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Critic's Notebook: Oh, that magic map

November 4, 2008 |  7:11 pm

I’m madly in love with John King, and I refuse to believe I am alone. The way he handles CNN's magic map — so deftly, with such a light touch — fills me with joy and, more important, as much serenity as one can hope for on a night like this. Here is a breakdown of Indiana county by county, here is the role history has played, the current demographics and what they potentially mean. He understands so much, that John King, and presents it with such utter calm — what would my life be like, I wonder, if I could have daily contact with such precise information, such placid wisdom? What would my life be like if I had a magic map of my own? A lot better than it is most days, that’s what.

Although it’s relatively early and some polls are still open, I’m going to have to call this year’s election coverage for CNN, and not just because of King. Though historically the most graphically hysterical of the cable news networks, CNN showed rare restraint during much of this year’s election night. Yes, there was a hologram, but unlike its competitors, you could actually watch CNN for more than five minutes without getting a migraine. It did parcel out its projections with caution that bordered on coyness — they were the last, for example, to call Pennsylvania and Ohio for Barack Obama — and packaged them with special a projection soundtrack (heavy on horns) and projection graphics (heavy on stars). But compared especially with MSNBC, CNN looked positively streamlined.

MSNBC, and I say this with love because everyone behaved just beautifully and, when he’s not screaming, Chris Matthews has a lovely smile, was a visual mess. Its bottom border updated the Senate races, while the whole right side of the screen tallied, and retallied, the presidential race (with an unbecoming mustard yellow inexplicably added to the traditional blue and red -- huge mistake). They had their version of CNN’s magic map, but Chuck Todd worked it from a podium that I’m assuming was not computer generated, which caused it to lose a lot in translation. And suffice it to say, he’s no John King.

BBC America was fun to watch, with its low-rent set (no CG, just a cheesy White House backdrop and a decided echo) and nonchalant attitude. The accent always lends a certain gravitas to whatever they're saying, and they promised an appearance by Ricky Gervais, but as of 7 p.m., he had not shown.

For sheer entertainment value, however, nothing beat Fox News when, as a McCain victory appeared less and less likely, it began spinning Obama as a potential centrist. Could be true, but considering the source, mildly hilarious. Also, thumbs up for those dancing blue block graphs. Maybe King could get a few of those for 2012.

-- Mary McNamara

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