In anticipation of election night (and our all-nighter coverage) just over a week away, Hardball wanted to take a look back at all those other late nights shared with Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Brian Williams, and other NBC News figures, who for the last six decades have been among the first to tell the world news of either a returning or new U.S. president.
TV Guide’s Stephen Battaglio, author of the e-book, Election Night: A Television History 1948 - 2012, joined Hardball Friday to talk about some of the more silly, confusing, and dramatic moments that made history during election nights at NBC.
In the enhanced edition of Battaglio’s book, you can even watch some of the rare broadcasts that have been unearthed from the NBC archive, such as Kenneth Banghart showing off the latest “machines” packed into Studio 8H, set to bring, “the most complete election coverage ever devised,” in 1952, four years after the very first television broadcast of a presidential election.
The revealing trip through time shows that not every newscast went smoothly or without mistakes.Shortly after 7 a.m. on November 9, 1960, for example, David Brinkley reported that, “the NBC victory desk had just given California to Kennedy,” thus giving him the election. California in fact went to Republican candidate Richard Nixon by an extremely narrow margin of about 35,000 votes, but as Battaglio explained, the people at the victory desk were under so much pressure from The Today Showto call the election that they jumped the gun. Thankfully though, they were only wrong about who won California, and not about who won the election.Other broadcasts show the wonderfully spontaneous and fun moments that come with covering an election night.
During the 1980 election broadcast, before red was the designated color for the Republican Party, virtually the entire electoral map from the Mississippi River westward was colored blue for Ronald Reagan after he won his home state of California. One of Tom Brokaw’s co-anchors likened the blue map to “a suburban swimming pool,” getting big laughs from what was probably a very strung-out and sleep-deprived newsroom.
Said host Chris Matthews, who is himself no stranger to long hours and late nights, “Isn’t it funny that at the very time of night when you have to be the most acute in your thinking, you get just a little punchy out there?”
A similar moment of slaphappy delirium came during the 2000 coverage, when Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert were still completely confounded by the election results well after 3am.
“565 votes… That’s not even a wide spot in the road,” said Brokaw.
Russert then famously whipped out his white dry eraser board to scribble, “Florida, Florida, Florida,” in what TV Guide later deemed one of the “100 Most memorable TV Moments” in history.
Battaglio’s e-book is an important look back at periods that brought the entire nation together. Even in years when roughly half the country voted for two different leaders, everyone has been able to share in the experience of huddling around the TV and waiting to hear who would be going to the White House.
As Matthews said Friday, “I don’t think you can not buy this if you’re a true junky like me.”