After a campaign that made media coverage an election issue, Variety examines the spin throughout Election Day across the major TV news outlets.
9pm PT “We just made a decision in this country we thought was impossible,” says Maddow.
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt is ready to call the race for Trump — but he’s got another question for the panel. “Why are the Russians so keen on having a candidate of their preference being elected?” That sparks a fierce debate, with Matthews challenging the idea that Russia intended to influence the results of the election.
Matthews tries to offer a calming note on a different subject: Immigration policy. There’s no way Trump can pass a law banning people based on their religion “which is totally unconstitutional,” he says. Actually making policy in Washington goes through the guys in the middle — bipartisan senators — who will never let it happen.
Challenges Maddow: He campaigned on it. He’s the “build the wall guy.”
Matthews disagrees: “Most of campaigning is BS. The only way you succeed as president is to pass laws that you can sign.”
7:45pm The mood has shifted around the desk. The faces of the anchors reveal their shock by the turn of events, which has Trump winning Ohio and ahead in Florida. Now instead of analyzing Trump’s strategic errors, the conversation has already shifted to discussing what Clinton did wrong. The diagnosis: Overconfidence.
Wallace and Maddow get into an argument about what Trump’s victory means. Wallace says that the voters are delivering a message that voters are angry with Washington — and that Trump is the equivalent of “political chemo,” wiping out everything in his path. Maddow counters that the incumbents like Sen. Ron Johnson should have then lost, rather than being returned to their seats.
As Kornacki continues to offer multiple electoral college scenarios, playing with the giant electronic screen, Maddow jokes grimly: “The math has gotten easier.”
6pm PT “He’s still in this race.” With Florida still too close to call, but Trump’s lead in the state growing, Chris Matthews renders his verdict: There’s still a chance of a Trump presidency. “Who would have believed it would be this too close to call” at this point, says Matthews. Maddow then reels off the long list of states still a toss-up: Along with Florida, there’s Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Minnesota.
“We weren’t even supposed to be talking about Virginia at this hour,” says poll analyst Kornacki.
4:15pm Chris Matthews welcomes Trump spokesperson Rudy Giuliani with a hearty greeting: “I just love having you on to argue with.” And argue he does, pushing Giuliani on why he called Clinton “sick and dying” during the campaign. He finishes his prosecution of the former prosecutor with a zinger: “Are you proud of the way you’ve conducted yourself?” Giuliani, for the record, insists that he is in fact proud. “I think my analysis of her legal issues is spot on,” he says.
Meanwhile, the first results from Florida have rolled in, showing Trump with a sizable lead, and Williams doesn’t even bother reading them aloud. He simply says, “Pay attention to the number in the top right hand corner” — meaning the percentage of votes in, which stands at just 2%.
4pm PT: The first polls have closed, and it’s “too close to call” in Georgia, “too early to call” in Virginia, with a Clinton lead, and South Carolina, with a Trump lead. Clinton has won Vermont; Trump has won Kentucky and Indiana. But “the United States Senate is going to be a moving target all night long,” says Williams. Todd had predicted earlier that call won’t be made until tomorrow morning.
“If Georgia’s close, it’s going be a very rough night at Trump Tower,” says Wallace.
3:15pm PT: Primetime coverage has begun on the East Coast, which means the major anchors have taken over: Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews. Republican strategist Nicole Wallace is reporting that her sources within the Trump campaign are already playing the “what if” game: As in, what if Trump had apologized after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged? “That’s saying something,” says Maddow.
2:50pm PT: “The blame game has begun,” says Chuck Todd. He’s just finished interviewing Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. And though she was optimistic her candidate would be victorious, when Todd asked what she was worried about, she pointed the finger at the lack of “the full support of the Republican infrastructure.” “We didn’t have former presidents voting for us…former nominees voting for us,” she said. “That’s very unfortunate.”
After the interview, Todd turned to his panel — Steve Schmidt, Joy Reid, and Hugh Hewitt — and said, “Can we talk about the news that just broke?”
Fast-talking Steve Kornacki is frantically trying to unpack the numbers from the exit polls. Black voters have split predictably in favor of Clinton 87% to Trump’s 8% — but Latino voters are only favoring Clinton 65% to 27%. Kornacki cautions this is only the first wave — and the heavily Latino West Coast has yet to report.
2:15pm PT: The much-hyped exit polls are finally in… and the results are murky. The voting looks split, if leaning heavily Trump especially among white men, though that’s as expected. To wit: 32% of voters say Trump is “honest and trustworthy; 38% say Clinton is “honest and trustworthy.” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook tries to defend the decision to stay out of Michigan until the last few days. “We have many paths to victory,” he tells Chuck Todd, as opposed to Trump, who must win Florida.
Still waiting for Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway’s spin — she’s voting, says Todd.
Checking back in on the polling stations across the country: The rumored long lines and crowds haven’t materialized. “We’re learning something. This early vote is allowing voting stations to run hazard free,” says Todd.
12pm PT: A protest is underway in Phoenix, Arizona. Hundreds of high school students have walked out of class to canvass for votes, but they seem angrier about controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio — and Trump supporter — who is up for re-election.
Meanwhile, Mark McKinnon, executive producer of Showtime’s “The Circus,” weighs in on his take on the widlly differing moods of the campaign’s supporters. While Clinton’s supporters are “passionated and committed,” Trump’s fans are “enthusiastic and rabid.” “It makes you really think about what’s going to happen after the election,” says McKinnon.
That theme has echoed throughout MSNBC’s coverage: although they’ve been reporting that Clinton is writing two speeches, they don’t expect her to be delivering the concession version. Witness the chyron: “Optimism from Clinton, darkness from Trump in final rallies.”
10:15am PT: Breaking news! The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit in Clark County, Nevada, alleging that people were allowed to vote after the polls closed — in a largely Hispanic neighborhood. NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams assures anchor Hallie Jackson this case will be dealt with quickly by the judge.
Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie says this isn’t about voter intimidation. “We want every American to have the right to vote but they have to follow the rules,” he says, though he says he has “no idea” how many more cases they’ll be filing. Counters Neera Tanden, president and CEO for the Center for American Progress, this is a “desperate attempt to rig the vote” by the Trump campaign.
Also worth noting: The coverage has featured a scroll of factoids through the lower-third of the screen, ranging from the number of electoral votes it takes to win the election to must-win states for each candidate. Also: “There is no legal or constitutional requirement that requires a candidate to publicly concede.”
9am PT: Andrea Mitchell took over the anchor chair, beginning her coverage with an interview with Katy Tur, the NBC reporter who’s been covering the Trump campaign. “We’re going to find out in a few hours if this protest campaign turns into a protest presidency,” said Tur, referring to Trump’s comments this morning on Fox News saying if he didn’t win, he wouldn’t consider it “a tremendous waste” of time and energy.
Mitchell then segued to a lineup of Clinton acolytes, starting with a clearly exhausted press secretary Brian Fallon, who still had plenty of spin to offer, including “anecdotal reporting of high turnout.” He praised her “expanding Democratic base,” “overperformance with Latino voters,” and “surging support from Asian Americans” and suburban women.
And to show the campaign still has a sense of humor, he shared the team engaging in the viral mannequin challenge on the plane in the early hours last night — including Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, even Bon Jovi.
8:45 am PT: MSNBC’s laser focus was on voting on the key battleground states, searching for long lines — and often not finding them.
Reporters were stationed outside polling stations in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona were tasked with filing updates from the field. Sometimes they found surprisingly empty polling places; others found voters waiting for just 30 minutes. Ever intrepid, correspondent Miguel Almaguer told viewers, “It’s going to be a busy day…We’re expecting to see a surge of Latino voters. That could tip the scale.”
That emphasis on record turnout among key demographic groups was a recurring theme throughout the mornings. Rev. William Barber, president of NAACP’s North Carolina chapter, told Tamron Hall, “We’re not going to allow them to steal this election,” refuting a report in the Daily Beast that the GOP was actively engaged in voter suppression.
8am PT: A correspondent stationed outside of Trump Tower in New York City noted that the energy was divisive — while many people were cheering in support of Republican nominee Donald Trump, others were heard booing loudly.
Anchor Tamron Hall highlighted the significance of Hillary Clinton running, noting that America is coming off of eight years with the first African-American president in office and could be shifting to four or more years with the first female president. “It’s clearly a campaign that is optimistic,” said Hall of the Democratic nominee. Hall then broke in to bring in live B-roll of Trump leaving his voting location in Manhattan where Hall noted that people waiting outside were shouting “You’re so phony!” Added Hall, “It is striking to note that this is the place Donald Trump calls home.”
— Additional reporting by Elizabeth Wagmeister