Thursday, November 6, 2008


Election night coverage is a love/hate relationship for me. As someone with a communications and market research background, I love watching how the different media cover the same general story in different ways - it's a presidential election; one guy wins and the other loses. At the same time, I hate how these media act like they have the Keebler Elves' secret formula for "calling" a candidate's victory in states where only one percent of the vote was reported. Yeah, I know, "exit polling" indicates voters' attitudes which are then translated into assumed votes with the help of mounds of other polling info, research, trends, etc. But if recent election history has shown us anything (2000 anybody? Bueller?), then skepticism is a logical manner in which to approach this media method.

Take two national news media stations - MSNBC and FOX News. The classic lefty versus righty matchup. I'm flipping back and forth between the two around 9:30 (don't quote me on the time) on Tuesday night and see the following "scores:" MSNBC - Obama: 103 McCain: 34 FOX News - Obama: 82 McCain: 39 (Again, could be off by a few, but you get the picture.)

Simple explanation for the scoring discrepancies, right? MSNBC had given PA to Obama and FOX News WV to McCain at the time of the aforementioned scores, but not vice versa. (This scenario was evident throughout the evening, with MSNBC calling many New England states for Obama well in advance of FOX News, which was busy calling southern states like GA and AL for McCain.) Here's my thing - MSNBC's and FOX News' respective calls for PA and WV at this point were not mirrored by one another until a good hour later. Am I to assume as a news consumer that these media could be confident enough in their data to call different states for different candidates at the same time, but not confirm the other's call? What, did FOX News have more folks on the ground in Charleston while MSNBC's pollers were in full force in Philly? Perhaps.

It's interesting to note that MSNBC, a reputed liberal-leaning media, had Obama ahead in electoral votes by a larger margin at all times than FOX News, a reputed conservative media, which had McCain losing by less electoral votes at all times. I'm not choosing sides or advocating for any cause, just stating the facts. Coincidence?

Bottom line - how can we as news consumers who for the most part are seeking objective accounts of the facts trust these "experts" when their data, sources, facts and news differ so greatly? We can't. Having watched another edition of election coverage, I'm further convinced of the need for discretion by today's news consumers. If you pay attention, some media even tell you: "We report, you decide."

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