Election Night: Diane Sawyer, Karl Rove Add a Dose of Weirdness to Obama Win

Obama Biden Election Victory - H 2012
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Obama Biden Election Victory - H 2012

So President Obama won a second term as president, Nate Silver made statistics sexy again, and there was no end to the weirdness around the dial as a string of television news anchors and pundits said the darndest things.

But by far the two strangest events were Diane Sawyer on ABC News acting so erratically that people on Twitter thought she’d suffered a stroke, and Karl Rove on Fox News claiming that the channel called Ohio too soon, which resulted in one of the most bizarre on-set disagreements you’re likely to see from Fox News ever.

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First, the Sawyer thing: Instead of focusing entirely on the 24-hour cable news channels like Fox, MSNBC and CNN, I wanted to see how the networks were doing (they were a lot calmer, but they didn’t capture the excitement of election night and seemed to have an inordinate amount of commercial breaks, which just doesn’t work on a historic night like this). Anyway, that’s when I first commented via Twitter about Sawyer seeming particularly giddy. Whatever she was having, I wanted some.

It soon got to the point where I couldn’t stop watching and Sawyer was becoming a Twitter star as people noticed she seemed to be slurring her words, having odd high-pitched upticks in her speech pattern and generally giggling as events unfolded.

Then Twitter was abuzz with the worried suggestion that Sawyer may have had a stroke and was battling through it on the air.

While that seemed highly unlikely, it certainly made ABC News must-watch programming/entertainment as Sawyer became riveting.

At 8:19 p.m. PT, Fox News said Obama had been re-elected. I noted that Silver should tweet out, “Yeah bitch – STATISTICS” – a reference to a famous line from Breaking Bad that a whole lot of people seemed to get. That’s when things became ever more lively on Fox.

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The official Obama Twitter account then tweeted out a photo of the President and First Lady hugging with the words “Four more years” at the top. Ohio had toppled and the electoral college race – and election – was over. But Chris Wallace on Fox News said, “I’ve got to tell you, the Romney camp has real doubts about us calling Ohio.” At that point, it was on. Rove said Ohio was definitely not a lock for Obama and that the vote differential was too small to make the call. He was reminded that the Fox News numbers crunchers behind the scenes had taken into account all the variables, but Rove was still voicing doubts. At that point, as media folks began tweeting out the indecision, Wallace spoke up again and said, “Maybe not so fast” on the Ohio call, saying his sources in the Romney camp weren’t going to concede the state. Meanwhile Rove said Republicans monitoring Ohio results were refreshing their web pages as fast as possible as the votes for Obama started shrinking.

But then, well, the wishing turned more toward desperation and Fox walked down to its own experts who basically said, it’s about 99 percent certain. Folks on the set began to try to control Rove, who held strong. Eventually it started sounding like people there were desperate for him to drop it and Rove’s hold-out opinion was quickly snuffed out and given less air time.

But it was riveting television if only because Rove, the former Republican mastermind, couldn’t let go even when Fox News had long since called it.

Back at ABC News, the interest in Sawyer was hitting its peak as she started saying random things. When David Muir started mentioning a possible Romney concession speech, Sawyer said, “Yes David I know, and the land and the great continent of what might have been.”

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Among giggles and fun, Sawyer said, “I can’t even get my music anymore but I’ve got a projection…” apparently referring to the canned music that kicks in when a state is about to be called. Later when talking about predictions in this race – hotly debated given Silver’s calculation that Obama’s percentages were overwhelming – Sawyer said, “My grandfather used to prognosticate by the gourds he grew. He was very good in Southern Kentucky…”

It only got weirder, more slurry and giggly from there. It was like someone was pumping laughing gas into the set. In the post-victory analysis, someone from ABC News said “This may be the last election we see two white men run against each other for president.” The camera was on a crowd shot so it was difficult to pick up who said that nonsense, but when it went back to the studio it got brought up among laughs and then tossed to Jake Tapper who promptly said, “I just want to make sure that everybody’s clear on the fact that Barack Obama’s not white.”

Oh, boy.

It was a night of random nuttiness across the dial as tired anchors tried to fill time by continuously talking, often without thinking or taking a breath. And just when you thought you’d seen it all and President Obama was delivering one of his most passionate speeches, there was a woman framed behind him on the camera with an American flag stuck into her hair that immediately distracted half of the people watching and commenting on Twitter.

No matter. It was an incredible speech and neither that odd sight or the weirdness of earlier could change what was, all told, a pretty crazy but entertaining night of television across the dial.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine