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The Morning After

(Getty Images/Win McNamee)
Tired? Yeah, us too. It was a long night. One aspect of the coverage-of-the-coverage that's struck us this morning is the notion, as laid out in a New York Times story, that the networks exercised "an unusual degree of caution" in calling the House of Representatives for the Democrats. Perhaps the caution was "unusual" compared to two years ago. But was it a surprise? Hardly. The cult of being first has faded somewhat from the news race – now calling a race a few minutes after the competition seems like a relatively small setback. What the networks are really terrified of is being wrong – that's what people remember, after all. What if CBS News had called the House for the Democrats, and then it turned out that those making the call had their numbers wrong? Can you imagine the criticism the network would have faced? In today's environment, in which mistakes are used as evidence of hopeless ideological bias, you'd be nuts not to be cautious.

Moving on, but related: Did anyone (besides Stelter) notice this tidbit about the National Election Pool from the Los Angeles Times? "In the middle of its election coverage, Fox News — one of the members of the consortium [of five networks and the Associated Press that commissions the national exit polls] — announced that it was going to stop relying on the exit-poll data because its decision-desk analysts had discovered a Democratic bias of six to eight percentage points in many areas after comparing the survey results with the actual vote." It's not surprising that networks would distrust the exit poll data after the mess in 2004, when the exit polls suggested that John Kerry was on its way to victory. Last night's early numbers, which leaked to a number of blogs, were skewed towards Democrats to such a degree that the networks didn't trust them. "We were told the numbers simply looked way out of whack," Allison Gollust, spokeswoman for NBC News, told the New York Times. "They just seemed too far off of expectations."

But don't you either put your faith in the NEP or abandon it before Election Day? Isn't the runup to the big day when you look at the consortium's methods and either embrace or reject them? I guess I can understand discounting the numbers because you just don't trust them – although they aren't looking too "out of whack" this morning. But it's tough to understand why Fox decided to switch game plans on game day, particularly as one seems little sign of a "Democratic bias of six to eight percentage points" in the numbers now that the dust has settled. Unless, that is, Fox thought the NEP was failing to adequately execute its game plan as promised. Referring to those gathering exit-poll data, Fox panelist William Kristol said the following off camera, according to the New York Observer: "It's a bunch of 24-year-old graduate students and retirees. Who else has time to stand outside a polling place all day long?" Added The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes: "Wearing peace buttons."

And as for CBS? Well, we'll leave that one to the pundits. A number of reviews of the coverage are linked here, and there are plenty to choose from. I will say I agree with this comment from the Washington Post's Tom Shales: "CBS might have made the most concerted effort at explaining what the results meant to real people, not just political junkies." I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that made for good TV.

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