David Zurawik

MSNBC editorializes, CNN reports at moment of Obama victory

It was fairly obvious by about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday that most cable and network analysts thought President Obama was going to be re-elected.

But they didn't have the data to make the call until 11:17.


When that happened at NBC News and CNN, viewers were offered as clear a snapshot as I have seen of the difference between a news gathering operation like CNN and an ideologically driven enterprise like MSNBC.

"We've got a really major projection to make right now," CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said. "CNN projects that Barack Obama will be re-elected as president of the United States. He will return to the White House for four more years, because CNN projects him as the winner in Ohio. ... They're excited in Chicago. They're excited in Times Square. They're excited around the world. Let's listen in to their excitement."


And then, all the the anchors and analysts at CNN remained silent as the cameras and microphones took viewers from Los Angeles to Boston, Chicago, Kenya and Las Vegas -- letting those of us who were watching experience the sights and sounds of victory. CNN reported the moment rather than editorializing.

On MSNBC, by contrast, Rachel Maddow, who was anchoring that channel's coverage, followed the announcement of the projection, which was based on work done not by MSNBC, but rather NBC News, by declaring, "a point of privilege."

"I would also just like a point of privilege to say that is an important moment for policy," she began.

"This was a consequential presidency not just because Barack Obama was the first African-American president. And not just because America turned to the Democratic party after eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney. This is a consequential presidency because of policy."

Maddow went on to describe those policies, saying, "in terms of civil rights matters like don't ask, don't tell; in terms of the president supporting marriage equality; in terms of economic policy like the stimulus; in terms of historic, historic change like health reform, like health reform, and some of the other reform like Wall Street reform, credit card reform, student loan reform measures that this president was able to pass. I know I'm forgetting something in this historic moment."

Such repeated words and phrases as "historic" and "like health reform" are not typos. That's what she said. But she wasn't through.

Instead of hearing supporters of the president or from reporters on the ground with supporters of the victor, we got to hear more of Maddow's point of privilege.

"Had this president been a one-term president, those policies would have been dialed back along with the rest of his legacy," she said. "Those policies will now be held on to in this country. ... They will become part of the new normal in America. Obamacare's here to stay."


It's too late in the night (actually early in the morning) to parse her words line by line, but let's just talk about the phrase "historic Wall Street reform."

Are you kidding me? He's got the same people who led us to the brink of disaster with Bush running the economy today. No one important on Wall Street went to jail -- no one -- and the crimes were enormous. Historic Wall Street reform?

This is propaganda. This is what Maddow and MSNBC do. It's their privilege.

ABC is likely to be one of the most talked about networks Wednesday -- but not in a good way. Each time I surfed into ABC, Diane Sawyer seemed to be slightly off in rhythm and tone at the anchor desk. And I am probably being nice with the term "slightly off." She literally seemed to be in physical discomfort at one point.

CNN was the most journalistically sound cable channel going Tuesday night. It was cautious in making its projections, and I think that was a good thing.

In an interview last week, Sam Feist, the head of CNN's Washington bureau and political coverage, said he could care less who was first on state-by-state projections as long as his channel was right. In these run-and-gun, who-cares-if-we're-right times, I had to ask him to repeat what he said to make sure I wasn't dreaming those words.

John King was terrific at the Magic Wall, and Blitzer, for his several exclamations of "wow," was rock solid Tuesday. They were the stars for CNN, make no mistake about it. And there was no one at any other channel who came close Tuesday.


Bret Baier looked like he was trying to do some informational work at the Fox News anchor desk. But Bill O'Reilly was too much to bear with his "white establishment" talk, and when Karl Rove, a featured analyst, couldn't accept what the data told him and everyone else about Mitt Romney losing Ohio, I had to tune the channel out. It was embarrassing for a guy this smart to behave that badly -- and management to let him do it on-air. Fox News should be ashamed -- if Rove isn't.

Rove is as big an ideologue as Maddow. And propaganda from the right is not the way to balance propaganda from the left.

Fact-based information is the road to clarity. And CNN was the place for that Tuesday night.