Drama of Obama win trumped technology and tricks in TV coverage
All it took were video images of supporters celebrating in the streets — people of all ethnicities with tears in their eyes — for TV outlets to communicate the drama of America’s historic choice Tuesday to elect its first black president.
“America has changed its mind about race and leadership in this country,” said liberal-leaning MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow minutes before 11 p.m., when TV outlets predicted electoral wins for Democrat Barack Obama in California and Washington state, effectively sealing his victory over Republican John McCain.
“It’s unreal,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the '60s-era civil rights movement, on NBC. “Everything we tried to do to create a more perfect union . . . it was worth it.”
TV’s talking heads tried hard throughout the night to avoid jumping the gun with too-early projections. But by 9:30 p.m., some channels were predicting key states in Obama’s win column, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, eliminating many of McCain’s paths to the presidency.
Less than 15 minutes later, CNN reporter John King used the channel’s imposing “Magic Wall” electoral map touchscreen to show virtually no path left for a McCain victory.
“You don’t want to call it, there’s still people on the West Coast who can vote,” said MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, a former GOP Congressman from Pensacola. “But I don’t see any way (McCain) can win, unless there’s a huge turnaround in Florida.”
Lots of folks were shown near tears, from CBS correspondent Byron Pitts to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. On ABC, conservative George Will even turned Obama’s win into an argument against affirmative action.“(Voters are) saying race is irrelevant . . . let’s get beyond this,” Will said.
As the election returns piled up, the results also offered a big win for TV pundits, some of whom had been foreshadowing an Obama victory all day.
NBC’s numbers expert Chuck Todd referenced the late host of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, writing “Bush, Bush, Bush” in bold yellow lettering the same way Russert pinpointed Florida as a key state eight years ago.
This time, Todd was explaining how the president’s massive unpopularity likely tilted the election . “It’s one guy who has taken the party down with him,” he said.
On right-leaning Fox News Channel, the atmosphere was positively funereal, with former Bush adviser Karl Rove already predicting an electoral win for Obama and assorted pundits wondering if they were watching the splintering of the modern Republican party.
“I’ve always said we were a center-right country,” Fox News’ Brit Hume said, anchoring his last election before retirement. “Are we now a center-left country?”
CNN may have unveiled the biggest technology boondoggle of the night, using 35 high-definition cameras to produce a holographic rendering of Chicago-based reporter Jessica Yellin in its New York studio that looked a lot like the flickering Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars.
And for those looking for a more unorthodox presentation, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert offered Indecision 2008 coverage.
“I say . . . we cut (Vermont) loose,” bellowed Colbert, playing an outsized conservative pundit, after projecting an Obama win there. “We can go skiing in Colorado, and I can punch a hippie at Whole Foods.”