Eleven score and sixteen years ago someone else's fathers brought forth, upon an entirely different continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all broadcast outlets the world over must get a little giddy when covering our elections". Well, that glorious day has once more been and gone and in the true spirit of the thing, the world's media got more than a little dizzy over their US election coverage. How dizzy? Dizzy enough that I'm still sore from last night's quadannual televisual news-spanking. Here's what we learned:
Do you like sensory overload? THEN MOVE TO AMERICA!
It's hard to pick out the worst offender here but it basically comes down to straight fight between Fox News and CCN (NBC having ruled themselves out with a total reliance on schmaltz). In the case of CNN, most of their crimes stem from their use of a massively melodramatic soundtrack. This thing comes clean out of nowhere, features bits of metal being crashed together and generally gives you the impression that you're about to be stabbed, all of which serve to frighten my fragile British sensibilities. However, I think it's fair to say that Fox are the worse of the pair, and whilst CNN may have damaged my hearing, they at least they stopped short of molesting my eyes.
Fox had no such qualms. Watching their coverage was like diving into a swimming pool full of endlessly repeating gifs whilst listening to a Shrillex remix of 'Flight of Bumblebee'. Seriously, the combination of urgently ticking clocks, throbbing bar charts and flashing maps nearly pushed me over the edge and it was only an uncontrollable burst of laughter following their insistence the studio was “America's Election HQ” that kept me from totally losing it.
I miss Peter Snow
I thought Jeremy Vine was pretty good last night on the BBC, but I can't help feeling that technology has rather spoiled what has always been the main event for me: The graphs. Yeah sure, it's fun to watch him gingerly pick his way around invisible charts and all the SHUNK! SHENK! COMPUTER NOISES! are kind of cool but what's missing is a slightly unhinged man, a diorama of the Appomattox battlefield and several thousand 00 gauge die-cast miniatures representing the fortunes of the warring factions. Okay, so maybe Peter Snow never used that exact example but he did make us visualise things in the most surreal of ways using what would now be considered the most basic of tools. These days it's just all very literal. You want to see what 55 per cent voter turnout looks like? Here, look at this circle that's had 55 per cent of its surface area highlighted. Sure, it's a very well rendered circle that magically floats in the air but it still lacks that sense of wonder that only a true eccentric can give it.
Now, I'm pretty sure that somewhere inside Jeremy Vine is such an eccentric and most of the initial signs are promising – after all, he gesticulates wildly and he's got that loping motion down – but what he really needs to do is get weird with the data. So go on Jeremy, next time around substitute that supercomputer for a scale model of the Grand Canyon and a train set. The British public will thank you for it.
Emily Maitlis totally won the battle of the iPads...
It was quite sweet watching Sky's Martin Standford last night. There he was, proudly jabbing away at his brand new tablet whilst a series of graphs sprang to life on the wall of plasma screens behind him. What he hadn't banked on was Emily Maitlis' jumbo tablet. It was so big, it needed its own dedicated pedestal. Suddenly, Standford started looking less like a thrusting young buck who just gained mastery over the Smartboard and more like a slightly behind-the-times chemistry teacher who had just figured out how to use the OHP. Speaking of which, why exactly did Sky choose to eschew the traditional red, white and blue, 'I'd buy that for a dollar' theme and go all emo with a backdrop of rolling autumnal clouds and indecipherable very-dark-grey-on-black graphs? The mood even extended to Sky anchor Jeremy Thompson who looked so knackered, so early that I thought he was in danger of falling into the Chicago River. C'mon guys, this is an election, not The Killing. Cheer the hell up!
ITV's Alastair Stewart looked awfully lonely in his giant studio...
Poor Alastair. He did his best. He was appropriately jocular and inoffensively rambunctious, but he was simply swallowed up by the vast, sprawling, expanse of studio that he had been plonked in. Worse still, while Dimbleby was lording it up with a posse of four - all safely ensconced in the Stateside heart of the action - Stewart had to make do with a mere duo of partners, no dedicated graph-meister and NBC getting to deliver all of the actual news. Still, he can count his blessings that he didn't draw the short straw and have to cover the 'social media story', a task that fell to the unfortunate Romilly Weeks and her four monitors. Considering that only one of these screens was displaying anything remotely social media-ish (“Romilly! Stare at Twitter all night!”) it's hardly surprising that her main contribution was that “#election2012 is trending”. Thank you for that valid and timely insight, Romilly.
Russia Today cares not for election night...
Say what you will about RT but their downright refusal to play the election game is rather endearing. It started with a slot called Breaking The Set where an edgy looking young presenter bellowed phrases like “BRAINWASH UPDATE!” (it was like the rolling news equivalent of The Word) while the editorial line appears to have consisted of little more than two raised middle fingers pointing due west. Just in case that didn't drive the point home then the footage of pensioners brandishing placards outside the Capitol and the Skype links to recondite looking naysayers definitely settled the matter: RT are in no mood for your US election shenanigans. In stark contrast, Al Jazeera English was a picture of level-headed reasonableness, scouring every corner of the globe for a breadth of thoughtful opinion, whilst turning their backs on CGI bells and whistles. They also get additional marks for when the very smiley Tony Harris told some guy from the Huffington Post that he looked forward “to reading [his] paper” the next day. “NO PAPER! NO PAPER!” came the fevered response. Bless.
So there we have it: Another US election, another crazed frenzy of thrashing media with which to welcome in the next four years. I wish you all dignity in your hangovers.
For more of this visit questionabletime.com. Look out for Jack Hurley's review of this week's Question Time on Independent Voices this Friday morning.