05 November 2008


Times Square, Election Night 2008

Though I don’t know whether my paper ballot will count, I did manage to vote yesterday, and I am glad of it. This would have been a lousy moment in history to miss out on — and it strikes me now as foolish that, as I originally planned my autumn, I intended to be in Paris on Election Day. True, the Place de Clichy may have been filled with revelry and honking cars upon the announcement of Obama’s victory, and it might have been interesting to see that. But I needed to be in New York last night. We have been through so much together, my city and I. I am glad we shared this, too.

My chief political adviser, Feldstein, and I met for drinks in a Ninth Avenue bar that — much to our surprise — had no television. This would not do. We repaired to a nearby Mexican restaurant, where I knew for a fact that two television sets hanging over the bar would be playing CNN, sound off but captions running.

We found it difficult to tolerate the suspense, as the network refused to call individual contests, and seemingly sure states hung in the balance. We weren’t appeased by the knowledge that the results must surely be known already to people who work in the newsroom. When I worked at CBS, Feldstein recalled, I phoned him at 3 in the afternoon on Election Day ’96 to tell him that Clinton had won reelection; denied the privileges of knowledge and access now, we grew nervous and bitter. We drank quite a number of Mexican beers, and we were rewarded for our patronage with tequila shots, on the house. Whatever Mr. Obama does to NAFTA, Feldstein and I have done our part to shore up the Mexican economy.

To kill time, CNN played with technological toys, the most notable of which was also the most ethically indefensible: the use of a hologram to make it appear that a reporter was in the newsroom, when in fact she was in the field. Apparently the folks at CNN are unaware that it is not the function of a news organization to make viewers believe that anybody, reporter or reportee, is in a place where she is not. Honestly! Do we really wonder that journalists have so little credibility anymore?

In CNN Headquarters, Wolf Blitzer interviews reporter Jessica Yellin.

My professional dander was up, and I bellowed at the television until my adviser thoughtfully advised me to shut up.

The restaurant manager let us listen to the program as the evening wore down, and we heard the historic news of Obama’s triumph and the grace of McCain’s concession — before we were tossed into the gutter.

CNN had been showing us pictures of the crowds in Times Square, just a few blocks away, and so, as Feldstein returned to his apartment, I made my way through the Square. Thousands of my neighbors were out, chattering and laughing, cheering and crying. The hour was too sweet to pass in solitude. I thought — inevitably — of 9/11, and the silence of Broadway as I walked that day. Last night, Broadway was another street entirely, perhaps another universe. We were happy. We were hopeful. We were Americans, and united. And for now we have reason to hope that something better lies before us.

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