ELECTION 2008: Watching the Election Night Coverage from the Associated Press Newsroom

Alex Baden


I was blessed with a unique opportunity this election year – the chance to experience election night firsthand in the central newsroom of the largest news organization in the world, the Associated Press. What followed was an exhilarating experience, to say the least, but also a mind-boggling and trying one.

The world of journalism is truly a unique one in and of itself, and so it is safe to say that Presidential Election coverage is simply indescribable. And so I will do my best to illustrate life in the newsroom on this historic night by providing a few snapshots of the activities of the newsroom, limited to the moments where I was able to/had the will to scribble down notes onto my trusty reporter’s pad. Some highlights and lowlights:

3:25 – Shirt and Tie? Hawaiian shirt? Tuxedo? Two Piece bathing suit? Oh, the endless wardrobe choices I have.

4:00 – I am disappointed to learn that Ben and Jerry’s limits their free ice cream promotion to between the hours of 5pm and 8pm; I plead with them to make an exception in acknowledgement of the dutiful service I am about to do in the name of the First amendment, but their cold, creamy, phish-food-laden souls do not relent.

4:55 – After numerous traffic, directional, parking, and Ice cream related misadventures, I finally arrive at the Associated Press Washington Bureau offices. The newsroom is already bustling in anticipation of the first exit polls, but it is not quite a dull roar yet. The correspondent I am assigned to –the chief politics editor of the Washington Bureau, and the person in charge of making many of the calls on who won what states and etc- seems to be highly self sufficient and without much need for an intern, so I am left with a lot of free time in the first few hours.

5:08 – The monitors around the offices show the major cable news networks; my personal favorite was CNN’s small ticker below its “Situation room” that was littered with various presidential ‘facts’ that would pop up. For example, “Fact: Barack Obama, If elected, would be the first black president.” “Fact: Joe Biden, if elected, would be the first vice president hailing from the state of Delaware.” “Fact: John McCain, If elected, would be the 20th Republican president.”

“Fact: We here at CNN believe that most people watching this program right now have lived in a bubble for the past two years, or have an IQ comparable to a paperweight. Possibly even a mix of both of these qualities.” (Ok, so maybe that last one was only implicit.)

5:09 – Fact: I’m starting to think that that last fact is true.

5:15 – Staff meeting! The chief executive editor of the entire associated press calls everyone to the center of the floor to listen to her rousing pep talk, as she hails the group of reporters who have worked the past two years as, “the best she’s ever worked with”.  Applause naturally follows.

5:20 –The first exit polls say that a vast majority of voters -62% to be precise by measures of unreliable data- find the economy to be the biggest issue in terms of deciding how they voted.

In other similarly shocking news, Amy Winehouse has a drug problem.

5:24 – Apparently, Polls at the University of Central Florida have three hour long lines, according to the media god that is CNN. Similarly, according to the real-time cameras that are showing us these images, it is still daylight out in central Florida at this point, even though in DC –which, like central Florida, is also in the Eastern Time zone- it is currently around sundown.

5:30- I’m both in awe and horrified by the overhead shots of the lines at Virginia polling places.

5:40 – Twenty minutes until the first polls close! The newsroom has a tense feeling of nervousness and excitement all throughout. It’s indescribable yet also unspectacular.

5:45 –Got to meet the guy in charge of the AP’s multimedia coverage; cool guy, showed me how the real time polling and vote tally maps worked, and gave me a peek at some of the pre-planned day-after-the-election material they had for both an Obama and a McCain victory.

5:50 – I see Keith Olbermann on CNN. I flee the scene.

5:53 –I overhear my first of what will likely be countless profanity-laden tirades that will be uttered tonight. I decide that I will keep a tally for the night, just for fun. Vegas has the over/under at 36.

5:55 –Ralph Nader’s campaign issues a press release to the AP essentially declaring victory. “Oh, yay, we can all just go home now, Nader has it in the bag!” my colleague the politics editor proclaims. Hilarity ensues.

5:59 –CNN still exists, so there can be no peace in the world.

6:19 –Things are not moving as quickly as I expected them to… the main event occurring right now is that everyone is flocking to the buffet catered by Balducci’s. (The Swedish meatballs were nothing short of divine, I must say).

6:20 – Initial returns from Kentucky  come in: McCain 60%, Obama 38%

6:23 – My new friend the multimedia specialist, “Ah good ol’, predictable Kentucky. It’s oh so, so, SO red.”

6:28 – Obama shows an early 55% to 44% lead in Indiana (NOTE: I discover later that these initial returns were terribly inaccurate, as at the time I am writing this -6 am the next day- Indiana still has not been called)

6:34 –I find it quite amusing how Republican candidates always opt for big, blocky, all-caps typefaces, while democratic candidates go for a more subdued approach. It’s quite symbolic; neither is particularly effective, and both are mildly irritating.

6:44 – I discover that all the soda machines in the office have been set to dispense free sodas for the night. My heart leaps for joy.

6:45 – Exit polls apparently are widely favoring Obama to take it all; as one reporter put it, “Either Obama is going to win in a landslide, or nearly every exit pollster in America will be unemployed by tomorrow morning.”

7:04- Call Kentucky for McCain, Vermont for Obama, and Mark Warner for the Virginia Senate.

