On Tuesday night, by 9:30pm anyone who was able to add could predict Barack Obama’s victory. But as Brooke experienced firsthand, many waited to mourn or celebrate until the authoritative voices on the networks called the race. Brooke reflects back on election night.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR’s On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. So a funny thing happened to me on Election Night. I was doing this gig at the Jazz Standard in the city. Yeah, right. Actually, Ben Allison, who composed our theme, and his group Medicine Wheel were doing a gig. Ben asked me and my husband, Slate columnist Fred Kaplan, to do election updates between songs.
So mostly we sat in the corner of the club, bathed in laptop light, while the audience took in the music and greeted us with anticipatory applause every time we went up to the mic. They cheered when states went for Obama, groaned when they went for McCain. Well, come on, this was New York City!
But here’s the funny thing. By 9:30, any person with a laptop or a TV or a radio or a telephone could predict how this was going to end. I mean, the TV news anchors were tripping all over themselves not to say what anyone who could add could see. Here’s Wolf just minutes before 11. WOLF BLITZER: This is a moment that a lot of people have been waiting for. This is a moment that potentially could be rather historic. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, Fred and I were in a jazz club, not on the networks. We didn't have to wait for the polls to close at 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. So we called it for Obama a little after 10.
And how did this overwhelmingly Democratic crowd respond? A tremulous hurrah, some random claps. We couldn't give them the release they craved because Fred and I don't add up to a moment. Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams do. [CLIPS]: CHARLIE GIBSON: It is now 11 o'clock in the East, it is 8 o'clock in the West. The polls are closed in those states. ABC News is now ready to predict - KATIE COURIC: - in New York, and we have breaking news – momentous news, really. CBS now estimates - BRIAN WILLIAMS: There will be young children in the White House for the first time since the Kennedy generation. An African-American has broken the barrier – [END OF CLIPS] BROOKE GLADSTONE: When we left the club just after 11, there was pandemonium in the streets. And even the websites, which had declared it for Obama all night, posted blazing banners when the networks called it because then, and only then, was it real.
When the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve, people watch it everywhere. It is the definitive marker, the moment the New Year begins. So even though the death of network news is often proclaimed, it’s still got its mojo because Tuesday’s moment wasn't really about who had access to polling data. All of us had the answer before 11.
What TV had, and what only TV has, is the power to create the moment everyone could share.