Other arguments were beginning to chip away at the remarkably unquestioned notion that Obama’s win was assured. Toobin observed that turnout, especially among women and voters who had made their decision about whom to vote for that day, was beginning to look stronger than expected. And Schneider introduced the idea that an economic recession might give Clinton a boost. His exit-poll analysis showed that voters who were “getting ahead” financially were voting Obama, while those that were “falling behind” were flocking to Clinton; he suggested that the latter group might be recalling the “good day” of the 1990s under Bill Clinton.


At half past ten, Blitzer was predicting a “long night,” and King was back at his telestrator explaining why the race was still too close to call. Then Blitzer interrupted him to announce that the Associated Press had called the race for Clinton. D’oh! King stood his ground, however, stating firmly that CNN was still not prepared to call it-those pesky college towns of Hanover, Durham, Keene, and Rindge still hadn’t weighed in. In fact, only Dartmouth College, in Hanover, was even in session, and so most students were still on holiday break. While it was refreshing to see a TV news outlet show restraint in announcing electoral results, the justification may have been unfounded.


CNN finally broke down and “predicted” that Clinton would win as Obama was making his way to the stage to concede. Clinton made her victory speech shortly thereafter; that’s when Dobb’s showed up, gleefully flabbergasted that the “pundits, savants and gurus” had been wrong. “It was supposed to be Barack Obama by as much as double-digits,” he crowed.


Whatever the reasons that the press was blindsided by Clinton’s win, it did not stifle the next round of punditry, which began immediately. Donna Brazile predicted that, “Black women will determine if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination.” And Wednesday morning, CNN’s early news team was already speculating about a Clinton-McCain face-off in the general election. In that respect, the New Hampshire primaries were a reminder that, even though an underdog victory makes for an exciting story, the press breeds its own astonishment. Consider the following exchange between Cooper and Dobbs. It was, in essence, the kicker to CNN’s four-hour report:


Dobbs: I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely thrilled to see all of the experts absolutely wrong - get kicked in the teeth.

Cooper: It seems like every election we are taught that lesson and then forget that lesson, the next election around, that you can’t predict anything.


Dobbs: Well, we’re television newsmen; we’re not supposed to be that smart.


Touché, Lou. Touché.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.