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Reinventing the wheel to appease nets

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

So the networks and cable news channels are balking at making significant changes in the way they report on elections. How’s this for a bright idea: Let’s change the way elections are run instead!
We could make all polls nationwide close at the same moment-shift the closing time earlier on the West Coast, push it back on the East Coast. Sure, it will inconvenience the voters. But at least the TV networks won’t be put out.
Too much of a stretch to make up that three-hour time difference? No problem: Let’s just change the way we tell time. Monkey with daylight-saving time-get rid of it in some areas, keep it in others-so the time difference between East and West is only two hours on Election Day.
It may be hard to believe, but this “solution” to the networks’ botched election coverage is exactly what some lawmakers are proposing. Apparently they feel better about pushing around the American people than they do about going toe-to-toe with a group that has real power: the television networks.
A uniform poll-closing time isn’t necessarily unreasonable, but if the real problem is how the networks report on the elections, why aren’t we focused instead on fixing that?
The House Energy and Commerce Committee went through the motions on that front earlier this month, inviting the network news chiefs to testify under oath about what they’re doing to avoid a repeat of the election fiasco.
But the networks thus far have committed only to minor changes in their policies, including waiting until all the polls in a state have closed before projecting a winner in that state. Most appear to be sticking with Voter News Service-the source of faulty election-night data-as long as it beefs up its accuracy measures.
Maybe that’s enough to solve the problem, which boils down to getting the numbers right. If the nets hadn’t messed up the math in the first place, they wouldn’t be under even token pressure now.
Still, the news divisions appear to be sliding off the hook a little too easily. Washington should keep its focus on the networks rather than force the American people to change their lifestyle in response to the TV industry’s shortcomings.