Election Night, With One Thing Missing

12/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm writing this from the MSNBC Digital Cafe in 30 Rock, overlooking Election Plaza lined with waving flags and illuminated by red, white and blue lights shining up and bathing the tower with in red, white and blue as two giant TV screens show coverage from the debates and live coverage from MSNBC. Right now Chuck Todd is walking viewers through a disembodied map of the country, superimposed on the screen with the high-tech wizardry that has typified this campaign.

But it wasn't long ago where the election-night tool of choice was a simple whiteboard, emblazoned with the words "Florida! Florida! Florida!" It was the tool of choice for Tim Russert, who before June 13, 2008, was the one guy who seemed to be relishing this long, crazy campaign season the most.

Since that date, the campaign — and NBC News — has had to go on without Russert in the thick of it, every weekend on "Meet The Press" and during the week on "Nightly News" and "Morning Joe" and convention coverage and debate nights stretching into the wee hours. For those of us who have been watching this race obsessively for the past two-plus years and living it since the lead-up to primary season, the absence of Russert has been noticeable, particularly during the weirder twists and turns of the campaign (and there's not a watcher who wouldn't have loved to have heard his thoughts on Sarah Palin).

At the time of Russert's death, there were quiet rumblings that too much attention was being spent on his memory, and that it was excessive — and it's true that this election is about much more than one person, be it Barack Obama or John McCain or Palin or the Clintons. But the intense, ongoing nature of the coverage has bred a nation of addicts, people who had gotten used to getting their news from certain trusted sources, and unconsciously sharing the experience with them. On a night like tonight — when viewers will settle in to their night of watching returns and will pick their favored networks and cablers to do it with — the absence of that familiar, trusted presence is keenly felt.

Lots of news to report today and many stories to follow, but I did want to make sure that was said.