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Monday, November 5, 2012

Blast from the Past

One way to prepare for a current election is to look at election days and nights of the past.  It also coincides with one of my guilty pleasures.  You Tube is filled with clips from network election coverage, going back to 1968.  It's great fun for an election and broadcast history geek like me.

Some things jumped out at me from peering at a computer screen for hours on end.

Walter Cronkite was great, and he sure talked a lot.  CBS had a fantastic stable of correspondents, who got some face time on election nights, but for the most part, it was "all Walter, all the time."

If you watch the coverage from the night of the 1972 Nixon landslide, you can see none of the network people, notoriously liberal, liked Nixon.  It was a struggle to keep coverage engaging when the outcome was so certain and so fast.

ABC's 1976 election night coverage featured three anchors-- Howard K. Smith, Harry Reasoner, and Barbara Walters.  You've never seen three people with less chemistry on a set at the same time.  All three were knowledgeable and good broadcasters.  Together, it just didn't work.  They looked like they didn't want to be there, even though it was one of the most interesting races of recent years.

NBC's John Chancellor was one our era's most underrated anchors.  He was smooth and he knew his stuff, without constantly referring to his notes.  He was one of those "the story is the star" guys, and we really need more of those today.

David Brinkley, first of NBC, then ABC, was always a joy.  He had the smarts and the charm to make it fun.

Graphics were primitive, but you saw what you needed to know and the screen was gloriously uncluttered.

There wasn't much commentary.  There was a lot of analysis by journalists, and I prefer that to the biased and bile flooded talk we see and hear today.  MSNBC gave up on objective anchors handling its coverage a long time ago.  It's unwatchable.  You can't be a "yodler." as Tony Kornheiser says, and an anchor.  FOX News Channel has allegedly objective anchors at the desk, but everyone sees through that scam.

1980 was another broadcasting challenge, brought about by another landslide, with Ronald Reagan at the top.  That election was different.  While 1972's Nixon landslide inaugurated what was supposed to be four more years of the same, Reagan's 1980 win signaled real change in this country.  I'll let you decide if the change was for the better.  That shift to the right and the failure if an incumbent president to win reelection kept the night interesting, even though it was over by 8:15 PM.

A 1972 Nixon aside-- It's amazing how a man could win the presidency by one of the largest margins in history, and then lose it all two years later-- highest peak to lowest valley in just months.

Jumping ahead to 2000, it was a night where broadcasters were not at their best.  We all learned valuable lessons that night.  Being first is good.  Being correct is better.

When you're watching TV tomorrow night, good luck at cutting through the broadcasting clutter, and may the best candidates win.  You're watching history.

I'll post some Ryan's Recovery pictures this weekend, but there's one I couldn't resist putting here a little early..
Your generosity blew me away.  I'll share some thoughts in a few days