And I do mean “on television,” because for all the impact of the Internet, there is little doubt that the vast majority of voters will be following the returns via the TV networks.
That is not to say that the digital world won’t have its impact. On previous election nights I have opened a news Web site or two on my laptop, and checked Twitter commentary on my smartphone. But this second- and third-screen engagement only supplements what’s happening on TV. Over the years I’ve found that none of the political sites have the results any faster than the networks, since everyone’s working off the same information feed.
This is not to say that I love watching TV on election night. Far from it. Political announcers are a lot like sports announcers: There’s a lot of unnecessary chatter, repetition, and self-regard. And you always feel as if they’re biased against your favorite team.
I am also irked by the we-know-something-you-don’t-know vibe that transcends the early hours of election night. All the networks have exit polls that pretty accurately predict which way most of the non-“battleground” states will land. We know they have this information, and they know we know it, yet they continue to operate as if it’s a big secret.
Because the exit polls can’t be mentioned until a state’s voting has ended, there’s usually some dramatic teaser at the end of the hour as the closing time for a new batch of states draws near. I’m surprised they don’t have a dru roll at the top of the hour as the anchors rush to call the deep-red and deep-blue states before there’s even one vote in. And while I understand the rationale for not calling a state until the polls close, I could do without the anchors being so coy about it.
Every election night, I spend the evening flipping around for the least objectionable newscast. I am constantly in search of a channel that is both neutral and interesting. This means both Fox and MSNBC are non-starters, since they are advocates for their own political philosophies. Unfortunately, my tolerance for the breathlessness and pompousness of the broadcast networks is also limited. Consequently, I usually end up watching CNN, whose reporters mostly stick to just-the-facts reporting.
I’m not sure about this year, however. I maintain a major grudge against CNN for the amount of free publicity they gave Donald Trump during the primaries, only to turn on him when he got nominated. Having said that, I do really like John King’s deep dives into the results at the county level, so I will probably start there and flip around when I need a break from the earnestness of Anderson Cooper.
Another gripe I have against CNN and all the other networks is their use of political consultants, lobbyists, former campaign managers and other hacks to “analyze” the results. Of course this year we will not be treated to Donna Brazile’s, opinions since she was fired for leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign — twice!
To be honest, I’m surprised that CNN got on its high horse about the Brazile revelations because I had always assumed that these talking heads, who are, after all, political guns for hire, were all dishing dirt to their buddies back at campaign HQ. The cynic in me suspects that Brazile was not ejected for passing along information, but for getting caught by WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, I don’t see the point of these insider panels anyway. Very little actual analysis is offered up during these sessions. Instead what we get is a regurgitation of campaign talking points that put the most favorable spin on the results that have come in so far.
But really, why are they spinning once the polls close? It’s not like they can influence the outcome once the voting is done. Can’t they just tell us what they really think? It’s almost like they’re afraid to alienate the bases of their parties and jeopardize future campaign work.
The best example of pointless spinning was from the 2012, election when Fox analyst and former George W. Bush campaign manager Karl Rove pitched such a fit that the network was calling Ohio for Obama that Megyn Kelly had to march down to the office of the true nuts and bolts analysts and confirm that they had made the right call. Great TV, but you had to wonder why Rove was the guy on TV — and not those geeks in the boiler room, who actually get paid to get it right.
So here’s an idea: Let’s get rid of the conflicts of interest and banish talking heads altogether. Almost anything would be better than listening to Jeffrey Lord or Van Jones. If we must have commentators, let’s have actual entertainers – comedians, in fact. There are plenty of comics that know a lot about politics. Get a couple of conservatives like Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz and put them on a panel with a couple of liberals like Sarah Silverman and Louis CK and let them go at it. That would stop me from switching over to C-SPAN.
At my house, we watched reruns of South Park while we viewed our laptops tuned to several different browser windows of election returns. The best were from NYT and RealClearPolitics. The worst were from the broadcast networks, although that's just my opinion. No mindless chatter, just maps and totals. And no advertising, except from Comedy Central. The election returns were spectacularly unfunny, but less so with the infusion of South Park humor.