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November 8, 2020

CNN’s Election Night Coverage is Decadent and Depraved

My birthday is November 4th, so it’s always on or around Election Day. I was born the night Reagan was elected, 11/4/80, and my dad worked for Jimmy Carter, so I like to say that my dad gained a dependent and lost a job in the same half-hour. I think I found it funnier than he did.

I also grew up in DC, where national elections are local news. And I worked for the Kerry campaign in 2004, so I was at the victory rally on Copley Square in Boston when they called Ohio for Bush. I was also at the concession speech the next day in Faneuil Hall, watching all my bosses – the muckety-mucks who’d been moving me around the country like a pawn on a chessboard, marching us to inevitable victory, except not – weeping.

And I was at Jeanne Shaheen’s 2008 senate victory party in New Hampshire, watching all the 23-year-old field staffers cheering and hugging each other the night Obama won the presidency. I thought, these kids don’t know what it’s like to lose.

This year, I went to a friend’s house for a birthday dinner / election watch party. (And when I say party, I mean my friend, his wife, their five-year-old daughter, and their dog.) I’d already been watching the NYT PTSD needles for two hours. In 2016, those needles had indicated the electoral Chernobyl that gave us – I still have trouble putting these words together – President Trump. And now, the NYT needles showed Trump with a better than 95% chance to win Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. Yuck.

When I arrived at my friend’s house, he and his wife were watching CNN, which seemed to be covering a similar election but in a parallel dimension.

“The president leads in Florida, although CNN has not yet called that race.”

Yeah, that’s over. You can spare the suspense.

“Now to Virginia, where President Trump continues to maintain an impressive lead…”

The Times had called Virginia for Biden the moment the polls closed, over an hour earlier.

“Of course, we’re still waiting for results from Fairfax County, the state’s largest and most heavily Democratic county. That will likely change things.”

Yes, very insightful, thank you, John King.

What followed thereupon was a parade of random, indecipherable, raw vote numbers.

“… the president leading there by about 83,000 votes… Joe Biden ahead by just under 20,000 votes…”

With what percent reporting? From which counties? Out of how many expected votes?

“Turning to Montana now, where former Vice President Joe Biden is holding onto a lead of 1,300 votes!”

“Ok,” I told my friends, “can we turn this off? This is non-information.”

We turned it off. Better.

My brother texted me – “I don’t like this Trump lead in Virginia.” Oy.

NYT and 538 had updates of huge Biden turnouts in suburbs across the country, including Kansas and Texas. But it wasn’t translating into wins. Where were the wins?

Then, two things happened. Initial results from Arizona came through very strongly for Biden. And the NYT needle for Georgia flipped from 95% Trump to 66% Biden. Suddenly, the night was shaping up.

Minnesota came through (big!), Wisconsin came through (barely!), and Michigan looked strong. It was like watching a photo develop (back when that was a thing). Slower than usual, but still – this was starting to look like a win.

After dinner, I drove to my girlfriend’s house. We’d been texting. She wasn’t doing well. When I got to her door, I could see through the window that she was watching CNN. Oh boy.

She shook her head as she let me in, on the verge of tears.

“They just called Florida for Trump.”

“Florida happened hours ago,” I said. “Doesn’t matter now.”

I explained my view of the race and suggested we turn off CNN.

“Ok, what do you want to watch?”

“Anything,” I said. “The IT Crowd.”

That didn’t go over. We stayed with CNN. That’s when John King made his one valuable contribution to my election night – “suburban revolt.”

Fuck yeah! Suburban revolt!

Women in minivans with the family member decals on the rear windshield, driving around, waving their grayed, fraying bras out the window, blasting “School’s Out For Summer.”

Suburban revolt! I see you, Overland Park, Kansas! Get some, Montgomery County, PA! Don’t stop, Alpharetta, Georgia!

Suburban revolt! No one fucks with the kids’ back-to-school schedule, DONALD!

But CNN quickly followed that rhetorical flourish with the weakest element of the broadcast, the Battleground Desk.

Quite a grandiose name, THE BATTLEGROUND DESK.

Turned out to be a chubby white guy standing behind a clear plastic table.

Not good enough, CNN. If you want to have a Battleground Desk, it needs to be surrounded by sandbags and razor wire and buried in a foxhole. The guy manning it needs to be wearing a helmet and only be available by radio.

“Let’s check in with the Battleground Desk – Hotel one! This is Hotel one actual! What is the status of Pennsylvania?”

“The count’s not moving! We’re pinned down! We need air support, goddammit! We… [static]… have… [static]… mail-in… [static… ominous silence]…

“Uhh… we’ll check in with the Battleground Desk again later…”

Something to look forward to, for 2024.

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