Cable News Cretinism

John Thune’s shotgun wedding.

After getting a good day’s sleep and powering through all five of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief  (with a brief stop by #6: drinking!), Surfergirl is now ready to turn back to the culling of post-election Cretinisms from the cable talk circuit. And what a rich harvest it’s been over the past few days. Last night’s winner: a video clip on Hardball of John Thune after winning Tom Daschle’s Senate seat. “When you finally get to the finish line,” mused Thune, “it is like, you know, relief. And especially when you get an outcome like this one. But I have not done some things I normally do this time of year. So I have a date with my 12-gauge in a corn field.”

You know, ever since Tuesday’s results came in, I’ve been thinking about making a date like that myself. And I don’t even hunt. … 10:15 a.m.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

3:27 a.m., CBS: To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald: In a real dark night of the soul, it is always 3 a.m. Dan’s gone folksy again at CBS, pointing at his screen map with his low-tech pencil and reminding us that the race in Wisconsin has been “closer than Lassie and Timmy all night long.” The crowds over in “ Democracy Plaza (as MSNBC has Orwellianly rechristened Rockefeller Center) are already chanting “Four more years! Four more years!” Me, I’d just like to get four more hours of sleep before this craziness resumes in the morning. I’ll drift off counting provisional ballots—sort of like counting sheep, but less fluffy.

2:29 a.m.: John Edwards appears at Kerry HQ in Boston to give a brief pep talk to supporters—essentially, an anticoncession speech. With several hundred thousand provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio, many of them from African-American districts in big cities, the Democrats are going to spend the next few days more obsessed with numbers than the Count on Sesame Street.

1:17 a.m.: NBC and MSNBC have already given Ohio to Bush. CNN, ABC, Fox News, and a self-consciously cautious CBS (“We’d rather be last than be wrong,” says Rather) are holding back.

12:59 a.m.: Ohio. Sweet, beautiful, as-yet-undecided Ohio. Are there any good songs about Ohio?

12:04 a.m., MSNBC: So what was the problem with the exit polls? Joe Scarborough just mused that perhaps voters were just embarrassed to tell pollsters they had voted for George Bush. I know I would be.

11:43 p.m., ABC: Peter Jennings just called Florida for Bush. No joy in Mudville.

11: 20 p.m.: Another tip from a Slatester: Apparently Anderson Cooper, in contrast to the rest of the sedate CNN crew, has been bouncing around the set as if tweaked on crystal meth. Developing.

10: 51 p.m.: A colleague at Slate—one of those journalist types who actually, you know, understands stuff—has pointed out to me that the coverage of Laura Bush’s “forced smile” on MSNBC (see item below) was likely a cleverly disguised way of leaking exit-poll data without actually reporting it (a phenomenon described in today’s “ Press Box column—scroll down). In other words, the faker Laura’s smile appears, the better the news for Kerry. How delightfully Victorian! I’ll be on the lookout for more of this indirect “mood” reporting as the night wears on.

10:10 p.m., Comedy Central: Ahh, The Daily Show’s coverage begins. It’s as if I’m finally cracking open a cold beer after a long hard slog of dull election returns (which, as a matter of fact, I am).

9:50 p.m.: Reacting to reports that the president looked somber and tired in recent photos, the White House releases footage of the first family lounging jovially as they watch the election returns. How do we know this was really taken today? Bush should be holding up a newspaper with today’s date on it! The people demand independently verifiable jollity!

9:09 p.m., Fox News: Sorry, false alarm on Pennsylvania—it’s still too early to call, though Kerry is whomping in the exit polls. But yes, Virginia, Bush did win Virginia.

9:01 p.m., Fox News: Wait, Kerry won Pennsylvania? How did I miss this? Oh yeah … because I’m watching Fox News. Brit Hume must have coughed the breaking news into his handkerchief.

8:24 p.m., MSNBC: For the second time in an hour, correspondent Norah O’Donnell observes that in today’s photo ops, Laura Bush “looked like she was forcing a smile.” What is this, the women’s intution beat? And how are we to differentiate this fake smile from the first lady’s usual frozen rictus of wifely approval? 

8:07 p.m., MSNBC: Noting the number of states still too close to call, Chris Matthews just advised his viewers to “have a cup of coffee” to await the results. Somehow, the host of Hardball is not the person I want to turn to for advice about my stimulant intake. One shudders to imagine the selection of uppers stashed in his anchor desk.

7:52 p.m., CBS: I can’t wait till Dan Rather starts to get tired. As I remember from 2000, fatigue makes him folksy. I still remember him at around 1 a.m. that night, when the vote flipped back to Gore again, saying something like, “Well, I’ll be a coon on a red-hot skillet!” He’s nowhere near that point yet, but he did just tell Bob Schieffer, “Don’t taunt the alligator until after you cross the creek.”