In the race to declare a winner, the major TV networks screwed up not once but twice. At around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Vice President Al Gore was declared the winner in the state of Florida. Hopes were raised that the veep would win the race for the White House. Bush forces were nervous.
They were also mad. They felt Florida had been called too soon. Two hours later, Florida was taken out of Gore's column and the Sunshine state was still a tossup.
Shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, the nets declared Bush the winner in Florida, and, with its 25 electoral votes, the winner of the presidential race.
By 3:30, NBC's Tom Brokaw wondered if maybe Florida was definitely in Bush's column. "That would be something if the networks managed to blow it twice in one night," he said.
And they did. A short time later, the race for president was still "too close to call."
Yes, exit polling, on the whole, works. It has allowed the networks to call races right after the polls close and hours before the votes are actually counted. But going into this election, everyone knew it would be close. Very close. The networks could and should have exercised some caution on Tuesday, knowing full well that pulling the trigger too soon would have disastrous results.
Much like the O.J. Simpson case, the misfires on election night have muddied the reputations of the national media.
"If you're disgusted with us," said Dan Rather, "frankly, I don't blame you."
It's nice when a news organization can claim to have gotten the scoop first. But it's even nicer to get it right.
Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.