When it’s too close

As the polls closed last Tuesday, the nation was already well aware that the presidential race was going to be difficult to call. But this did not hinder journalists eager to declare a state’s winner by prematurely judging the election’s results. Besides mistakenly calling Florida for both candidates during the evening — the state remains contested — all of the major networks put the state in Vice President Al Gore’s column before all the polls had closed. Besides its unethical nature, this poor judgment call might have even altered the election by convincing people who had yet to vote that their choice did not matter.
Because Florida is divided into two time zones, ballots were being counted and tallied on one side, while voters stood in line waiting to vote on the other. Before all of Florida was closed, it was broadcast as a victory for Gore. Though only a small portion of Florida lies within the earlier Central Standard Time zone, some George W. Bush supporters might have considered it pointless to vote and stayed at home rather than face long lines at the polling station.
Less than four and one-half hours after The Associated Press and other media withdrew the Gore prediction at about 9 p.m. Twin Cities time, the Fox News Channel projected Bush as Florida’s winner, with other networks quickly following. Indicative of the authority the media carry, Gore called Bush after he saw the projection and conceded the race, a decision he awkwardly reversed about an hour later.
This is no way to conduct the media coverage of a presidential election. Florida results should not have been publicly broadcast before the polls were completely closed. In future elections, journalists need to realize the power of the press and follow a moral obligation to report accurate information to the people it serves. Elections are too crucial to our country to be called prematurely and swayed by journalists eager to broadcast the victor first.