A couple sits on chairs in a near-empty room to watch Fox News commentator Karl Rove on a big-screen television during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.
As you celebrate, try to spare a tear or a sigh for Megyn Kelly, forevermore the forlorn Cordelia of Fox News's 2012 election-night coverage. At least Mitt Romney's annoying delay in accepting that his plutocratic keister had been taken to the cleaners occurred behind closed doors. Its flirtations with realism or the opposite were entombed behind the bland garage door we call Mitt's forehead by the time the GOP's newest scapegoat finally emerged to give a really-pretty-OK concession speech.
Not so Republican mastermind emeritus Karl Rove's denials of the obvious, which went on and on on live TV well after his own network had called Ohio for Obama and pretty much thrown in the towel. Technically speaking, Rove isn't Megyn's boss, but that's like saying we don't know who's responsible for Doris Day's virginity. Until otherwise instructed, she and co-anchor Bret Baier had no choice but to hum along with Karl's addled pretense that rotgut was mother's milk.
Fox News's wedding-cake duo had started off the night so well, too. Obama's wins in Maryland and Rhode Island got swiftly put in their place: "home to a huge number of federal workers" (Bret on Maryland), "the smallest state in the nation" (Megyn on Rhode Island) Perhaps the first sign tangled webs weren't cutting it was Kelly's lovely Freudian slip—I think it was a Dior, but I'm no expert—apropos of I can't recall what: "We're hoping to make that a little more close," she said. "I mean clear." Then came Karl.
Eventually, and incredibly, Rove's droning impersonation of Dilbert impersonating King Lear on the heath embarrassed Fox—imagine something that could embarrass Fox!—into sending poor Cordelia on what may have been the longest, loneliest walk in election-coverage history. Managing to keep up bright audience-friendly prattle the whole time, Kelly schlepped through the innards of Murdochland's digestive system—all on camera—to arrive at the "Decision Desk" whose recognition of the inevitable had gotten Dilbert Lear's knickers in a twist to begin with.
There, various drones assured her that Obama had indeed won re-election, and they'd crunched the numbers to prove it. They somehow stopped themselves from adding, "And that's why Karl is full of shit." Even more heroically, Kelly restrained herself from saying, "I knew it all along! I'll kill that son of a bitch if it's the last thing I do under my current contract before sending my audition reel to Bravo and putting this cockeyed joint behind me for good, God and my personal savior willing."
I'm honestly not sure I've seen anything like it, and my recollections of glazedly gazing into TV's rectangular crystal ball on election nights stretch back to Walter Cronkite saying, "And that's the way Hubert Humphrey is toast," way back in 1968. Fox's home-game advantage in its many quarrels with reality is that reality usually never gets to do much more than chirp weakly in reply before being slammed to the mat by righteous patriots. But this was an internecine kerfuffle on display. The house-divided-against-itself aspect of Fox's dual role as propaganda machine (the roost Rove rules, or ruled until yesterday) and ostensible news organization—even including Bill O'Reilly, the rest of the crew plainly knew Romney had lost and were already busy blaming Sandy—has never been dramatized before in quite this haywire fashion. Even when Shepard Smith goes off the reservation, it's understood that unpredictable truth-telling is just Shep's way of pursuing his own bliss.
Other than Rove's unexpected self-deportation from ever being taken seriously again, Tuesday night was pretty much just the usual most-important-election-of-our-lifetimes as far as the cable-news coverage was concerned. As hour succeeded numbing hour, the mind began to toy with the strange insights only battlefield exhaustion can produce—for instance, the dawning recognition that Wolf Blitzer was born to play the thwarted, wonky younger sibling to Martin Scorsese's rakehell, movie-trivia-spouting older bro in the dorkiest-ever production of Sam Shepard's True West. Or the dawning suspicion that MSNBC's Chuck Todd spent his high-school years dreaming of becoming a nightclub magician in the Catskills.
Because Todd, to his credit, is unlikely to ever fully master the art of blowhard self-importance, I'll never groan at him the way I used to groan at his mentor, Beltway clown Tim Russert. But it was a tad poignant to see Todd and Rachel Maddow looking like bedraggled veterans of too many prognostications instead of bright kids happily messing with the liquor cabinet. Just four years ago, they were the fresh faces adding zest to MSNBC's campaign coverage, as puckish and industrious as newly minted elves. Now Todd has settled in to pulling ever mangier rabbits out of the same old hat and playing Mr. Potato Head with his own facial hair—and Maddow, unless I miss my guess, is wistfully eyeing the happy pastures she used to romp in when she was just the channel's visiting unicorn.
After all, unlike most Potomac-enfevered monomaniacs, she's that rare thing, a well-rounded human being. Has other interests, stuff like that. Stepping up to play our droll, jaunty Rachel every goddam night looks like it's begun to wear on her. Anyhow, I think she misses her old sparring partner, now banished Pat Buchanan. Lord forgive me, so do I.
By way of uncanny constrast, Chris Matthews—a flower that never stops blooming—just kept on getting younger and more effervescent before our bleary eyes. Maybe the only hack in cable-news history who can convince you he'd happily do the job for free, he's now in the joyous state of knowing he'll never go out of fashion. Bubbling away like a beige percolator, he will outlast them all—Rachel, Chuck, whomever—just as he outlasted Keith Olbermann. Proof that elections are a renewable energy source, Matthews' endless rejuvenation is as trippy as Al Sharpton's deft morph into a distinguished elder statesman, as if Jabba the Hut had shrunk and sleeked himself into Yoda.
Meanwhile, beating out even MSNBC renaming Rockefeller Center "Democracy Plaza" for the night, CNN took the prize for dumbest gimmick: the vying red and blue columns on the Empire State Building that measured Mitt's and Obama's electoral totals. Nor will I ever forgive Wolf Blitzer's lair for continuing to give air time to that disgraceful sack of D.C. oatmeal, David Gergen, who could be counted on to Quaker Oats away on cue about the importance of moving to the center if he were sitting in a cannibal's stewpot.
Of course, that's just what the birthers, Tea Party wingnuts, and "fiancée"-banging Dinesh D'Souza all believe America has just been plunked down in for four more years, which is what made CNN's one truly inspired cutaway fairly breathtaking. Mere moments after "Obama Re-Elected" flashed on the screen, the network showed us jubilant tribesmen celebrating the news in—you'll never guess—Kenya. How we were supposed to take this as anything but a giant "Fuck you" directed at the benighted beats me, and I'd never have expected it from Bland-Out Central. Not only hilarious, it was thrilling; you sort of wanted to be there with them. Now let's get cracking on that socialist agenda.