Election Night Gets Wild for TV News

Questioning Ohio Results, Anchor Sobriety

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Election coverage was subdued for most of Tuesday evening -- until networks started calling Ohio for President Obama.

NBC News was the first to declare Mr. Obama had won Ohio, at about 11:11 p.m. on the East Coast, apparently giving him enough electoral votes to secure re-election. Fox News called Ohio shortly thereafter. And that ignited a firestorm.

Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos
Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos Credit: ABC

Karl Rove, the former George W. Bush deputy chief of staff who recently predicted a Romney victory, berated the network's decision. "We've got to be careful about calling this when we have 991 votes separating the candidates," he said -- on Fox News. "I'd be very cautious about intruding into this process."

"That's awkward," said Megyn Kelly, who was anchoring the night for Fox News with Bret Baier, before heading backstage to the decision desk to get them to defend their call on camera.

Ms. Kelly questioned the number-crunchers who defended their call. Mr. Rove, a major fundraiser for the Republican party, continued to contest the decision. Ms. Kelly replied, "They know the science."

MSNBC's anchor Rachel Maddow blasted Fox News' coverage. "Fox News Channel called Ohio for Obama, but the on-air talent at Fox News Channel is refusing to concede that they believe it," she said.

At the same time, ABC News was contending with its own issues, after a power outage left the crew scrambling to get back online just as the election was being decided. Diane Sawyer, who was anchoring the broadcast network's coverage with George Stephanopoulos, also became a talking point on social media for another reason: Viewers said she was slurring words and misspeaking (at one point she referred to "President Barack").

During the course of coverage at NBC News, Brian Williams criticized the 1 million ads that have run during the campaign, saying the money could have been put to better use, like medical research. He also took aim at Donald Trump, star of NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice," saying Mr. Trump "has driven well past the last exit to relevance" for tweeting that the electoral college was "a total sham and a travesty" that should provoke "revolution." (Mr. Trump later deleted some of those tweets.)

CNN, meanwhile, was both lambasted and lauded for its cautious approach to making projections, calling several states like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire significantly after most of its counterparts. But that seemed to be all part of the network's strategy. CNN has been vocal in its stance on accuracy this week, saying it's more important to be right than first. (The network was one of those in 2011 to falsely report that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had died from her bullet wounds.)

The night was filled with gadgets and theatrics, with MSNBC decking out Rockefeller Center in New York for its MSNBC Experience, taking over the famed ice skating rink with a map of the U.S. CNN lit up the Empire State Building to reflect the electoral vote totals for each candidate and eventually coloring the building blue to reflect Mr. Obama's victory. Much to the chagrin of those on Twitter, however, CNN didn't bust out the "holograms" this year.

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