By Patricia H. Kushlis
I certainly hope not, but if this turns out to be another cliff-hanger election, then anything’s possible. I was reminded of the seemingly interminable night that I spent on the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower 2 as New Mexico’s State Manager for the now defunct Voter News Service (VNS) when I read a CNN after action report on elections reporting fiasco 2000 earlier today.
I don’t agree with a number of the assertions in the report – most glaringly, its omission of fact that the VNS Exit Polls could have been off because of the large number of Jewish voters who thought they had voted for the Gore/Lieberman ticket but in reality had their vote counted as voting for Buchanan because of the complications of Florida’s “butterfly ballot” that benefited the Republicans and likely cost Gore the razor’s edge election.
No wonder then that there were major exit polling problems in Florida and no wonder that the exit poll results were bad there. But why did the CNN commissioned report ignore this fact entirely when it was widely known to the American public?
The media's source(s) are worse in 2008 than in 2000
Yet there is at least one recommendation in CNN’s after action report that is particularly troubling for the 2008 Elections. This is the observation that the five networks should not have relied on a single source for data and analysis. But whose fault was this? And why didn’t the networks have access to all the data VNS state managers were feeding into the antiquated Wang computer system?
Or were the Networks and CNN’s own gatekeepers at fault for not passing along what data was coming in from VNS? Where were the communcations gaps?
Or were things moving so rapidly and everyone’s staff either too small or too inefficient to handle the data deluge in a timely and responsible manner?
Or why didn’t CNN and the other networks look at AP’s data despite, I would argue in the case of New Mexico, that it was no more accurate than what VNS reported?
What I find as appalling, however, is that
• CNN could have – at the very least - looked at the AP data as a check – but it chose not to - for whatever stupid unexplained reason;
• But far worse, the result is a single source of elections and predictions data because the networks will be relying solely on AP for Elections 2008. Sure, they can look at the various websites at the state and county level for checks but I tried to do this for New Mexico during the June 2008 primaries and it just plain didn’t work.
VNS was put out of business after the 2002 elections thanks to extraordinarily incompetent leadership by Ted Savaglio who was chosen by the networks and AP to head the organization in the aftermath of Elections 2000.
Finances or priorities the real problem
I think that the major problem was financial as the CNN after action report stressed: in this Infotainment world, the networks just plain didn’t want to invest the money needed to upgrade VNS technologically. Savaglio was a disaster, and AP, the sixth member of the consortium, probably was itching for sole coverage possession anyway.
Today, Rupert Murdoch sits on AP’s Board of Directors and AP’s own elections coverage is run by Ron Fournier, a right wing Republican and AP’s Washington DC Bureau Chief, who almost signed on as communications director for the McCain campaign.
This is outrageous. The US, the American people and the world deserve better.
It won’t matter if November 4 turns into a landslide for Obama as I hope it will; but if not, we could be in for Elections 2000 media coverage fiasco reprise. It won’t be pretty.