Media treads carefully until early race call
People watch early election results displayed on a utility lift suspended from the front of the GE Building at Rockefeller Center New York, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
NEW YORK (AP) — News organizations anticipated a long night following the presidential race on Tuesday, but it all ended suddenly.
Networks fell in line after NBC, at 11:12 p.m. ET, declared that President Barack Obama would win the battleground state of Ohio and thus, the presidency.
The Associated Press called the race President Barack Obama at 11:38 p.m.
The calls, after a night of careful talk by new organizations, led to the odd spectacle of Republican strategist Karl Rove, a Fox News Channel analyst who helped raise money for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, vociferously complaining that the network had called the Ohio results prematurely for Obama.
"It seems to me you have a lot of votes left to be cast," Rove said, appearing to refer to votes being counted.
Hours after some of the first polls closed, news organizations said most states that were considered true battlegrounds were too close to call. Burned eight years ago by early exit polls that proved misleading, care was taken not to draw too many conclusions this time — partly, as CBS' Bob Schieffer said, because many of the findings were contradictory.
Two of the three biggest broadcast networks had new leaders in place for presidential election night coverage. Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos teamed on ABC, and Scott Pelley led the CBS coverage. Brian Williams was back in the anchor seat at NBC.
But 2012 was notable for the vast array of outlets that an interested consumer could command to create their own media experience on different screens, with web sites offering deep drill-downs in data and social media hosting raucous conversations.
A still-unclear picture early in the evening led to some tortured language on television. "We are not in receipt of any information that we're trying to hint about," said NBC's Brian Williams before 9 p.m. EST. "All we're saying is, if you're in the Romney organization, you would probably like some of these battlegrounds to have closed by now, or very soon."
News outlets carefully parsed information and sometimes used the same facts for contradictory conclusions.
Fox News analyst Brit Hume noted an exit poll finding that 42 percent of voters said Superstorm Sandy was an important factor in their vote, suggesting that was a positive for Obama since he was widely considered to have been effective in his response. With the same information, the web site Politico headlined: "Exit Survey: Sandy Not a Factor."
On CBS, Scott Pelley noted that exit polls and early returns in Ohio seemed to be breaking Obama's way. Yet GOP strategist Karl Rove, a Fox analyst, used a white board to indicate county-by-county turnout results looked positive for Republican Mitt Romney.