As if joining in a great chorus, the broadcast and cable news networks called the presidential election for Democrat Barack Obama at 11 p.m. ET.
ABC, NBC and CBS were joined by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in citing the close of polls on the West Coast as the go-ahead for them to project Obama to win California and thus past the 270 electoral-vote threshhold to claim the presidency.
Just after New York flagship WCBS was checking in with actor Jeremy Piven at a rally in Harlem, CBS’s Katie Couric broke in at the top of the hour with “momentous news”:
"No matter who you voted for, you'd have to agree," Couric said, "this is an incredible milestone in the history of this country."
On NBC, where the absence of the late Tim Russert was keenly felt, Tom Brokaw mused on the import of Obama’s win: "Race has been a curse for America for a long time, and this young man—instinctive and cool—comes to us at a time when politics has become so exclusionary and he invited everyone in. It's a great commentary on this country."
Both NBC and its cable cousin, MSNBC, carried uninterrupted footage of the celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park.
On MSNBC, Gene Robinson, who is African American, was audibly moved: “It is a moment of demarcation. It feels different to me to be an American tonight.” Rachel Maddow admitted to being teary, saying “the idea of America … has always been built on a moral house of cards—built on slavery. To have a moment that means this much that you can put along side the Emancipation Proclamation; it’s sort of worth crying about.”
At Fox News, NPR and Fox contributor Juan Williams said, "This is an incredible moment in American history. This is America at its greatest." And then finally, he said, "This may be the cover of history books."
Fred Barnes, another Fox commentator said, he hadn't seen any sign that Obama would be the kind of president who had the ability to bring divisive factions together.
Anchor Chris Wallace said Obama was not the kind of man who seemed to be "on a $5 bill." But former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove said the country had also moved on, where race didn't matter as much.
"I think particularly among younger people, they are color blind," Rove said, comparing the incoming First Family to be something similar to The Cosby Show.
Several entertainment networks carried some election coverage, including BET, Comedy Central and MTV.
MTV News correspondent Sway Calloway reported from Chicago. "You just witnessed history, and it's all because of you, young Americans,” he said, before the network returned to Paris Hilton’s My New BFF.
BET’s Jeff Johnson exuberantly called the election at 11 p.m. ET, saying, "We are officially calling Barack Obama President Elect of the United States of America. This is unbelievably amazing! There is no way that you can possibly hear this news and not in some way be moved. This is history and has in some way changed the world. We need to breathe for a second."
BET Contributor Kelli Goff broke down in tears. "My grandmother was a cotton picker. My mother was spit on,” Goff said. “It’s pretty incredible that a country that has done that to people only 40 years ago has now had this moment."
The evening’s coverage began with the focus on unprecedented voter turnout and widespread reports of long lines and delays at polling places. And the networks reported no evidence of voter fraud or suppression, a prospect many had predicted.
Anchors and reporters were largely cautious in how they couched their updates and projections, with ABC’s Charles Gibson repeatedly reminding viewers that his network would not call the election until one candidate reached the “magic number” of electoral votes.
While many of the networks showed off interactive electoral maps and flashy gadgetry, CNN stood out with its new exit-polling graphic and its use of holographic projection to allow remote correspondents to virtually appear with anchor Wolf Blitzer on the New York set.
As the night wore on, and Obama racked up more and more states and electoral votes, the general refrain about the election’s historic firsts—from the race, gender and age of the candidates to the race, gender and age of new voters—gave way to a sense of inevitably about Obama’s win.
Still, the networks all waited until the same moment to make their calls.
Live Coverage of Election Night:
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