ELECTION 2012: The Night the Right-Wing Media’s Bubble Burst


Just around 11pm on election night, as the Electoral College begin to appear like it was signed, sealed and delivered for President Obama, the turn of events stunning news anchors and also everyone in my living room who expected an all-night nailbiter, something else rather wild began to happen.

“Turn to Fox News right now,” my brother IM’ed me from Massachusetts. My election-night crew already had spent some time viewing the conservative cable network earlier in the night, to catch an unhappy-looking Sarah Palin—so we complied immediately.

And that’s just when the meltdown heard ‘round the airwaves got going; Karl Rove began to attempt to talk the Fox News “Decision Desk” into reversing their call of Ohio for Obama. The irony of Rove’s interference was that his own SuperPAC had pumped millions of dollars into the very race whose outcome he was “predicting.” So the network, faced with a house divided, made a somewhat sexist, awkward decision, that has probably already been enshrined in bizarre political media history:

With neither side backing down, senior producers had to find a way to split the difference. One idea was for two members of the decision team, Mishkin and Fox’s digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt, to go on camera with Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to squelch the doubts over the call. But then it was decided that Kelly would walk through the office and interview the decision team in the conference room. “This is Fox News,” an insider said, “so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.” The decision desk were given a three-minute warning that Kelly would be showing up.

Watch below, courtesy of TPM:

The Kelly-Rove carnival–which was getting tweaked in realtime by Rachel Maddow and the MSNBC team from another channel—was only the most melodramatic example of a night in which “the bubble,” as Bill Maher calls it, began to get popped for conservative media.

Watch the MSNBC mockery, courtesy of Mediaite:

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir had one of many excellent analyses of the Fox spectacle:

It was clearly traumatic. As election night moved rapidly from uncertainty to Republican doom, no one felt ready to let go of the robotic dream of a Romney presidency, or any of the talking points that have driven the network’s political coverage for the last couple of years: Obama was a Muslim-apologist weakling who was doomed by economic conditions and had been abandoned by his base, the polls were fatally skewed toward the Democrats, America was fundamentally a “center-right country” eager for ever lower taxes and ever smaller government.

The pre-election polls have been threatening to burst that bubble for weeks, pointing out that Romney, while at times more competitive, had never fully sold the country his bill of goods. We had to witness a conservative campaign to discredit political prognosticator Nate Silver, who had a reputation for accurate predictions by crunching numbers using very specific algorithms. When Silver was proven right and a thousand hunches proven wrong on Tuesday night, the antics on Fox News were one inevitable result.

The ferocity with which ideologues have attacked Silver and his ilk’s statistical approach to the election is notable, as I wrote the other night, because it means not only do we have a sundered moral and political outlook in our country, we also have two sets of facts to back them up. One one side were actual numbers—a lot of them, weighed—on the other, a vague feeling about “passion” disguised as solid evidence.

There’s a notable link between this fact-free approach to electioneering and the Republican party’s approach to actual policy, as Theo Anderson notes at In These Times:

The 2012 election was a referendum on two very different approaches to public policy. One approach is to use the best available empirical evidence. The other is to rely on faith and wishful thinking. As in their campaign coverage, conservatives consistently opt for the latter route—a choice that has often blinded them to the reality in front of their noses. Climate change and the failure of supply-side economics are the most obvious examples.

And reproductive rights, too, I’d add. This hands-in-the-ears “la la la I can’t hear you” approach when confronted with solid facts is nothing new to those of us who have been advocating for reproductive rights or writing about them. Solid studies that debunk mythical scare consequences of abortion and birth control, for instance, are easy to find everywhere but the other side ignores them because these facts intrude rudely upon their arguments about regretful, ill women who have aborted. Anti-choicers continue to lie and say that abortion causes health complications, and ignore studies that point out the highest abortion rates occur in countries where reproductive health services are inaccessible and abortions are criminalized. Instead of treating abortion as a public health and human rights issue, two arenas where numbers and realities on the ground matter, they move it into a nebulous religious and family values realm, which usually means shaming women and resorting to platitudes about the sanctity of life.

The anti-fact model has been surprisingly successful for the right wing—up to a point. We can certainly emulate our opponents by making sure we’re telling a good story, creating a narrative about why our policies work. And certainly, there’s a moral dimension to public policy that is just as important as its practical elements. But we can also learn from Nate Silver by not running away from the facts, and maybe even trumpeting them from the rooftops when they get challenged.

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