November’s Best Reality TV, or: A Very Subjective Analysis of CNN’s (Never-Ending) Election Night
It ought to be a truth universally acknowledged that the 2020 US election was an unmitigated shitshow. At this point, I think you’re nothing short of a fool if you expected anything else, given the year’s track record. Many people, especially those on Twitter, will tell you that no one could have predicted this. Well, those people clearly haven’t been listening to the right podcasts, because multiple astrologists that I listen to (with an almost religious fervour) correctly noted that the unique combination of a Mercury and Mars retrograde on November 3rd would lead to communication and technology issues. Or, in other words, to a delay in the election results. And voilà, that’s just what we got.
In spite of this cosmic prediction, I decided to stay up all night to watch the elections, much like four years ago, and live text a friend, much like four years ago. Both of us were acutely aware of the importance of Florida, a statement I have probably never uttered outside of the context of American elections, and felt disheartened early on as the state remained red.
As a CNN-newbie, I had no clue who “the silver fox by the interactive map” was, but I felt incredibly disappointed when he informed us that the larger Miami area had put Biden up by only 10%, which was apparently a bad sign. The county, he explained, was a Democrat stronghold, and had Clinton up by twenty points in 2016 - if Biden was only up by ten now, that could spell trouble for the former VP. Wtf, Miami-Dale?? I texted my mate, panicking. Not again! he replied. Resigning myself to a long night, I cracked open another beer.
Three hours later found me in the same position on the sofa, exhausted, and not much smarter for it. I’d learned that the silver fox’s name was John King, and his companion was Wolf Blitzer. The annoying county in Florida that wasn’t adequately pro-Biden was Miami-Dade, and the astrologists were right - many states had counted less than 10% of the vote, unfathomably surprised by the large number of mail-in ballots.
For reasons which I still do not understand, CNN decided to prematurely colour in states depending on who was leading them at any given point in time, knowing full well that each state had a different approach to ballot counting, which led to alarmingly skewed results. Following weeks of President Trump’s tweets about the unreliability of mail-in voting, the majority of Republicans voted in person. Democrats, on the other hand, spent much time convincing their voters to send their votes by mail or drop them off in advance, in order to avoid Corona-infected queues on election day. This meant that early on, states which counted mail-in ballots first, such as Ohio, seemed to swing blue, while states which counted them after the election day votes reported high numbers for the Republicans. CNN, which appeared to approach the task of colouring in the map with as much finesse as a nap-deprived four year old, thus provided us with a hauntingly red America, and I decided to call it a night.
Imagine my delight when I woke up on Wednesday morning (on the sofa, with a crick in my neck) to discover that I’d missed the trainwreck of Trump’s premature victory speech. Since not enough votes had been reported for the actual winner to be announced, the soothing soundtrack of the election coverage was still going, with a new set of faces gracing my screen, all seemingly more out of it than me.
Once Trump publicly undermined the election results, CNN switched gears, its anchors explaining the importance of counting every vote. My absolute favourite, Phil Mattingly, (“Hey Siri, who’s the cute guy by the magic screen on CNN”) was desperately disclaiming that it was too early to call pretty much anything that so much as resembled a swing state. He was joined by blue-eyed beauty Chris Cuomo, who assured everyone in his calming, dulcet tones that the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots meant that the results would come in slowly. All one could do was wait.
From then on, my days passed in a blur of faces which gradually became familiar. I fell asleep to the deadpan humour of King and Blitzer and woke up to the caffeinated dreamteam of Phil and Cuomo. The appearances of these (white, male) duos were interspersed with more diverse panels. By the time Biden had become the favourite, I had my own. I actively disliked the bipartisan “breakfast” line-up. Though I grew to like and respect S.E Cupp, whose compassion and intellect reminded me that #NotAllRepublicans, it was her two male colleagues who brought me to the brink of absolute rage.
Seeing former Senator Rick Santorum dragged from the pit of irrelevance - which by the looks of it featured multiple sunbeds - and treated as a rational human being would have rubbed me wrong in any situation, given some of the vitriol he’s spewed over the years, but seeing him parrot nonsensical Republican talking points was infuriating. The loudest opposition to Santorum came from former Obama White House teammates David Axelrod and Van Jones. For all the sense they were making, I still have not been able to forgive Jones his relentless cosying up to the Trump administration. The fact that the brilliant Anderson Cooper was mostly limited to moderating this panel gave me all the more reason to switch channels.
On the other hand, I grew to love the holy trinity of Abby Phillip, Dana Bash, and Jake Tapper. Following Trump’s Press Briefing of Doom Number Two, I found much-needed comfort in their commentary. They discussed the worrying failure of the GOP to intervene in the President’s ramblings, and the dangers of the so-called leader of the free world denouncing the legitimacy of his own country’s election. Given the fact that even now, the majority of Republican higher-ups have yet to congratulate Biden, Bash’s inquiry about the heart of the GOP seems right on point.
By the time Saturday rolled up, I was in too deep. Despite not knowing any of the journalists - bar Cooper - prior to the election, I now followed half of the CNN team across most social platforms. I’d gone down multiple rabbit holes looking up their personal lives. Even the Facebook group associated with Deux Moi, Instagram’s hottest gossip account, had a couple of posts asking for CNN gossip. Many people, it turns out, were almost as interested in the people on the screen as I was. Having celebrated my birthday by binging on CNN til four in the morning, and then tuning in again at seven, I dare say I even built a (very one-sided) emotional relationship with the CNN election crew.
When Blitzer announced that CNN projected Joseph R. Biden Jr. to have won Pennsylvania, and thus the election, I wasn’t even sure what to feel. I was happy that Trump had lost, elated to be reminded of the fact that the States were finally getting their first female Veep, relieved that the networks finally called the results, annoyed that it took them so goddamn long. I also felt a little sad, because I knew that this meant my TV friends would have to go.
By the looks of it, they too felt conflicted. Santorum attempted a very lukewarm criticism of Trump’s fraudulent claims, only to be congratulated by his co-panelists for the herculean act of growing a semblance of a spine. When Jones burst into tears, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of his crying was exhaustion, how much could be tied to genuine relief, and how much of it was motivated by a desire to be liked by the left again. His much-applauded, and admittedly very heartfelt, monologue about how Trump’s loss made being a father easier had, nonetheless, clearly touched something felt by many around the world. Phillip’s emotional speech about the crucial role black Americans, and especially black women, played in the Democratic victory served as stark contrast to the far-right’s racist calls to ignore the votes coming from large cities such as Detroit and Philly. Eventually, they all went to bed.
Election night on CNN might be over, but the fight is sadly far from won. As promised (in front of Four Seasons landscaping, between a sex shop and a crematorium), Trump’s merry band of bumbling baffoons are doing an appropriately abysmal job of attacking the election results in any court possible. The transition has finally begun, but fake news, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all other brands of dumbfuckery associated with the Trump administration are not gone. I just wish that the good people of CNN’s Election Night Coverage weren’t either.
Jasmina Hegerova is passionate about pasta, poetry, pop culture, and alliteration. She often yells into the void as @jashegerova on twitter.