It's 9:42 AM on the West Coast, and CNN's Ashleigh Banfield just said, "Happy Super Tuesday everyone!"
For most people, Super Tuesday isn't the kind of day you get excited about, unless you're a die-hard fan of winners Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It's the marker of the end of the beginning of the yearlong reality show that determines the next US president, a set of contests across the South and elsewhere that determine who actually has a chance to run America. This sounds exciting but in practice is generally a pretty drab process: Voters cast votes, polls and predictions are proved right or wrong, and the candidates either tearfully end their campaigns, declare victory, or insist that their losses weren't actually that bad.
But for cable news, Super Tuesday is the next best thing to a general election—an orgy of exit polls, charts and graphs, punditry, and breathless declarations of upsets and dramatic victories. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are often in search of something to talk about, and Tuesday's primary contests provided them with hours and hours of grist for their mill.
Like most people possessed of a reasonable amount of perspective and mental stability, I only tune into these channels occasionally, if at all. But I was curious about how cable news would treat this early climax of primary season—shaping up to be the most important election since the last one—and how these networks would compete against each other as the day and night wore on. So I started watching at 9 AM West Coast time and didn't stop for 12 hours. Here's how it went:
10 AM CNN's Wolf Blitzer is here, and I greet him like a trusted friend. We'll be spending the day together, after all. One of Blitzer's correspondents is following Trump in Ohio, which isn't a Super Tuesday state but will be a major primary battle down the line. Trump is talking about how beautiful his hands are in response to a dig Marco Rubio made about him, which is probably based on an old Spy Magazine joke, I guess? This campaign is like a TV show that's gone on for too many seasons and has stopped making sense.
10:28 CNN's coverage is sponsored by a psoriasis medication called Cosentyx. Cosentyx: Make America Great Again and Deal with Your Skin Problems, Finally.
10:53 AM One thing about Super Tuesday is that there is a LOT of time before any results can be reported, so until then, we're just hanging out. Fox News is deep into a bit about how your credit score can affect your vote—Rubio and Bernie Sanders supporters have high scores, apparently. No idea what this could mean, but it means something.
11:42 MSNBC has a helpful counter running at the bottom of the screen telling me what time the first poll is going to close. This is EXCITING, guys. Only four hours and a bit until something happens! Until then, I'm mostly going to be looking at people making guesses into microphones while standing outside buildings.
11:58 MSNBC's coverage of Virginia appears to be headquartered at a seafaring-themed science center in Norfolk called Nauticus, where it has set up shop in front of the retired battleship Wisconsin. It's a dramatic backdrop, and reminder of the stakes: Eventually, the winners of Super Tuesday will be competing to see who will get to control far bigger guns than these.
12:16 PM On Fox, Shepard Smith is talking about what Republicans who have vowed not to vote for Trump would do if he won the nomination. Everyone on the panel, including Dennis Kucinich's daughter Jackie, is like, Those people will have to vote for Trump, no way they go over to Clinton.
12:46 On CNN, the most common political ads are from Sanders, both the one that features Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and the one with Bernie telling the camera, "The truth is, you can't change a corrupt system by taking its money." These commercials are wedged between others for sketchy-looking diet programs and places to trade in your gold for cash. The message is clear: If you're watching CNN's daytime programming, you're probably looking for a savior.
1:06 CNN is one-upping MSNBC by not counting down to not polls closing but the first exit poll. This sort of minutiae should bore me, but I've fallen under the cable news spell. I can't wait for that fucking exit poll. Which one is it going to be? Colorado Republicans? Oklahoma Democrats? Fuck yes. Give me something. Color in one of those states on a map. Project a victory!
1:25 CNN has Christian conservative Kayleigh McEnany on, and her job is to say that Trump is not a bigot, who cares that former KKK leader David Duke endorsed him? Trump has "lived on this Earth for 69 years," she says (nice); if he were a racist, "we'd have far more allegations" floating around. (Note: We do.)
1:43 MBSNC and CNN have been rerunning the same clip of Sanders outside the polling place in Vermont where he voted for himself. I can recite his quote from memory at this point: "Our hope is that we can win a number of states and in those states where we don't do well, obviously we want as large a vote as possible." Meaningless soundbite? Zen koan? I'm not sure. I just want it to stop.
2:13 WHERE'S THAT EXIT POLL, CNN? All I've gotten is my man Wolf interviewing a pollster and saying, "You must be bust crunching those numbers." Then the network went to a commercial.
2:17 CNN's exit poll is here, and it's bullshit. It's not telling me who won. All it tells me is stuff I already know about how voters are feeling. One hundred percent of Mikes are angry and disappointed.
2:30 The latest from CNN: Vermont is white.
2:52 Fox News's The Five came back from a commercial, and "I Can't Feel My Face" by the Weeknd was playing as though the anchors had just been listening to it during the break. I hope they were. I hope they were debating whether it is the best coke-based song of the decade (it is, right?).
2:57 MSNBC's Chuck Todd is talking to Tom Brokaw, who just called Trump someone who is "willing to pull the pin on the grenade, roll it into the tent, and frag the entire Republican Establishment."
