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To Call It or Not to Call It

Networks face a huge dilemma tonight: do they join the race to be the first news organization to call the election at the risk of forgoing accuracy or do they play it safe at the risk of losing credibility for looking the other way when there is obviously a clear winner, even if the ballots are not all counted.

“Projecting the winner of a presidential election. It’s perhaps the most important thing we do in journalism. We have to be right,” CNN political director Sam Feist told Time [www.time.com]

This decision is one of the toughest decisions the networks have to face because of its potential implications (take the 2000 Election [www.pbs.org], for example, in which networks—beginning with Fox—declared both Gore and Bush winners and then retracted their calls, more than a month before the votes were actually counted). Yet the process networks are going through in deciphering how to best field information as it comes in tonight is very similar to the process they engage in every day when making judgment about what news to serve up to the public and how they will present it to them. They are in the business of accurate, but also the business of being first.

Senior Vice President of CBS News, Paul Friedman, is prepared to call the election as soon as anything’s clear, which could by as early as 8 pm on the east coast, he says.

“We could know Virginia at 7. We could know Indiana before 8. We could know Florida at 8. We could know Pennsylvania at 8. We could know the whole story of the election with those results. We can’t be in this position of hiding our heads in the sand when the story is obvious,” Friedman told the New York Times. [www.nytimes.com]

But speculating on how the networks will potentially hypothesize about what could be the possible outcome of the election is about as fruitful as guessing how election officials will screw up this time. But I suppose we are all need some way to kill the time and burn off some anxiety.

–Jamie Wong