Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Karl Rove rejects reality

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
November 28, 2012 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: Karl Rove challenged his own network's pros on Election Night
  • The Fox decision team called Ohio for Obama, but Rove refused to accept it
  • Kurtz points out conservatives challenged accuracy of polls and of the unemployment stats
  • He says the Rove incident was a case of partisanship in the guise of journalism

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- As televised theater, it was hard to beat. As political prognostication, it was a head-scratching moment. As partisan warfare, it was nothing short of audacious.

But Karl Rove's insistence that Barack Obama had not carried Ohio -- despite the call by his own network, Fox News, that the president had done just that -- represented something larger. It captured, for some long and awkward moments, the refusal of some in the media-and-politics game to accept reality.

And that has been a recurring pattern this year.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

We're not talking here about a bad judgment call by a pundit. Everyone in the commentary business, including yours truly, has made those. If failed predictions were a felony, the jails would be filled with media folks.

Watch: Karl Rove rejects reality on Fox News

Rove, to be sure, is a smart guy. He wasn't called George W. Bush's architect for nothing. He helped his guy win two presidential elections. He knows polls inside out.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But Rove occupies a rather unique perch at Fox, and not just because he jumped from the Bush White House to the role of conservative cable commentator.

Rove, who also has a Wall Street Journal column, helped create two political action committees, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies, that raised and spent about $175 million in this campaign, most of it on television ads promoting Mitt Romney or attacking Obama. He was, in every sense of the word, a full-fledged political player.

But he was also Fox's most visible contributor, appearing far more often than Sarah Palin, delivering his political insights on shows from morning to night.

Watch: Media still go wild for Donald Trump, who drove Romney nuts

Fox isn't the only news channel to employ active partisans -- CNN has a few, too -- and media organizations long ago decided to blur the line between journalism and politics.

I know the ties are generally disclosed, but personally, I wouldn't allow anyone who raises money or holds a party position to be on a news organization's payroll. Why should viewers think they're getting anything but one-sided spin?

Still, Rove undoubtedly wants to preserve his reputation as a political seer, which is why it was so stunning when he went rogue on Tuesday night.

It was a moment of high drama.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC were each in the process of calling Ohio -- and thus the presidential race -- for Obama. But Rove began arguing with his Fox colleagues.

"I don't know what the outcome is gonna be, but you shouldn't, you gotta be careful about calling things when you've got something like 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote left to count," he said. "Even if they had made it on the basis of select precincts, I'd be very cautious about intruding in this process."

Rove was, of course, wrong; Obama won Ohio, and a second term. But what is striking is that he was challenging the decision-desk professionals at his network in a way that looked like he refused to accept the country's judgment.

Watch: Blame game -- the knives are out for Romney world

This, unfortunately, has been a recurring theme all year. When Romney was down in the polls, some conservatives complained that media organizations were putting out biased surveys (which led to such sites as unskewedpolls.com). When unemployment dropped in September, even critics as prominent as Jack Welch accused the Obama administration of cooking the books without a scintilla of evidence.

And when Nate Silver, The New York Times' number-crunching blogger, predicted Obama had a 90% chance of winning, conservatives accused him of bias. Turns out he called the outcome correctly in every state.

Watch: Turns out 'liberal' media were right about Obama

Donald Trump, who hardly distinguished himself in this campaign by pushing the birther nonsense, ranted on Twitter on Election Night that Obama's victory was a "disgusting injustice." So he not only doesn't accept that the president was born in Hawaii, he doesn't accept that Obama won the election fair and square.

I wouldn't suggest that Rove believes in any of this conspiracy stuff, though he doubled down on Thursday by saying the president won by having "suppressed the vote," which flies in the face of Obama's efforts to boost turnout. But for a brief moment on Election Night, we got a glimpse of pure partisanship in the guise of journalism.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT