CNN's Washington studio, which was unveiled Sept. 10, 2012. (Michelle Poley / CNN )
Forget the bunting and confetti, the balloons and the funny hats. The new symbol of the American election is the oversize touch pad.
During the 2008 election, CNN unveiled its "magic wall" and made John King, his fingertips whisking states red and blue, the hippest geek of presidential politics. Four years later, election night 2012 was a visual monument to the iPad generation, with all the major news networks sporting maps equipped with similar wizardry.
CNN, MSNBC and Fox News reported returns with speed guaranteed to please the most app-addicted, devoting far more time to CG-heavy demographic deconstruction than to the traditional talking-head gab fest. Oh, sure, the MSNBC team yakked a bit obsessively about voter-suppression-by-long-lines in Ohio while Fox News harped about the recent killings in Benghazi, Libya, but from the moment the early polls closed, the star of the night was the super screen.
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With walls and crawls and ever-shifting checkerboards of imagery, anchors deconstructed the electoral college state by state, county by county, minute by minute as the voting results rolled in. If that weren't quite "Minority Report" enough, the big three also co-opted famous New York landmarks on which to project their nifty tech.
MSNBC went quaint, with its ice map at Rockefeller Center; Fox beamed its map onto a screen overlooking Times Square, where it competed with ABC, and CNN shamelessly commandeered the top of the Empire State Building to mark President Obama's and Mitt Romney's progress in lines of blue and red lights.
In terms of pixel-driven showmanship, CNN owned the night, with King manipulating his new and improved wall — Look, Wolf, here are the 1996 election results from Florida's Broward County! — with such avidity that at times one feared for his caffeine levels, if not his sanity. (And in regard to voter privacy, at the rate CNN is going, the next time around, it will be breaking down voter patterns street by street.)
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Not surprisingly, Fox News, America's Election Headquarters, went for a more traditional motif, with a bank of TV screens behind anchors Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier. There were plenty of maps to be seen as well.
Aggressive much of the night in projecting winners, Fox News became markedly subdued by early evening. By 7:30 p.m. Pacific time, Baier stepped up to Fox's magic map to hypothesize how Romney could still win; even with "the map in motion," he conceded, the way seemed tough.
Also, not a shock, MSNBC had the talkiest coverage of the three with Chuck Todd gallantly taking on King with the telestrator. Another oversize suspended tablet, the telestrator did demographic due diligence, with the added attraction of projecting holographically "augmented reality," i.e. four-dimensional graphs. Coming soon to a science fair near you.
Still, all the highfalutin gadgetry did was to showcase the information that came from the decidedly low-tech democratic process. During the evening, images of Americans waiting lines, signing their names and punching their ballots put all the showmanship in perspective.
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