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Election Night Errors

The report said “television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country and their own credibility, all for reasons that may be conceptually flawed and commercially questionable.”

CNN commissioned three journalists to produce the report in the wake of two wrong calls in Florida on election night: one calling Democratic candidate Al Gore the winner in Florida, and one declaring President Bush the winner of the election by taking Florida. The calls, also made by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and MSNBC, were retracted and President Bush’s win was not decided for weeks.

The report was written by James Risser, former director of Stanford University’s Knight Fellowship Program, Joan Konner, former dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Ben Wattenberg.

The networks were chastised for working hastily and placing too much confidence in experts and polls. That combination “produced a powerful collision between the public interest and the private competitive interests of the television news operations and the corporations that own them.”

The report also criticized the Voter News Service, created by a consortium of news organizations to provide poll data for news outlets. VNS relied on outmoded technology that the networks should have upgraded, the report said. The authors also suggested that networks’ choice of key precincts to project winners was unreliable.

CNN says it plans to fund a new precinct-sampling system. Since the election, CNN has also promised to not use exit poll information to call close races and to not project winners while polls are still open.

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