Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Media report card: The night started out really well for the TV networks. Unlike in previous years (read 2000), when one network called a state, the others were in no rush to follow. For example, CNN called California for Kerry almost immediately after the polls closed, but took its time to give Kerry Washington State. Fox, on the other hand, gave Kerry Washington almost immediately, but waited on California.
That's the good news from the media.
The problem is that as midnight approached in the West and the percentage of precincts reporting results in the midwestern battleground states climbed into the 80s and 90s the networks turned into the proverbial bachelor who is terrified of committing to the beautiful woman.
NBC and Fox News called Ohio and its 20 electoral votes for President Bush -- with a lead of more than 130,000 votes. The other networks balked amid reports from the Kerry campaign that there are 250,000 provisional and absentee ballots in Ohio that still need to be counted. The Ohio secretary of state reports that outstanding ballots there are more in the 140,000 range. In the last election, 90 percent of the provisional ballots were determined to be valid and were counted. If that rate holds, then there are 126,000 uncounted ballots in Ohio. Kerry would have to get every single one of those ballots and several thousand more from the ether.
During the same period of time, CBS, ABC and CNN put Minnesota and Michigan in the Kerry column, closing the gap with President Bush. Those three networks also eventually gave Bush the win in Nevada with its 5 electoral votes.
It's clear that Bush has won, but it sems that no network is willing to call the election. CBS, ABC and CNN need only acknowledge that Bush has won Ohio, and they've got to run their "Bush wins" graphics with their music. Fox News and NBC only need to give Bush Nevada, where he leads by 20,500 votes with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, and they've got to run their fancy graphics and music.
I kept expecting Fox and NBC to take the plunge, but here it is nearly 3:30 a.m. on the West Coast and they absolutely refuse to call any of these states that would put Bush ahead.
Early on the networks did the right thing by refusing to be rushed into declaring winners because some other network did. However, later the unwillingness to put Bush over the top and settle this election is frankly amazing.