at 7 p.m.
Also, the time the networks picked to deliver their reports -- 10 p.m. on NBC and CBS, 9:30 p.m. on ABC -- was so early in the process that most of the races resolved by then were the "low hanging fruit" (including the Nelson/Harris Senate race in Florida, which was the second race called across the nation. The first, Richard Lugar in Indiana, featured a Republican running unopposed).
Even the Daily Show/Colbert Report hourlong live report felt a little predictable and forced -- with guest Dan Rather spouting canned "Danisms" and the funniest bits coming from animated depictions of winners and losers (they actually had an animated GOP elephant eliminate on one losing Democratic candidate's head! Take that, CNN!)
Still, there were a few highlights among the endless TV coverage for me:
-- Watching Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews debate the meaning of the results on MSNBC, with Matthews insisting that Democrats need to articulate their vision for solving problems. "You need sodium pentathol to find out where Hillary Clinton stands on the war," cracked Matthews, shrugging off those who accuse him of liberal bias.
-- Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer's down to earth wisecracks, deftly nailing the folksy, charming vibe Dan Rather always worked so hard -- and often failed -- to attain. His best line, about a candidate felled by the scandal of throttling his extra-marital girlfriend before the election: "I always thought that hypocrisy was the number one political crime...but I'm beginning to think choking your mistress may (top it)."
-- Tom Brokaw's twist on the cliche of the night: "All politics is local, except when the country is at war."
-- Charles Gibson pronouncing Hillary Clinton's victory held "all the surprise of a Doris Day movie" -- a crack which promptly sailed over the heads of every viewer in the network's target demographic watching the show.
-- Watching Fox News early on continuously show results from races where Republicans were doing well, while Chris Wallace noted their exclusive poll of 900 voters showed the Republicans were in for a long night. Anchor Brit Hume chimed in quickly to downplay the accuracy of such polling; but if they're so inaccurate, why bother doing them?
-- Locally, WFTS offered a game try presenting a three-hour behind-the-scenes webcast from their studios, discussing the electoral issues. Their problem: work covering elections behind the scenes is mostly tedious and not very visual. So their webcast was subject to long stretches of talking heads theorizing on stuff we really didn't know yet. Websurfers would have been better off sticking to areas of the site featuring up-to-the-minute vote tallies.
-- My Prediction of the Night, delivered by Chuck Todd of the Hotline on MSNBC: It's either going to be a landslide, or it's not. Way to go out on a limb, dude...