BY: David Bauder
NEW YORK – NBC’s ‘Nightly News‘ on Tuesday flashed a clip of Barack Obama speaking on the night he was elected president two years ago, with anchor Brian Williams remarking on how much younger Obama looked.
Plenty had changed in two years, and news organizations harnessed firepower on the air and online to record a long, tough political night for the Democratic president. Republicans were making strong inroads in Congress, and it was clear from the coverage who was to blame.
“This is about President Obama tonight,” Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly said. Voters were saying, “Look, we gave you a chance and you’re not cutting it. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to cut it next year or the year after. But right now, you’re not cutting it,” he said.
Williams opened NBC’s prime-time coverage of the election by projecting Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives with 236 seats to the Democrats’ 199. He then reminded Americans where the polls were open to still get out and vote. Within a half hour, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann read a statement from the Democratic congressional campaign committee calling NBC’s estimate “a mistake.”
Within an hour, however, CBS, ABC and CNN had followed suit, without specifying the number of seats.
“This is more than just a message for Barack Obama,” said CBS News’ Bob Schieffer. “This is like a Halloween rerun here. People are just saying, `This is someone who came to office, promised change and the change didn’t happen.'”
News organizations, aware that viewers were also checking smart phone or computer screens along with their televisions on the midterm election night, provided a blizzard of widgets, apps, dashboards, Twitter tie-ins and iPad doohickeys for the night.
Akamai Technologies Inc., which delivers about 20 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, showed rising traffic peaking around 6 p.m EDT. Web traffic for news peaked at over 5.6 million global page views a minute. That’s one of Akamai’s highest traffic rates in five years of measurement — even more than during Obama’s election night win in 2008.
ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News, BBC, the New York Times and the political blog Politico offered live webcasts Tuesday night. New media partnerships paved the way: ABC News with Facebook; CBS with Google and NBC with Twitter. News organizations are also putting a focus on customization: getting local results to voters through their mobile phones, for instance.
“We can go in a lot deeper online and mobile. People can dig deep into results,” says Manuel Perez, senior supervising producer for CNN.com.
The webcasts offered a quirky, slimmed-down alternative to the TV broadcasts, which were easily superior in production quality and big-name experts. ABC News’ webcast on Hulu had a simple set and a handful of personalities — quite different from CNN’s extravagant “Election Center.”
Facebook, in partnership with ABC News, held a town hall that featured reaction from college students and online chatter. It was perhaps a genuine snapshot of an election night audience: a room full of people on laptops. If ABC News’ David Muir couldn’t recall a campaign donation amount, he could simply ask his crowd to “Google it.”
The New York Times’ website included occasional live reports by editors, reporters and columnists from its Manhattan newsroom. The Times’ webcast was a very different approach, with reporters considering less TV friendly subjects, such as the effect of money on Tuesday’s election.
Politico, the political website that grew considerably since the 2008 election, also tried a live stream that kept a Washington insider’s perspective. It was marred, though, by poor audio — the surrounding din of the Newseum made it nearly unwatchable.
The social media site Facebook had a reminder atop its pages that Tuesday was Election Day, and a running ticker counted the number of people on Facebook who clicked that they had voted — more than 10 million Tuesday night. Conversation on the election also dominated Twitter.
Democratic activists Paul Begala, James Carville and Donna Brazile looked glum on the set of CNN’s election night headquarters. Brazile reported one Democratic House victory in the South, saying, “I’m trying to give good news where I can find it.”
“Some people would call that clutching at straws,” Anderson Cooper said to her.
There was testiness on the set at left-leaning MSNBC when Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn appeared for an interview. The panelists let slide Blackburn’s reference to House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio as “Speaker Boehner,” but pressed her to identify spending cuts when she said a priority was to make former President George Bush’s tax cuts permanent. Chris Matthews tried to get her to say she would cut defense spending, and she wouldn’t. Some laughter was heard in response to one of her answers before Keith Olbermann cut her off to report on election results.
Olbermann mentioned that Blackburn had talked about budget school. “She did not indicate whether she was a student or a teacher.”
Involved in its own political brush fire, ABC News said Tuesday that it had pulled back its invitation to conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart to participate in its election night coverage. ABC’s Andrew Morse said Breitbart had been invited to participate in a digital town hall to be shown on the Internet — not over television — and that Breitbart had publicly stated that he had a much bigger role. Liberal media advocacy groups criticized ABC for including Breitbart.
“As we are still unable to agree on your role, we feel it best for you not to participate,” Morse wrote to Breitbart.
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