* Our top story this morning: Local man wins election.
* Leading into this election, the world hoped for a “less arrogant America.” If anything, this election makes us more arrogant. WE RULE! AMERICA #1! EAT OUR DUST, REST OF THE WORLD!
* Last night, I cracked open my laptop computer and tracked the election with picture-in-picture. Here are my thoughts as the night progressed…
7:34 – I love Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield. Whenever I see them talking, I flip to CBS. NBC’s political director, Chuck Todd, looks like the pudgy villain from a 1980s action movie. Lose the goatee, Chuck.
7:37 – Can’t say I’m a fan of the NBC Zamboni team painting the states on the ice rink. It’d be one thing if we had a straight-on overhead view, but we see everything at a really bad angle. It’s like we’re in space over Brazil, looking up at the U.S.
7:39 – My love for Schieffer and Greenfield is mitigated by Katie Couric. Not a fan. Earlier, she referred to Grant Park as “Grant Field.” Chicago will never forgive you, Katie. Never.
7:40 – On CNN now. Nice shots of Grant Park. Their reporters really have their act together. Wolf Blitzer, not so much. A lot of “uhs” from ol’ Wolfy. He seems intimidated by all the bells and whistles on the set. Where’s John King and his map?
7:42 – I miss Dan Rather. He was a man possessed. It was like having Gary Busey anchor your news coverage. The best part was watching everyone else try to keep a straight face while Rather threw another goofy southern expression at them.
7:45 – I stop by ABC. I’ve never really cared for ABC News. Their news desk is huge. Dianne Sawyer is sitting about 60 feet from George Stephanopolous. I hear phones ringing and see staffers in the background wearing telephone headsets. So ABC has stolen the set design from your average PBS pledge drive. ABC is dead to me for he rest of the night.
7:49 – A Freudian slip by Katie Couric? The CBS team talks about how America fell out of love with Sarah Palin. Schieffer says Palin’s interviews with Charlie Gibson and Couric took the “bloom off the rose.” Katie responds, “Thank you very much.” Did she just take credit for making Palin look terrible?
7:51 – Human gargoyle James Carville is on CNN. As is bowling pin-shaped pundit David Gergen. And E.L. Fudge spokesperson Paul Begala. It’s like listening to your radical fringe uncles debate.
7:53 – John King and his Magic Map arrive! And now they’re cutting back to Wolf. NO! More Magic Map!
7:57 – CBS2 reporter Dana Kozlov is at the Hyatt, where Obama is staying. “He’s in the east tower… maybe the west,” she says. We have a front-runner for least useful live shot of the night.
8:00 – CNN’s background music makes me tense. Very percussive. My home state of Michigan goes to Obama. Stop saying “uh,” Wolf.
8:03 – MSNBC seems to be having the most fun. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann are laughing and keeping it conversational. Things are so loose, Matthews just referred to the South as “the Confederacy.” Someone needs to tell Rachel Maddow to wear a necklace. Her neck is so long, there’s like a mile of skin between the top of her shirt and her chin.
8:06 – Villainous Chuck Todd stands on the virtual set, screwing around with his version of the Magic Map. This camera angle bugs me. Why are we looking at him at a 45-degree angle?
8:08 – I hold my breath and check out Fox News Channel. Their graphics look cluttered and old school, compared to everyone else’s HD fireworks. Brit Hume has to literally roll his chair from one desk to another to talk to Chris Wallace. Hume is just muttering to himself. “This camera appears to be aimed at me,” he says.
8:10 – Fox is not alone in this. All the stations seem to be struggling with formatting things for non-HD TV sets. I’m looking at a screen that says, “Ox News Exit Poll.”
8:13 – FNC stops reporting on this whole election thing to take a shot of their control room, so their executive producer can raise his hand and Brit Hume can give him a shout-out. Fox News Channel, I scoff at thee.
8:16 – I believe Rachel Maddow has an Adam’s apple.
8:19 – Not a fan of CBS’s election music, either. Too high pitched. It’s the Ron Burgandy flute solo from “Anchorman.”
8:21 – Back to NBC. Seems like we’re really slow calling states. CBS appears to be first calling most of them. They’ve got Texas for McCain, but we’ve still got it gray.
