Obama's reelection strengthens cabler's role in rallying opposition

Around Fox News, by about 9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, it was basically all over but the whining.

And strictly from a business perspective, it was hard not to ask the age-old question posed to the horse – namely, “Why the long face?”

Bill Maher, a supporter of President Obama, noted on his HBO program prior to the election, “For me, it is a win-win. If it’s Obama, America wins. And if it’s Romney, comedy wins.”

The same could easily be said for Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and his boss, News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch: If Mitt Romney won, their politics triumphed. If Obama earned a second term, Fox News – as the de facto voice of the opposition and rallying point for the Republican Party – would see its stature fortified.

Nevertheless, the beneficial part of the equation didn’t appear to be trickling down to most of Fox News’ pundits, who were still searching for rays of hope even as the skies darkened. (Unlike MSNBC, Fox notably keeps its highest-profile primetime hosts, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, away from the anchor desk for the most part on election nights.)

Still, with Pennsylvania falling, Ohio not looking promising and then Wisconsin turning blue, a few began to acknowledge Mitt Romney’s paths to a GOP victory were fading. By shortly after 10 p.m., Brit Hume conceded Romney would have to “draw to an inside straight” to win.

Other Fox talking heads sounded a bit like Baghdad Bob, insisting there was nothing to worry about. Karl Rove even questioned his own network’s call — having gone out on a limb and forecast a Romney victory — prompting an awkward interview with the network’s “decision team,” which is sort of like featuring the accountants during the Oscars.

Fox News also couldn’t stop jabbing at the president, and the so-called mainstream media. Anchor Megyn Kelly — who became almost embarrassingly giddy as the night dragged on — teed up contributor Tucker Carlson to gripe about press coverage, and specifically the attention that wasn’t focused on Libya by other networks. Given the drumbeat about how this election was all about the economy, it felt like a Mr. Fantastic-type stretch.

Apparently, Fox’s antipathy toward the New York Times includes boycotting numbers guru Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com blog, which predicted the outcome, and engendered the wrath of irate conservatives in doing so.

Elsewhere, MSNBC’s studio team grew predictably elated as the trend lines coalesced, while the broadcast networks endeavored to exercise restraint, even as the evidence mounted.

CBS News’ coverage, in particular, was stately and admirable, with Scott Pelley providing a measured voice, and the network not falling victim to the sort of graphic-happy nonsense visible in other venues. CNN, as usual, was the most egregious offender in that regard (though ABC was nearly as bad), forcing John King to engage in a kind of electronic finger-painting as he sought to illustrate which way Florida counties might go.

Ailes recently extended his Fox News gig another four years, extending through the network’s 20th anniversary. More importantly, it will ensure he remains a thorn in the president’s side, and give him one final chance to play the role of presidential kingmaker.

It was Ailes, after all, who installed Glenn Beck the week Obama was inaugurated, and Beck’s apocalyptic rants helped the cabler’s ratings soar. The Obama administration and fellow Democrats can only imagine what fresh hell awaits.

But for Tuesday, anyway, it was Obama’s night to celebrate. And Fox News’. The latter just might take awhile to sink in.

In this case, a bit like Megyn Kelly’s long walk back to the “decision desk,” good news travels slowly.

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