Well, I have a million impressions from last night's coverage, and I guess I'll burden you with only couple thousand. Let's play the "who won" game.
"Who won": Not numbers, but the smartest coverage, or the coverage that seemed to best capture unfolding history, or the coverage that really gave you, the viewer, that sense that the earth was about to shift, and "so prepare yourself," etc.
So, what you are about to read are flat-out snap impressions and snap judgments - not necessarily deeply informed, or thought out or exhaustive (ha!) but merely hunches.
Generally, coverage was good, but I still can't get over the simple fact that the networks employed a fig leaf for so very long. Everyone knew that the race was absolutely over at 5 when the first exit polls came out, but they still pretended that there was still a possibility that "anything could happen." Of course it couldn't and wouldn't.
Also...why not more people of color as analysts? Of course, Fox has Juan Williams and NBC has Tavis Smiley. But why not more? A truly historic election took place last night, and network coverage would have been deeper and richer had the on-air analysts managed to convey that throughout the evening, and had more of them been black.
Anyway, here's my winner. Drum roll..............
CBS. But by a whisker.
Here's a quick net by net look:
CBS: I love Schieffer and Greenfield, and like the less-is-more style of chatter that these guys engage in; liked Katie too. The coverage didn't feel necessarily "deep" or exhaustive, but it felt fine. Like everyone else, caution ruled. Best part of the night? It actually occurred during the end of a very good edition of "Evening News." There was a two-minute collage of shots from the past two years, cleverly constructed with a soundtrack from The Last Goodnight! The Last Goodnight? I wonder if Katie even knows who they are?
NBC: Brian Williams desperately needed a strong "co-" last night, and he really didn't get one in Tom Brokaw, who seemed to be rarely on-camera. Brokaw was, it seemed, more visible after 11, when the race was over. Through the night, he tried to throw in the rare cautionary "don't rush to judgment" note, but it sounded unconvincing, hollow. Tim Russert was sorely, sorely missed, and last night revealed exactly what a huge contribution the guy gave in political seasons past simply by his absence and clarity. Plus, was it just me or did NBC's visuals look dowdy? The ice rink was more a bauble than constructive - oh great, look down over there by the Sea Grill! California's blue!
ABC: Too leisurely by half. A night where I found myself missing Peter Jennings. Charlie's fine, of course, but the whole thing felt terribly civilized and genteel; the only thing missing was a tea service. Diane (Sawyer)? My God, she looked bummed sitting over there wasting her time with the stupid exit poll stuff. At one point she had to yell over to Rudy Giuliani - yoo hoo, Mister Mayor! Remember me?
Fox: There was something curiously lax about FNC, and I still can't put my finger on it. Brit Hume was good, always is, and this was maybe his last full night on the air. An historic election, and he seemed like, ho hum, another election, another night. Fox's analysts, like Bill Kristol, were fast to jump on the bones of the McCain campaign. Viewers woulda been better served had they laid out the impending doom in the weeks leading up to the election.
MSNBC: I hate to be hard on dear ol' resurgent MS, but I felt like they were speaking in code all night, or using body language to convey the ultimate outcome; Keith Olbermann looked like the cat who swallowed the canary - ready to burst out at any moment, "Take THAT MISTER BUSH SIRRR!!! Your repudiation is AT HAND!" Instead, he looked smug and so did Chris Matthews. The hot new commodity, Rachel Maddow? Honestly, I hardly saw her on air at ALL! Was I simply looking elsewhere when she was on? I suppose so. "Stretch" - you know, David Gregory - tried to be the resident adult here, but even he couldn't seem to resist "it's over Dubya! Revenge is here." I honestly think MSNBC had an opportunity to throw caution to hell last night and say, "look, we've got this exit data and the election is OVER. The first black American president has been elected. WOW!" And then, take it from there. Instead, they played the same kabuki news drama that everyone else did. Too bad.
CNN: CNN and Wolf Blitzer were fine, but lemme tell ya, all that technical wizardry is best suited and designed for a CLOSE election. It's a complete waste in a blowout. John King's magic board is one of the real innovations in TV news coverage, and King - an absolute machine of a reporter - plays it like a violin. But - sorry for the horrific mix of metaphors here - it's like taking a bazooka to a fly. Last night, he teased all this data out of Indiana, which was actually quite helpful early in the evening, but the thing was utterly useless for states where the outcome was obvious. Virginia, Florida, Ohio...the magic board was useless because those states were quickly called by the networks, and that was that. The holographic stuff? Fun but ridiculous.
Grade: B -