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News Coverage of 2012's Election Night: The Good, the Bad and the Truly Bizarre

NBC was Fast While Fox News Was at Times Just Strange

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News Coverage of 2012's Election Night: The Good, the Bad and the Truly Bizarre

NBC News anchor Brian Williams

So how did the networks do on election night?

My conclusions, based on an evening of non-scientific channel-surfing:

NBC was fastest: The peacock network called several of the key states and races - including the all-important Ohio vote - much sooner than its rivals. And of course once Ohio was called, that meant the entire race could be called, which by my estimation NBC did at 11:18 p.m. eastern time.

But NBC wasn't just the fastest. In many ways its coverage was the most well-rounded. Brian Williams has come into his own as a top-flight anchor who brings a nice measure of humor to his work, and Chuck Todd was in full political geek mode with his red-state blue-state touchpad computer screen. Tom Brokaw brought a patrician sense of history to the proceedings, and David Gregory and Savannah Guthrie added dollops of insight and perspective. Plus, the backdrop of American flags, illuminated by spotlights and flying in the breeze at Rockefeller Plaza, was gorgeous to look at.

ABC was over the top: ABC built a blindingly white studio set complete with a massive political map for the occasion. It was an impressive visual. But the network also brought in a small village of correspondents, commentators and pundits for the occasion - everyone from Katie Couric to Barbara Walters - and, seated as they were on either side of the massive map it often seemed as if they had to shout across the studio in order to be heard.

More to the point, ABC's approach was an exercise in overkill. Given that the coverage was dominated by anchors Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, the other commentators - including political pros like Cokie Roberts - got little airtime. I'm sure more than a few of them were wondering what they were doing there.

CNN went conservative: Given the resources at its disposal I thought CNN would call races early and have a compelling sense of urgency to its coverage. But the granddaddy of cable news networks came off as stodgy and out of step. It lagged behind NBC in calling races and its panel of pundits were more subdued than engaging. Wolf Blitzer was as hyper as ever, but Anderson Cooper, who was great at covering superstorm Sandy last week, seemed out of his element following the electoral vote count.

Fox News was in denial: Given its political proclivities, I suppose it wasn't surprising that Fox News would be in siege mentality on such a depressing night for the Republicans. But some of the coverage veered toward the bizarre.

At one point, when it was clear President Obama would be re-elected, anchor Megyn Kelly launched into a tangent about the negativity of Obama's campaign, while saying nothing about his opponent. Eventually, even one of the conservative pundits she was interviewing made a point of saying something to the effect of, "well you know, Romney ran a pretty negative campaign as well."

And while commentators on the other networks were talking about the changing nature of an electorate with more Latino and women voters, on Fox, columnist Charles Krauthammer insisted that Romney's defeat was down to tactical, not strategic mistakes. He could barely bring himself to admit that yes, maybe Republicans need to do a better job of courting Hispanic voters.

Bill O'Reilly, on the other hand, conceded that the electorate had changed in seismic ways, but did so with the kind of dismissive arrogance that echoed Romney's disastrous 47 percent remarks.

"It's a changing country," O'Reilly said, according to The Wrap. "The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it. And he ran on it."

But the strangest moment came when Fox News contributor and GOP strategist Karl Rove objected to the network reporting that Obama had won Ohio, prompting Kelly to wander through the Fox News offices to track down and quiz Arnon Mishkin, an election number-cruncher for Fox, about why he had made the call. It was, as even Kelly admitted, awkward.

MSNBC was restrained: I'd expected this left-leaning cable news net to be in full gloat on a night that went so well for the Democrats. But by and large the MSNBC pundits had the good sense to rein in their glee and were gracious enough to commend Romney on his concession speech. And if nothing else, MSNBC's political coverage is always worth watching just for Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow. Matthew is a political pro from the old school, and Maddow is quickly cementing her status as one of the smartest talking heads on TV.

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