Media pays price for jumping election gun

NEW YORK: The media found themselves having to report on their own failure to communicate accurately last week, as election night descended into chaos.

NEW YORK: The media found themselves having to report on their own failure to communicate accurately last week, as election night descended into chaos.

NEW YORK: The media found themselves having to report on their own failure to communicate accurately last week, as election night descended into chaos.

The TV networks were in the unenviable position of projecting a presidential winner inaccurately on two occasions during the night. Then by 2:30 am, as the presses rolled, much of the print media concluded that George W. Bush had won. Headlines were amended as the night wore on.

New York-based polling organization Voter News Service (VNS), owned by Associated Press and a group of TV Networks, relayed the results to the media. But while it took much of the flack for the inaccurate reports on Wednesday, it has made no official statement about its position on its exit-poll information.

Ken Sunshine, principal of political and entertainment PR agency Sunshine Associates, slammed the election night media coverage.

Sunshine said: 'This is total embarrassment for them.' He added that the media race to be first and 'to beat the other guy' had produced the errors. 'It was laughable to see the emotion of some of the networks,' he said.

Sunshine is currently advising Rev. Jesse Jackson, who organized a press conference on Thursday for Miami citizens who claim that they were denied a vote.

Polling expert Steve Ross, a journalism professor at Columbia University, said VNS should not have called the state of Florida for Bush at 1:15 am given that up to 300,000 votes from heavily Democratic areas had not been counted.

Ross added that the media should have been spending more of their own money to ensure poll accuracy.

He also complained about the quality of TV network analyses. 'I have a real problem with the broadcast networks' lack of explanation about how the polls are done.'

Former network news chief at CBS and ABC, Av Westin, said: 'What is clear is that there is intense pressure to be the first to call. Election coverage relies on exit polls; it is part of the fabric.' Westin added the fact that so many media outlets were incorrect provided a scapegoat. The night also demonstrated the extent to which the media are intertwined. Among the papers calling a Bush win were the New York Post, Chicago Sun-Times and The Miami Herald.

The New York Times and USA Today were among papers that ran headlines claiming a Bush victory with caveats. The Times headline, 'Bush appears to defeat Gore,' was later changed to 'Bush and Gore vie for edge' on the front of its largest press run.

VP of corporate communications at the Times, Catherine Mathis, said: 'We had five separate editions and changed them based on events that evening.'

The New York Post's journalistic blunder however may turn out to be a PR bonus. Numerous copies turned up on eBay with one 'Bush Wins' edition attracting bids of dollars 6,300.

See election special, p 3; analysis p9.



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