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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

CBS Studying Bad Election Calls

Media: Network assembles panel of experts to look into erroneous projections on Florida vote. Goal is to prevent future embarrassments.

November 15, 2000|ELIZABETH JENSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — CBS News has put together a panel of internal executives and a respected outside academic media critic to investigate what went wrong with its election-night reporting and make recommendations for the future.

A bad projection on the outcome of the Florida vote led CBS and other networks to report incorrectly that Texas Gov. George W. Bush was the president-elect.

The network said that Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and an expert on politics and the media, would be part of a panel headed by Linda Mason, CBS News' vice president of public affairs. Also on the panel is Kathleen Frankovic, who heads the CBS News unit that analyzes election data and conducts polls.

Relying on exit polling data from Voter News Service, a media and Associated Press consortium, CBS and the other networks initially projected that Democratic Vice President Al Gore had won Florida. The networks later declared the state too close to call and then projected Bush as the winner, seemingly giving him the needed electoral college votes to win the presidency. The networks later put Florida back in the too-close-to-call category.

Announcing the panel, CBS News President Andrew Heyward said in a statement that "we owe it to the public and to ourselves to determine how and why we made mistakes on election night and to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Mason, a longtime CBS News executive who was not part of the election night team, said that she will "come as a fresh eye." Jamieson, a former paid on-air consultant for CBS News, "brings a totally different perspective. . . . She's someone who has a broader base for understanding this," Mason said, adding that CBS has not decided whether to make its findings public.

NBC and CNN also have been conducting preliminary internal reviews and said that they expect to take further steps soon. NBC added that it is in discussions with other VNS members about "the best way to proceed . . . to ensure the most comprehensive review of VNS practices." ABC News is conducting a "top-to-bottom review," said a spokesman.

Fox News, the first network to call the election for Bush, said that "we're not ready to announce our plans" on its election night coverage, although chairman Roger Ailes told one publication that he is committed to replacing VNS with more than one exit-polling service.

Fox News was embarrassed earlier this week when John Ellis, a consultant running its polling analysis desk, was quoted as saying he was on the phone with his cousin, Republican candidate Bush, on election night. Fox is said to be examining again whether or not Ellis provided insider exit poll data to his cousin's campaign.

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