Inside the newsroom on election night
The day before the general election the 9am team take a bet on who will become the next commander-in- chief. A team of 12 producers contributes $5 each to the betting pool. The bet is based on predictions the amount of electoral votes each candidate will receive. The person who predicts the closest number of electoral votes actually received is winner. I ask the anchor producer of the team his electoral vote bet. He predicted Clinton to range somewhere in the lower 270 mark, and Trump to fall exceedingly behind in the upper 180 mark. A senior political editor who has followed the polls since the start of the election walks by. The anchor producer quickly gets up from his seat. To insure he wins the bet, he asks the editor his own predictions. The editor predicts Clinton to win by a landslide with over 300 electoral votes. Out of curiosity I ask, “Did anyone on the team bet a Trump presidency?” The answer is a confident no.
We’re all sure Clinton will be elected. Based off Secretary Clinton’s political experience, poll results, winning all three debates, and resounding support from wealthy to do sponsors and members of the opposing party the election is in her favor.
Earlier in the week, the anchor producer expressed his disdain for Trump in the White House. His parents are legal immigrants who currently reside in Arizona. The state of Arizona has a massive Hispanic population. For the last 24 years, Joe Arpaio “America’s toughest sheriff” controlled much of the state. His theme was anti- immigration rhetoric, and targeted minorities for illegal immigration sweeps during traffic stops. He recalls law enforcement stopping his father for a routine traffic stop some years back. His father was arrested by a police volunteer and immediately taken to the border against his will. Fortunately, his father was not deported. Pausing for a moment he imagines the possibility of Trump in office.
My in time to work is 10pm on election night. I expect tonight to be long even dreadful by the sixth hour. On a regular news day, tensions between producers run high. I joke about the control room being a harem for journalists to take out their emotions on each other. Tonight is no different.
Social media is ablaze with voters who suddenly became political analysts overnight. It is the voters and the non-voters who are at war with each other. As usual the blame is placed on blacks that decided to stay home the day of the election. Black non-voters are the reason Trump is 33 to 3 in electoral votes against Clinton right now, chimes every person who cast their ballot. I get a text from a friend who is on the up and up in Chicago’s political sphere. He tells me Trump will win. The news interrupts….Trump’s electoral votes sore as he is declared projected winner of yet another state.
I walk into what is usually a loud and bustling office to a quiet and somber space. Even the person who is always loudest is quiet. Behind a glass door, two team members are glued to the TV. Shortly after 10pm the executive producer hands out access badges to different areas on the floor. (Normally, just our work ID badges will give us access to anywhere on the floor.) Tonight there is more security than ever. Tonight, there is a red rope to get into the control room.
My team’s hours of coverage are from 2am to 6am. I begin prepping for the 2am show. Donald Trump continues to lead in electoral votes. He has led most of the time with Clinton leading for a short while in the beginning. Once a winner is declared, primetime will stay on briefly and will then switch to daytime news, meaning us. That could be at any hour, or if no winner is declared by 5am it could be that our team never goes on.
Poll stations across the country are all closed. It is a waiting game as the final votes are tallied. Twelve states are too close to call and Florida being one of them. Florida is a battleground state in the election. If Donald Trump is to be President of the United States it is imperative he win the sunshine state. In Florida’s popular votes, Clinton and Trump take turns leading. If I had to compare this moment in time to anything less sinister it is the final game of Cubs versus Indians for its level of intensity. In between waiting for Florida’s pick, democratic supporters cheer loudly outside. We assume Clinton is picking up more electoral votes. We are right. Finally, the votes are in for Florida. Donald Trump can add 29 electoral votes to his belt. On my right a segment producer pushes out from her desk and palms her face.
The focus is now on the Midwest. On the opposite side, another segment producer is banking on Michigan. He assures us whoever wins Michigan wins the White House. Michigan has 16 electoral votes up for grabs. In 2012, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by a 54% to 45% margin. In 2016, Donald Trump will have beat Clinton 47. 6% to 47.33% margin flipping 12 counties to win Michigan. There are no cheers from the outside.
In the office it is clear what is going on, but rightfully so, no one wants to admit what is happening. Instead, several of the producers work out the electoral vote math. Math has never been my strong point, but I too start adding the possibilities. Some are optimistic; some convinced there is no way in hell.
Word travels Clinton will not speak at the Javits Center where her supporters are expecting a win. We all think this is strange. 2am is gaining on us and I turn back to my computer screen. Someone yells out loud John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign is expected to speak at the rally. Within minutes Podesta is on stage. In a nicely way he tells the large crowd to go home. The camera pans to the crowd who is crying. On the jumbo screen one lady forces a “fuck you”. Not long after, Clinton concedes the presidential race to Donald Trump. It is quiet. Quiet then it has ever been the entire night. We are airing at 4am.
I step out of the barricaded control room two hours later. The dayside teams are slowly trickling in. There is an awkward feeling roaming throughout the newsroom. A graphics producer catches my eye and shakes his head. We don’t exchange words, but we both know what the other is thinking. My coworker looks flushed. Playing around I say to her “you look defeated”. “I’ve been up for 27 hours and a Neo Nazi is in office, what more do you want from me?” she retorts. As she was leaving I told her to be safe, but I probably needed the reassurance more than she did.
Through the glass conference room I can see the anchor producer who made a bet on the election sitting at his desk. “Hey, how do you feel?” I ask him. And to no surprise he says “not too good.” We don’t say anything for the next 30 seconds. I imagine right then and there he was thinking of his parents in West Phoenix, probably worried about their safety as they grapple with the outcome of the country to elect a president who publicly hates people like them.
I break the uncomfortable silence. “So, who won the bet?” The intern because she predicted the lowest number of electoral votes took home the cash. Because my shift here is done, and there is nothing more to say to anyone about what happened this morning without receiving the same response I leave.
New York City feels unfamiliar shortly after 6am. I find solace in riding the subway home. Even at this hour it too is unlike its rambunctious self. As I turn the key into my Brooklyn apartment I am reminded of my mother’s words to never fear man.
For what can he do?
Disclaimer: My opinions are my own and not of the company I work.