Decision 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Funny

While Twitter roared, the election spotlight remained on TV

In a night of indelible moments, perhaps the most arresting spectacle was that of Fox News analyst Karl Rove aggressively disagreeing with the network’s decision to call Ohio for President Obama.

At approximately 11:15 p.m. EST, the Fox News “decision desk”—an on-site team of analysts charged with vetting the network’s state-by-state appraisals—let anchor Chris Wallace know that it was time to declare Ohio a win for the Obama camp, thereby putting an Electoral College victory out of reach for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Shortly after making the official call, Wallace told viewers that the Romney campaign had “real doubts about the call that’s been made by us and, I guess, other networks about Ohio. They do not believe that Ohio is in the Obama camp.” Wallace went on to add that he had just received an email from a top Romney aide who said the campaign disputed the call, given that only three-quarters of the votes cast in the Buckeye state had been counted.

Rove allowed that he believed the call was premature, prompting Megyn Kelly to take a long on-camera walk to the bullpen where the FNC analysts were busily crunching the numbers.

“We are actually quite comfortable with the call in Ohio,” the lead analyst told Kelly. “Basically, right now there is too much Obama vote that’s outstanding that we know is going to come in … and [while] there are a number of counties out there that will be Romney, the largest thing that’s outstanding right now is the Cleveland area, is Cuyahoga. This is Democratic territory, and we’re quite comfortable with the idea that Obama will carry Ohio.”

When Kelly returned to the anchor desk, Rove held his ground, saying he felt it was still far too early to make a definitive read on the state, given the 991-vote margin Obama enjoyed over Romney at the moment.

With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Obama has wrapped up 50.1 percent of the votes to Romney’s 48.2 percent. The actual tally at this hour: 2,672,302 for Obama, 2,571,539 for Romney—a difference of 100,763 in the president’s favor.

Romney conceded in Boston shortly before 1 a.m. EST. The lag between the consensus call and his brief address to supporters may be explained by a statement Romney made to journalists earlier in the day, in which he boasted that he’d “only written one speech at this point.”

NBC was first to make the call on Ohio and the presidency, as anchor Brian Williams made it official at 11:12 p.m. EST. The Associated Press followed suit at 11:33 p.m.

Shortly after Williams announced Obama’s victory, the anchor skewered part-time NBC employee Donald Trump for a heated and asinine series of tweets. (Mistakenly believing that Romney had won the popular vote, Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, took to Twitter to advocate for “revolution,” sputtering that “Our great nation is a once great nation divided!”)

Williams almost reluctantly addressed the issue. “Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and veered into something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight,” Williams said, before reading some of Trump’s more unhinged messages. He capped the summary by saying, “So there you have that. That happened.”

In characteristic fashion, the Donald ripped into Williams on Twitter, calling the anchor a “dummy” and ridiculing NBC News’ ratings.

Turns out Trump knows as much about Nielsen ratings as he does the Electoral College. Per preliminary data, NBC’s coverage won the night, averaging 12.6 million viewers and a 4.6 rating among adults 18-49 in prime. ABC took the silver (11.2 million viewers, 3.8 in the demo), while CBS placed third with 8.42 million viewers and a 2.7 rating.

For the record, Williams’ evening newscast, NBC Nightly News, regularly dusts Trump’s prime-time competition series in the ratings.

NBC’s ratings peaked in the 10:30 p.m. time slot, when it averaged 13.2 million viewers and a 5.1 rating. On the cable front, CNN won the period between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., averaging 8.84 million viewers and 4.39 million adults 25-54. Fox News averaged 8.71 million total viewers and 3.49 million members of the demo, while MSNBC followed the herd with 4.6 million viewers and 2.02 million adults 25-54.

Despite the oft-repeated claims that only the elder class watches broadcast news, the Twitterati were clearly paying attention to at least one old-school network last night. After ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer appeared to be speaking more slowly than usual while sharing the desk with George Stephanopoulos, Twitter exploded with jokey assertions that the veteran journalist was under the influence.

As one viewer snarked, “Diane Sawyer’s giving off a ‘Will McAvoy on Bin Laden Night’ vibe if you know what I mean.” 

In due course, the inevitable parody account went live. 

For her part, Sawyer responded to the allegations with aplomb, telling viewers that she read the tweets about her—“the good, bad, and the funny” during a 25-minute power outage that darkened the ABC News set shortly after 11 p.m.

Also having a few wince-worth moments was MSNBC foghorn Chris Matthews, who blurted that he was “so glad we had that storm [Hurricane Sandy] last week because I think the storm was one of those things.” Matthews then immediately walked it back, saying that his gratitude was politically driven and that he did not mean to say that he was happy that so many people were devastated by the storm.

“The storm brought in possibilities for good politics,” Matthews said. Later, the pundit would clarify that he was “thrilled at the cooperation between the president and state officials that made the country proud.”

Because nothing is official until it has been tweeted, even the newly re-elected president got into the act last night, sending out a photo of himself embracing first lady Michelle Obama, under the legend “Four more years.”

As of this date, the picture has been retweeted a record 703,297 times.

At CNN, Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer steered the network’s election coverage, with an assist from the Empire State Building, which was lit up in blue and red in accordance to its projections, and John King’s “Magic Wall.”

CNN was the first to begin making projections, calling Vermont for Obama and Kentucky for Romney shortly after 7 p.m. EST, but Blitzer was much more cautious as the night wore on. At 11:33 p.m., when NBC, CBS, Fox News, the AP and The New York Times had declared Obama the victor, CNN was still running statistical analysis of Ohio districts.