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Watching The Returns

7 p.m.: Brit Hume and company over at Fox News look as though they’ve just been informed of the death of a loved one. Could the exit polls have been even worse than had been rumored all afternoon on the Internet? No one’s saying anything, of course, but the atmosphere is positively funereal.

8 p.m.: Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl, Ed Bradley and the rest of the crew at CBS – John Kerry’s flagship network – are straining to maintain straight faces, but the contrast with the furrowed brows and tight lips at Fox speaks volumes about where they think the election’s going.

9 p.m.: Over to CNN, where the election coverage is about as boring as a Jeff Greenfield analysis.  Greenfield, Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff, Bill Schneider – is there an election team as tiresome as this one?

10 p.m.: Things are getting interesting. The Kerry victory train hasn’t left the station, and the realization that the exit polls may have been off is starting to sink in.

Midnight: For more than an hour now there’s been little satisfaction to be gained from switching around the broadcast networks and the cable channels. Florida has gone to Bush, and the president seems poised for a surprise victory, but too many states remain uncalled, including the Big Enchilada, Ohio. Dan Rather is getting increasingly batty as the night wears on, spitting out his patented Ratherisms at a frenzied pace:

“If this election gets any closer, someone is going to have to call 911, call the police, call the nurse.”

“It’s enough to give aspirin a headache.”

“Kerry may hear the whisper of the ax if he can’t win Ohio.”

“This race is hot enough to peel paint off a house.”

2 a.m.: NBC, its cable affiliate MSNBC, and Fox have called Ohio for Bush. ABC and CBS are holding out. Peter Jennings at ABC has taken on the look of the disgusted blue-state liberal he is. He knows Kerry’s finished, but can’t allow himself to completely lose it on the air. The frustration will come out in the days ahead, as it did back in 1994 after the Republicans took control of the House and Senate and Jennings, the day after the election, compared Americans who’d voted Republican to a child throwing a temper tantrum.

2:30 a.m.: Watching Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. I hate to say it, but the old dog seems to have mellowed some. The Buchanan paradox is highly visible as he chats amicably with Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan. Described by just about everyone who knows him as a charming, big-hearted man, Buchanan comes across tonight as just that. And then one recalls how often he’s tiptoed close to Holocaust denial without quite crossing the line; his constant carping about alleged Jewish disrespect for the Catholic Church and the sinister influence of neoconservatives (read: Jews) on Bush administration policy; and his trashing of Israel at every opportunity – and once all that comes into focus, his crinkly eyes and friendly guffaws mean nothing.

3:30 a.m.: If anyone still had the slightest doubt about the reality of media bias, it should evaporate right now, this election night of 2004, in light of how CBS and ABC, against all reason and historical precedent, are refusing to call Ohio for Bush. Both Jennings and Rather have acknowledged that other networks long ago made the call, but Rather insists that CBS has “information” the other networks don’t. Like those bogus National Guard documents you vouched for, Dan? Rather did let loose with another Ratherism in reacting to NBC’s decision to award Ohio to Bush: ‘President Bush’s reelection is at the door, knock, knock, knock.’

4 a.m.: With more than 99 percent of precincts accounted for in Ohio and Bush leading Kerry by nearly 140,000 votes, Jennings and Rather still insist the state’s too close to call. Earlier, CNN actually took Ohio out of the red-or-blue sweepstakes and colored it green for undecided. Meanwhile all the networks have no problem projecting Pennsylvania for Kerry – even though his lead over Bush is not as great as Bush’s lead in Ohio.

4: 30 a.m.: Assured of a Bush victory despite CBS and ABC’s maintaining their state of denial, it’s off to bed for two hours’ worth of sleep. Sleep well, Michael Moore, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Al Franken, Maureen Dowd, et al.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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