Bad Calls

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There's an old song that might have been written about this unprecedented and still undecided election: "First you say you do, and then you don't. Then you say you will, and then you won't."

CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather reports that many Americans understandably felt just that way as the news media, including CBS News, made calls in an election that we now know was too close to call.

About ten minutes to eight Eastern time on Tuesday night, Democrat Al Gore suddenly seemed to be in the driver's seat on the road to the White House with the exit poll data putting Florida into the vice president's column. But two hours later, that call had to be retracted.

In a day-after interview with Correspondent Rather, CBS News Director of Surveys Kathy Frankovic explained what happened.

"There were some exit polling data that might not have been as good as they could have been. There may have been some precinct data that wasn't as good as it should have been," Frankovic said. "And then later on, we got some tabulated vote that was a simple human error data entry problem."

But the adventure wasn't over. Around 2:20 a.m ET on Wednesday, it appeared the Florida tide had turned decisively toward Republican George W. Bush.

And yet, less than an hour later, that call for the Texas governor had to be retracted, too.

Like the "Dewey Defeats Truman" faux pas in the 1948 presidential race, many in the print media jumped the wrong way this time, too - the initial New York Post headline of "Bush Wins", for example.

So, what can be done to avoid a repeat of Tuesday night?

"I think you learn from your mistakes, and I think that everybody's going to be maybe a little bit more cautious, even when there's a big story in a state that you really want to know the result," said Frankovic.