Karl Rove was incredulous. His colleagues at the Fox News decision desk had called Ohio for President Obama, a move he insisted just a few minutes earlier would be premature.
“We’ve got to be careful about calling this when we have 991 votes separating the candidates,” he scolded them. “I’d be very cautious about intruding into this process.”
Silence settled over the set.
“That’s awkward,” Megyn Kelly said, trying to break the tension. She and the co-anchor Bret Baier then offered to broker something of a compromise. One of them would walk down the hall and interview the number crunchers on the decision desk about why they made their call.
And so ensued the most bizarre on-air encounter of election night: a network anchor interrogating Arnon Mishkin, a member of the Fox News decision team and a respected voting analyst, forcing him and a colleague to defend their news judgment against Mr. Rove, one of the most powerful Republican fund-raisers and strategists.
However odd, the exchange perfectly captured one of the persistent sources of strain between the media and Republicans throughout the presidential campaign. Ever skeptical of a media bias toward Democrats, conservatives complained repeatedly that polls this year were showing an erroneous and biased edge for Mr. Obama.
As Fox News’s own polling showed an advantage for Mr. Obama late in the campaign, commentators on the network questioned whether the news organization had its numbers right. (As midnight approached on Tuesday, Mr. Rove, who helped lead one of the most powerful “super PACs” aiding Republicans this year, did appear to soften his objections somewhat.)
Some conservatives started trumpeting the efforts of polling aggregators like UnSkewedPolls.com, which purported to “debunk the media bias and shatter the false illusion being created by the mainstream media.” (The Web site employs a methodology that mainstream pollsters have said is not credible.)
By early Wednesday, UnSkewedPolls.com had posted no updates and still had a headline about “Big Election Day Romney Turnout.”
For much of the campaign, the story emanating from conservative commentators was one of mistrust. It was not only the polls that were untrustworthy. Those Labor Department numbers that showed a rosier economic picture in the final weeks of the election? The books were cooked by pro-Obama stooges, conservatives charged.
Suspicion of the other side — by conservatives and liberals alike — was evident in media coverage as the minutes ticked away to Tuesday’s poll closings across the country.
The one conclusion people across the political spectrum seemed to agree on — even before there was a clear winner — was that the other side had cheated, lied or intimidated its way to victory.
Speaking on MSNBC, the former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean declared that the “only way” Mr. Obama could lose in Ohio “is if people are prevented from casting their ballots, either by voting machines that aren’t functioning right or other forms of harassment.”
Web sites with large liberal followings like Mother Jones, Slate and The Huffington Post highlighted a video that claimed to show a “Romney-loving“ voting machine in Pennsylvania that was converting Obama votes into votes for Mitt Romney.
But the cries were louder on the right.
Fox News Radio reported that a man in North Carolina claimed to observe a poll worker coaxing a woman to vote for Mr. Obama. And Fox News broadcast several segments about a mural of the president, complete with his campaign logo and the words “hope” and “change,” that greeted voters at a Philadelphia school, a possible violation of a law against campaign materials at polling sites.
After Republicans went to court and won an order to have the mural covered, the network reported that the covering was insufficient. It failed to obscure the campaign logo and slogan.