MATTHEWS: They are really good, the Clintons. They have created a confection, a victory that will work for many of the newspapers out there, it’ll be on the wires .
OLBERMANN: It’s on our air now
MATTHEWS: I keep forgetting, it’s on television as we speak. In fact, we’re talking about it! And watching it
OLBERMANN: We’re going to continue with our MSNBC coverage of the Republican primary and the Democratic whatever that is over there
It’s “on our air now” — our hallowed air! Otherwise put to such noble use!
Olbermann later had this back-and-forth with Andrea Mitchell (who adopted a tone more Matthews than Mitchell):
OLBERMANN: What’s the celebration for? Have we figured that out yet?
MITCHELL: It’s a celebration of the fact this is not South Carolina. This was basically ginned up after South Carolina so [Clinton] could blunt, she hoped, some of the momentum of Barack Obama. That’s when they started talking up Florida, that’s why they came here. They knew they had a big advantage here, a lot of support. Of course there are no delegates. This is, I guess, the Potemkin Village of victory celebrations. When is a victory not a victory?
No one seemed particularly exercised on Fox News, or particularly unwilling to describe the Florida results as a “win” for Clinton (or to call Clinton the “winner”). About 8:30 Tuesday night, Brit Hume announced:
Hillary Clinton has won, we project, the Florida primary which was uncontested by any of the candidates with, according to the party rules, no delegates at stake. Nonetheless, she is in Florida tonight to celebrate her victory and let’s look in on the celebration just to get a sense of how much they are trying to make of a race won without campaigning
Soon after 10 p.m., Fox News’ Chris Wallace segued into his interview with Senator Clinton as follows:
Another winner, Senator Hillary Clinton. Let’s welcome Senator Hillary Clinton who won a big victory in Florida I want to ask you, the Obama campaign put out a statement that said that they tie you in Florida tonight, zero delegates for Clinton, zero delegates for Obama. The point seemed to be that whatever happened tonight was basically a beauty contest
Wallace ended the interview by “congratulating” Clinton again on her “victory tonight in Florida.”
On CNN, senior political analyst Bill Bennett was feeling less magnanimous. Said Bennett at one point:
BENNETT: This was an ambush in Florida! This was not a competition. This was not supposed to be a competition There’s no field and no competition and no teams. And she’s crying victory This was no victory and [Obama’s] got do something more than be derisive and laugh about it.
(Perhaps Bennett was referring to Suzanne Malveaux’s earlier report that the Obama camp was “really kind of laughing at it and they’re looking at the victory rally and they see that this is really a hollow victory.”)
And then there was this exchange between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Gloria Borger.
COOPER: Should people be taking Hillary Clinton’s win seriously in Florida?
BORGER: I agree with Wolf [Blitzer] that lots of Democrats turned out which gives you some sense of the energy of the Democratic party in this election, because of course, none of the candidates campaigned there. However, this is a talking point for Hillary Clinton. This is not a huge victory. This is not going to give her tremendous momentum going into Super Tuesday. This is a talking point for her.
COOPER: But impressions do matter and here you have her in a picture in front of an adoring crowd with the signs, victory, in the state of Florida. Some people aren’t paying attention to the details here
BORGER: But it’s our job to say she’s doing that because she does want to have that picture
If all of this somehow reminded reporters that part of their job is to call politicians out for doing something because they “want to have that picture,” then it will keep the press very busy the rest of this election season—and, one hopes, beyond.