7:06- I discover that as frustrating as the printers at school may be, there are far, far, far more irritating types that exist in the world. Such as the 20 year old spool printer that is still diligently used at the Associated Press office to print out wire stories.  I also discover that I lack the coordination of even a small child when it comes to tearing paper off the ream.

7:08 –McCain bids farewell to the media for the night

7:09 – Just met the stats/exit polls analysis guy; Nice, young guy, quite chill to say the least. He asked me about dinner, and I noted how there were a billion different types of sandwiches, buffalo wings, and Swedish meatballs. The last part compels him to proclaim, “Swedish meatballs? Oh S***, I’m so there!”

 7:14 –Early returns show a wide lead for McCain in Virginia, while the race in Indiana has become neck and neck.

7:18 – CNN is featuring one of its correspondents live, “Via Hologram” from Chicago. Broadcast Media has officially jumped the shark.

7:27- Interesting Infographic comparing Indiana in 04 to how Indiana is shaping up tonight. While in 2004, Indiana was a solid block of red, the results tonight are showing an equal smattering of red and blue throughout the state.

7:33 – McCain is wiping the floor with Obama in Georgia…

7:36 –AP Cameraman is shooting pictures of me hard at work (Including the one seen at the beginning of this blog). The work I am doing in the picture is writing this sentence on my notepad.

7:39 – In 21 minutes, all hell will break loose as Sixteen states will close their polls.

7:40 – With 1% of the popular vote counted, Obama holds 50.9% of all the votes counted thus far.

7:43- Early returns in Florida Give Obama a shockingly large ten point lead.

8:25- I have discovered two things in the past 45 minutes: First, Obama seems to be making a killing tonight. Second, I am terrible –irredeemably TERRIBLE- at tearing paper off a spool.

8:26 – Scratch that, I’m hopelessly incompetent at working this thing.

8:31 –Great, now the printer is broken. Woo. Hoo.

8:32 – Starting to call Pennsylvania for Obama

8:34 –After countless attempts, I finally tear off the paper correctly from the printer! One for Sixteen!

8:35 –My running profanity tally is at 14; half of these obscenities are by yours truly.

8:37 – I’ve developed a keen ear for the sound of my favorite decrepit printer tearing through the ear with its obnoxious sounds from across the room.

8:51 – The press room becomes exponentially more hectic with Pennsylvania officially being called for Obama.

9:12 –Things are starting to lull a little, oddly enough. Obama’s commanding lead combined with the fact that the creaky old printer is no longer in use has calmed the tempest of the newsroom.

9:17- 21 for the running tally.

9:32 –Obama just reached 200 electoral votes; Florida or Virginia might seal this thing (if you correctly assume that California and its 50+ votes will go blue once more).

9:43 – Sweet! I get to do some actual research and reporting! I’m assigned with the task of finding and writing up interesting little voting factoids about every state in the union!

10:50 -After Ridiculous amounts of tedious research and writing, I have developed a bitter hatred for exit polls. However, the room is filled with anticipation as the AP is preparing to officially call the presidency for Barack Obama as the polls close in California at 11pm EST.

10:59, -Obama has officially won Florida, only one minute until AP calls it for Obama! Nearly the entire office has clustered around the Political editor’s computer as she prepares to send the official call at the stroke of 11.

11:00 – The Associated Press declares Barack Obama as the winner.

11:04 Back to state election profiles…

11:34 –I hate exit polls. So. So. So Much.

12:05am –Finally done with those damn state profiles. And to think I was at first excited to do them…

12:36 –Running tally: 36. Most people are starting to go home.

12:45 – At this point, I no longer have any work to do; however, I have to wait until 5 am, when my dad –and my ride- finish up with coverage. Then and only then can I return to my comfortable abode. Until then, at least there is another intern stuck in a similar predicament to commiserate with.

1:13 – Running tally: 41, many of these caused by the still undecided North Carolina and Indiana.

1:36- NC and Indiana are still undecided, so I move to another room and turn on the re-runs of Comedy Central’s Indecision 2008. In all honesty, this was the best election coverage of the entire night.

1:57 –Ever notice the unintentional hilarity of some late night commercials? After CNN shows a tape of McCain’s concession speech during its endless election night/morning coverage, it cuts to a commercial break. The first two advertisements, which follow immediately in succession of one another, are for portable, ergonomic oxygen tanks, and for a new, improved, motorized wheelchair. Way to rub it in the poor old man’s face, CNN.

2:06 –Running tally: 44

2:24 –CNN apparently does not tire nor need sleep, nor does it have a soul of any sorts. Dear God, what have we created?!?!

2:46 –Breakfast foods brought into the office.

2:46:30 – Running tally: 51

3:13 –CNN is kind enough to inform the numerous individuals who woke up at 3AM completely oblivious to the evening’s occurrences that Barack Obama had indeed won a presidential election that had occurred the previous day. The cave-dwelling community greets this news with surprise and shock, and CNN feels vindicated because it passed along useful and fresh information to an audience that was previously completely unaware.

3:23 – NC, Indiana, and Al Franken’s senate race in Minnesota are still all too close to call; I roll on the ground in hysterics.

4:58 – Final tally:61