8:25 – Fmr. Gov. Jim Edgar is on our set. We’ve done a good job snagging people for our local coverage. I’ll take that over a random shot of a reporter standing in some arbitrary location any day. In the absence of news, opinion is great. In the absence of news or opinion, you just end up speculating on which tower of the Hyatt Barack Obama is staying.
8:35 – CBS calls Ohio for Obama. That’s your ballgame. No Republican has won the White House without the Buckeye state. “I can’t figure out a way John McCain can win now,” says Bob Schieffer.
8:38 – Brian Williams summons our virtual set to disappear around Anne Curry, showing a giant green screen. So while CNN and CBS talk about, you know, the presidential election, we’re busy touting our technology. And now we see a shot of the ice rink painting crew. And here’s Tavis Smiley. My own network is about to lose me as a viewer for the night.
8:42 – CNN’s Campbell Brown is hot.
8:43 – I think CBS is the only network to call Texas so far. It’s like they’re racing to fill their map the fastest. Hope that doesn’t backfire…
8:50 – My brother calls. He was hosting a pro-Republican election party. He is angry.
9:35 – My best friend calls. We chat for hours.
10:00 – Barack Obama is the next president of the United States.
10:20 – McCain offers his concession. I feel bad for the guy. It’s hard to dislike him.
Bonus thought: CBS2’s Mike Flannery wins tonight’s Tony Kornheiser lookalike contest.
* After a long night of election tracking, I left home a bit early to run over to the Grant Park area. It was after Obama’s speech, so the streets overflowed with supporters.
It was an eerie sight. Thousands of people and no traffic. It was like an impromptu parade, with American flags waving in the masses. Near the Art Institute, a group stood on the median and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As they sang, the crowd around them stopped and watched, and joined in. A group held up a quilt with the electoral map, each state covered by an appropriately-sized red or blue piece of felt. Another group sang some sort of made-up “Obama” song. Crowds gathered to take pictures of any kind of display. At one point, people lied in the streets to have their pictures taken. Why? Why not?
Two women walked across Michigan Avenue. One said to the other, “My president is a black man.” She said it as though she were trying to convince herself that this was real. Such things are possible now.
A pair of animated women danced mockingly in Bush masks. Then they removed the masks and smacked them on the ground. A man in an Obama mask climbed a street sign. The crowd cheered. And people ran over to have their pictures taken with him as though he were the real thing. I could have stayed for hours, watching this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, but duty called.
I arrived to the newsroom to see the entire A-Team in place. Their coverage was just ending. An air of exhaustion and satisfaction surrounded them. Stepping off the set, Warner Saunders handed his director a dollar – an Election Day bet paid off. The morning crew scrambled to pick their brains. So much falls through the cracks between the night and morning transition.
We settled in and began the slow process of dissecting the biggest story this city has seen in years. We will all remember where we were when we heard that a black man became the President of the United States. But how do we write the history now – in the moment?
After much confusion and frustration, I had my plan. The details came later. And by 4 a.m., I was ready for battle. I entered the control room to see a larger-than-normal crew. Our cameras were in place and at 4:30, the chaos began.
We couldn’t talk to one of our photographers. Police threw Kim Vatis out of her live shot location just seconds before we went to her. She called on the phone and I had to generate graphics on the fly. On the phone, we couldn’t talk to her, so she couldn’t get time cues. She went long. I took a hatchet to the remainder of the show to make everything fit. We went over our time, throwing a 45-second deficit in the lap of the next producer. But I was out of the booth, and my contribution to immediate history was complete.
When I sat down at my desk, Executive Producer Wendy said she needed someone to run coffee and bagels to the team in Grant Park. I volunteered.
I didn’t have a ticket last night, but this would get me in to the site of the speech. I brought my camera to document my visit to the historic location. Seven hours prior, he stood at that podium, delivering his first words after victory. The empty field was filled with celebrities, politicians and average citizens. The eyes of the world were trained on this spot.
There were fewer reporters this morning. The red hot story began to cool. Journalists once assembled broke apart and headed home. But the place still resonated with echoes of joy.
Sometime soon, that land becomes what it was before this spectacle – just another patch of grass in the city by the lake. But our nation changed course here. And we were alive to see it.