If someone could tell me the vote count for any Super Tuesday precinct right now, I would kiss them.
3:20 Anderson Cooper just said, "I'm looking forward to a night when a loss is not a win." He's either quoting a lesser-known Weeknd lyric or referencing the way the Rubio campaign keeps losing states and claiming victory. Eventually, though, you have to win to win—that's the sort of brilliant insight you get from hours of cable news.
3:30 John King has one of those CNN touch screen maps of the Super Tuesday states. He's running through a bunch of hypothetical paths to victory for Trump. He could just say, "This is going to be a relatively close race," but what would the network do for the remaining half-hour until the first results.
3:49 ELEVEN MINUTES.
4:02 All of a sudden, we have numbers! It's like a firehose of projected winners blasting me in the face—Wolf Blitzer sounds like an eager child as he runs through the results, which are pretty much the expected outcomes.
4:13 It's hard to process all the numbers while watching TV. As soon as results appear on the screen, they shrink, and they get banished to a corner and pundits start giving their instant takes, sort of like a game show where no one wins. Other people in the room with me watching TV are going, "Wait so, Sanders won Vermont, right? But Clinton won the other two so far?" It's a little confusing unless you have a live results page open on your computer.
4:40 If you're watching Fox News right now, you might not know Bernie Sanders is giving a speech. Instead, the network is showing this guitar guy warming up the crowd for Ted Cruz.
5:00 Let me talk about Wolf Blitzer's voice for a second. He doesn't speak in punctuation marks, but drones them out the way some poets do when they read their work. It has a numbing effect. It removes meaning from the syllables. Wolf Blitzer is like a terrible white noise machine—one you can't quite ignore, but also can't listen to.
5:17 This guy was just giving an incredibly dry rundown of one of those polls that show that Democrats don't find Hillary Clinton "honest and trustworthy," and something went wrong. I wasn't paying attention until the data table got all glitchy, and the camera started to swing away in a hurry. Brian Williams said, "We can't have nice things."
5:53 Hillary Clinton is giving what is basically a victory speech, doing that thing rappers and politicians do where you shout out a bunch of places: "Now this campaign moves forward to Crescent City, the Motor City, and beyond." Her voice is scratchy and weak; she seems like she's been talking all day. Campaigning is brutal work.
6:15 John King is back at the "magic wall" talking about how Cruz has a good chance in Oklahoma. "As we get later into the night, we can start apportioning the delegates," he's saying. I now want to see delegate counts as much as I once wanted to see win projections.
6:36 Oh my God. At a press conference, Chris Christie is introducing Trump, who's about to make his victory speech. Christie's saying that Trump is "going to make America great again," and that his campaign is not a campaign, "it's a movement." But something inside him looks broken as he stands behind that Trump podium.
7:17 Ted Cruz is speaking now. When his fans chant for him, they go "Cruz! Cruz! Cruz!" It sounds a little like booing because of the long "u" sound. It reminds me a little of Bruce Springsteen, or Boo-urns. Cruz is congratulating Trump, calling for the other Republicans to drop out, and doing this weird thing where he pauses at every applause line and laughs a little.
7:34 Marco Rubio appears via satellite on Fox News. Like Hillary Clinton, his voice sounds a little hoarse and weak, but unlike Clinton, who looked like she was keeping her composure cosmetically, Rubio's expression looks a little hang-dog. This is a dude who has been beaten up and lost. This is a Mad Men character who has lost some kind of office politics struggle with Don Draper and is riding the train home alone. His hair still looks presidential, but nothing else.
He's on the defensive in this interview. He's complaining about there being too many people on the ballot, and Trump getting too much media coverage. That's not the sort of thing you say if you're a future US president.
7:41 Then again, as this photo of me shows, who am I to be calling Rubio out for looking a little rough around the edges? I've been watching TV for nearly 11 hours and it shows.
7:53 By the way, that's 11 hours of TV in which I learned basically nothing. On the Republican side, CNN has apportioned 259 Super Tuesday delegates tonight out of the 661 up for grabs. Also, seven races still haven't been called.
8:15 Finally, good news for Rubio: He won Minnesota. I haven't seen him on TV anywhere lately, though. He must have gone to bed. I would have if I were him.
8:30 CNN just made more projections, and the amazing thing is not that Sanders won Oklahoma but that Wolf Blitzer is still. Here. He has been talking on television for nearly as long as I've been watching it today, and he looks and sounds the same as always. He is a machine. His voice will be here after the world is gone. Wolf Blitzer has defeated me.
8:55 Fox's Megyn Kelly says that at the Republican debate she's moderating on Thursday, there are still going to be five men on stage: Even John Kasich and Ben Carson, who have yet to win a single state, are staying in as of now—though Carson will vaguely announce the suspension of his campaign on Wednesday.
Not me though. The polls close in Alaska in five minutes, and Wolf Blitzer will most likely blare one of his projections, but I'm not sticking around to hear it. Goodnight.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.