O.K., let’s be perfectly frank here: We’ve all heard, or said, virtually everything there is to be heard, or said, about John Kerry, George Bush and this endless, soul-crushing Presidential election.
At this point, one more opinion—yours, mine or even P. Diddy’s—isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.
So, as they say in Hollywood, let’s cut to the chase: the highlights of Election Night 2004.
8 p.m., E.S.T.: ABC’s Peter Jennings kicks off the night with a blatant play for ratings: “Welcome to the biggest reality show of all time: Who wants the keys to the nukes?” NBC’s Tom Brokaw goes for pathos: “It’s a critical election, because it’s my last election.” Dan Rather, sweating, on CBS: “Fasten your seat belts, hold on to your hats: This election is tighter than the character spacing on a 1970’s memo from the Texas Air National Guard proving that George Bush went AWOL.”
8:01 p.m., MSNBC: The great Chris Matthews drinking game begins as viewers, panelists and the studio production crew are obligated to take a drink every time Matthews interrupts someone or drops the name Jimmy Carter.
8:06 p.m., Fox News: With early returns indicating a slight Kerry lead, we have our first casualty of the night: Ann Coulter has a nervous breakdown onscreen and is yanked off the air screeching, “John Kerry isn’t half the man Joe McCarthy was!”
8:17 p.m., CNN: Seventeen minutes into the broadcast, Aaron Brown wraps up his introductory remarks. “And so we say good evening,” he sighs, “although for some, it may not be ‘good.’ Or even ‘evening.’ In fact, in California, it’s still ‘afternoon.’”
There’s panic in the CNN control room as the cameraman nods off and the picture tilts to reveal that everyone else on Brown’s set has gone to sleep.
8:22 p.m., ABC: In keeping with the reality-show theme, Peter Jennings announces that Pennsylvania has been “voted off the continent.”
8:46 p.m., CBS: Dan Rather reports that early returns indicate a massive Bush landslide. Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe responds, “It’s a great night for Democrats. We’re winning. It’s going exactly how we expected.” He adds: “Did I mention that Bush is a liar, and he’s going to reinstate the draft?”
9 p.m., ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox: Amidst reports of massive confusion among Dade County voters, the networks unanimously declare Florida “the stupidest state in the nation.”
9:20 p.m.: ESPN airs a special broadcast, Rumble in the Jungle —the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth versus the Swift Boat Veterans for Kerry in a steel-cage match-up, live from Ho Chi Minh City. Weapons of choice: canes, walkers, napalm.
9:46 p.m., CNN: Wolf Blitzer tells Anderson Cooper that the livestock at Dick Cheney’s ranch in Wyoming have been registered to vote. “But here’s the really interesting thing,” he says. “According to our exit polls, the cattle are going overwhelming for Bush, but the sheep are splitting 52-47 for Kerry, with 1 percent for Nader.”
9:57 p.m., C-SPAN: John McCain asks Howard Dean, “If a candidate screams in the forest and there are no cameras to record it, does that mean he still loses the primaries?”
10 p.m., NBC: Andrea Mitchell reports that Mount St. Helen’s has exploded. Tim Russert offers his instant analysis: “Since 1781, no Republican incumbent whose last name begins with a ‘B’ has ever won re-election when a volcano has erupted in a western state within 72 hours of voting.”
10:22 p.m., CNN: Paula Zahn declares the race a dead heat again; Lou Dobbs reports that Ron Perelman and Donald Trump are considering a coup d’etat and have already asked Eliot Spitzer to join them as Attorney General.
10:37 p.m., Fox News: She guffaws, she chortles, she laughs at inappropriate places; she answers every question with a personal attack on the questioner. Susan Estrich is finally yanked from Hannity and Colmes. “You look at Carville and you understand why Clinton won,” explains Brit Hume. “You watch Estrich and you understand why Dukakis lost.”
11 p.m., CNN: Larry King interviews Liza Minnelli, the comic Jack Carter, Florence Henderson and Carrot Top. Why? Even he doesn’t appear to have a clue.
11:09 p.m., PBS: Responding to a question from Jim Lehrer, Kofi Annan denies reports that U.N. election observers have been bought off in an “oil-for-food deal” and have asked for political asylum at a Hooters in suburban Atlanta.
11:30 p.m., Comedy Central: Jon Stewart admits he was kidding. “Hey, in my tax bracket, did you think I could vote for anybody but Bush?”
11:46 p.m., NBC: Maria tells Arnold that she’s not having sex with him for four years if Bush gets re-elected. Arnold confesses he already voted for Kerry. “It was either that or start sleeping with girly men,” he explains.
Midnight, Fox News: Greta Van Susteren breaks in with breaking news: There’s been a prison break in West Virginia, and Martha is on the loose. Local authorities warn: “Lock up your spice racks, and make sure to bleach all surfaces where there’s been raw chicken.”
12:17 a.m., NBC: The country is helplessly deadlocked. Tom Brokaw is caught off-guard yelling at his agent: “You tell Brian Williams I’m not giving up this desk until the election is over! Even if that means next June.”
1:07 a.m., Fox News: In keeping with his tradition of truthful journalism, Carl Cameron reports that John Kerry has gone windsurfing, after which he’s getting a manicure, which will be followed by a guitar concert where he’ll play “Kumbaya” accompanied by Bruce Springsteen and Bono, before ending the night goose-hunting.
1:09 a.m., Fox News: In an effort to appear fair and balanced, Cameron also reports that George Bush is clearing brush at the ranch. With a flame thrower. And he’s set a CBS news truck on fire, reportedly commenting, “Put that on your Internets.”
2:15 a.m., CNN: In Pakistan, Osama bin Laden tells Christiane Amanpour that he’s registered to vote in Michigan, adding: “Actually, I voted for Bush, before I voted against him.”
3:17 a.m., all networks: Kerry declares victory. Bush declares victory. Ralph Nader declares victory. Only the American public concedes defeat.
3:24 a.m.: In Washington, a phone call wakes Antonin Scalia up. He hears a deep, malevolent chuckle at the other end of the line. “Is that a pubic hair on my Diet Coke, or are you happy to hear from me again?”
4:35 a.m.: The country is in chaos. Hordes of lawyers roam the streets. And in a darkened room, high above Sixth Avenue, the truth finally comes out about who’s really been running the country for the past four years: It was never Dick Cheney. It was never Karl Rove. It was always Roger Ailes, who is, at this moment, the only man in America still smiling.