- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Broadcasters gravely promised not to delve into incomplete exit polls and make erroneous predictions about election night winners and losers, but that promise did not include early flirtations with those polls and a tidal wave of partisan personal opinion.

Some seemed reluctant to state the obvious, however.

Though President Bush led in Florida by 300,000 votes with 92 percent of the vote counted by about 10:30 p.m., CNN did not call the race for Mr. Bush until 12:10 this morning — with commentary by a noticeably mournful Judy Woodruff.

NBC waited until 12:20 a.m. to call the state for Mr. Bush.

The network initially seemed eager, though: NBC’s Brian Williams announced with some urgency at 6:04 p.m.: “We’re getting the first real data from our exit polls now.”

“If George Bush can control Ohio, then he may well end up president” again, predicted a fearless Tim Russert less than hour later.

CNN began making projections of early victories for Mr. Bush in such solidly red states as Georgia and Kentucky at 7 p.m., although anchorman Wolf Blitzer said, “It’s still extremely, extremely early.”

But many of the big guns displayed their newfound caution.

“When are you smart guys going to start predicting?” asked a waggish Ted Koppel on ABC midway through the evening.

“They’ll be no predictions yet from this anchor chair,” replied anchorman Peter Jennings.

Although sporadic — and unconfirmed — early poll numbers favoring Sen. John Kerry began circulating on the Internet in early afternoon, some bloggers were at the ready to police their online peers.

“There is a ridiculous rumor on the Web that Kerry is ahead on exit polls. There is no evidence of this,” wrote Scott Johnson of Powerline, the Web site that first took CBS’ Dan Rather to task over his bogus memos on Mr. Bush’s National Guard service last month.

“This untrue rumor was started on the Web by two Internet gossip columnists, and one of them now admits that her source is ‘not exactly trustworthy.’ No one knows who is winning right now,” Mr. Johnson cautioned.

The role of the bloggers — anxious scribes poised over computer keyboards — was not always seen in a positive light, though.

“If you want to be the first kid on the block to know who’s winning, check out the blogs. With inside sources and a willingness to pass along rumors, Webloggers are likely to be the first place you’ll see confidential information about polling, lawsuits and vote counts,” noted Frank Bamako of CBS News Market Watch.

Meanwhile, some were fixated on the idea that big voter turnout was a sure sign of an absolute victory for Mr. Kerry.

“I haven’t seen anything to shake the idea,” Time magazine writer Karen Tumulty told CNN as the network played a clip of a huge crowd of Florida voters waiting outside a polling place.

“If you want change, you get out and vote. This all favors John Kerry,” U.S. News & World Report’s Roger Simon agreed.

“Some of these people may be standing in line for more of same,” said CNN analyst Paul Begala. “But I really doubt it.”

Some still had a little habitual Bush-bashing to do.

“Was he or was he not exhausted this morning?” asked Mr. Jennings, referring to the president.

“He did look tired. He did look weary,” ABC correspondent Terry Moran agreed.

At the same time, all the networks designated “oversight teams” to control the urges of anchormen and correspondents to make early calls and to sign off on them when the magic moment actually arrived.

ABC and NBC each had three-member teams, Fox News a quartet of guardians. CBS and CNN had 12- and 30-member teams, respectively.

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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