Tuesday, March 4, around 8 p.m., Bill O’Reilly bounded across a chilly studio on the first floor of the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue toward the desk at the back of the room.
There, the members of the Fox News Super Tuesday II political team—Brit Hume, Juan Williams, Bill Kristol, Nina Easton and Fred Barnes—were wrapping up another back-and-forth session, chewing over the night’s early returns. Mr. Kristol made an observation about the rationality of voters. A producer announced a break.
The team would have a few minutes to stretch its legs. As they backed away from the desk, Mr. O’Reilly approached.
“Throw Juan Williams out of here,” Mr. O’Reilly bellowed with a half-grin.
Mr. Williams and the rest of the Fox politics team chuckled. The longtime NPR contributor gave way to the longtime NPR adversary. A few minutes later, Mr. Reilly was sitting next to Mr. Hume, delivering his five minutes of commentary, before departing for the night.
“NBC News cannot continue to openly root for one presidential candidate, thereby teeing off everybody else in the country, and expect to prosper,” he told his viewers. “Number one, it’s corrupt. If they’re going to be the Obama network, NBC News should say that we’re rooting for Obama.”
The Media Mob headed for the elevator. Alexis Glick of the Fox Business Network was waiting in the wings, ready to deliver some commentary on the state of economy. She was dressed in blood red.
Up on the second floor, the Fox News control room was buzzing. There was a much-ignored sign on the door warning no food and drink beyond this point. A man flew by, two slices of pizza precariously stacked on a paper plate.
Marty Ryan, silver-haired control-room warhorse who serves as the network’s executive producer of political programming, stood calmly in the heart of the madness, answering questions, giving orders and deciphering the banks of monitors in front of him.
Dotted among the monitors were the faces of correspondents standing at campaign locations across the country—Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont—waiting to be called into action, waiting for some precious airtime.
But just now, they were not playing for the cameras that were trained on them. One reporter was adjusting his seat, another wiped his face with a towel. A blond correspondent ran a brush through her hair. It was like watching a Harry Shearer “Found Object” video, in 10-part harmony. The din of the control room provided the soundtrack—a Robert Altman-like tapestry of densely layered noise.
“Make it tight.”
“Is that better?”
“I have him.”
Of the hundred or so screens, the Media Mob began fixating on one way down in the corner of the room. The screen was labeled “Future.” It was completely dark.
Time to check in with the prognosticators!
Up on the 14th floor, Fox News had set up their “Decision Desk” in a space adjacent to the dot-com newsroom. There a team of stat hounds hunched over laptops, rifled through bags of mini candies (Tootsie Rolls, Reeses Pieces Peanut Butter Cups) and crunched the numbers as they came in.
Michael Barone, a Fox News contributor and the principal big brain behind the Almanac of American Politics, sat in a nearby fishbowl of an office, looking at numbers and seemingly peering into the future.
At 9:19, a bald-headed fellow, sporting glasses and a goatee, piped up. “Call Rhode Island for Hillary.” Everyone nodded and shifted their gazes to a bank of screens on a nearby wall. Sure enough, seconds later, the announcement appeared that Senator Clinton was the projected winner of Rhode Island. A few minutes later, MSNBC and CNN followed with the projection.