Statement of CNN Regarding Future Election Night Coverage
In response to the problems of early and ultimately erroneous calls made by the networks on election night 2000, and with the goal of finding remedies to ensure our network does not repeat them, CNN in November commissioned an independent outside review panel to examine its election night coverage and to provide recommendations on how to make certain that the mistakes of November 2000 are not repeated.
Three widely respected scholars accepted CNN's request to work on this project: Jim Risser, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former director of the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford University; Joan Konner, former dean and current professor of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism; and Ben Wattenberg, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
After a two-month independent study, the panel has completed its report and CNN is releasing it today. CNN appreciates the panel's diligent efforts.
In addition to the panel's review, CNN funded --- along with the other networks --- a separate report by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) of Raleigh, N.C. on the operations of the Voter News Service (VNS), an organization created and jointly funded by ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and the AP. VNS provided, and all the networks used, Election Day survey data for projections and analysis and also provided a nationwide vote tabulation reporting system. As has become clear, VNS' flawed operations were central to the mistakes of election 2000, and a thorough examination of VNS' specific role was crucial.
After examining the findings of both of these studies, and with the recommendations of other consultants, CNN today is releasing an overview of its new election coverage policies. These new policies are designed to address the mistakes which occurred on Election Day and to deliver fair, accurate and responsible election reporting that has always been CNN's standard.
A summary of these new policies follows:
1. CNN's Continued Involvement with VNS is Conditional
CNN will remain within VNS if -and only if - significant changes are made to assure that the errors that plagued election night coverage in 2000 do not recur. The steps necessary to accomplish this include, but are not limited to:
--Implementation of the bulk of recommendations contained in the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) report regarding VNS.
--Rewriting of VNS' projection system and statistical models that will then be reviewed by outside experts.
--Additional research into methods for better estimating the increasing number of absentee and early voters - as well as to better analyze non-response rates and statistical bias in exit polls.
--Initiation of a major upgrade and modernization of VNS' technical capabilities and infrastructure as outlined in the Battelle Practice Report, commissioned by VNS members in August 2000 and completed this month.
To accomplish these goals and to implement the bulk of the recommendations made in the RTI Report, additional financial contributions will be required of its members. CNN is prepared to pay its fair share.
CNN also would support a potential successor organization should VNS fail to meet CNN's requirements.
2. A Second Source for Data to Make Projections
CNN will fund a sample key precinct vote reporting system in the states expected to have the closest races. This will ensure that the network has a second source of data to use as a crosscheck against the VNS data, making any projections based on that data more reliable.
The CNN Decision Desk, which analyzes Election Day data and recommends projections, would use this second source to crosscheck the VNS (or its successor organization's) key precinct data. CNN is committed to implementing this back-up system, and is prepared to fund this alone. However, we would welcome partners to join with us and share the costs, and in turn, the information.
In addition, CNN will insist that the Associated Press vote tabulation system be better integrated into the election night data collection system.
3. CNN Will Not Use Exit Polls for Projections in Close Races
Exit polls will not be used for projections in close races.
CNN will only use exit poll survey data to project a winner when the data indicates one of the candidates has a "large margin" at the time that the polls close in that state.
If CNN can't make the call in a state at poll closing, it will then only project a winner in that state using actual vote data from the statewide vote tabulations and key precincts.
If these standards had been in place on election night 2000, CNN's projection of a winner would have been delayed by at least 30 minutes in 10 states and Florida would never have been called early in the evening for Vice President Gore. As for calls made at poll closing in the 2000 election, 26 states were called by CNN, using VNS exit poll data right when the polls closed in those states. All were correct calls. Despite that, CNN will raise significantly the criteria for these exit poll projections above what was used on election night.
4. Withholding a Call When the Vote Margin is Extremely Close
CNN will not project a winner in a state, even if it is reported that all the outstanding ballots have been accounted for, if the balloting shows that there is less than a 1% margin between the candidates.
5. Multiple Poll Closing States
CNN will no longer project the winner in a state until all the polls are closed within that state.
6. Demystifying Exit Polling and Projections
CNN will peel back the curtain for our viewers on the exit poll and projection process, assigning correspondents to report how the key precinct and exit poll workers do their jobs and providing other "behind the scenes" reporting to show viewers how the projection process works. In the days leading up to the election, CNN will produce a number of reports on its election night reporting. In addition, on Election Day, CNN will assign a number of correspondents to report on how the key precinct and exit poll workers do their job .
In addition, CNN will assign reporters to the control room, the Decision Desk, and to VNS (or its successor) during the broadcast to provide "behind the scenes" reporting that will let viewers see how the projection process works.
7. Election Night Language and Graphics
CNN will change its language and graphics on election night regarding projections. Until all the votes have been counted in each state, CNN will no longer call anyone the winner of a state. No longer will CNN anchors say "CNN calls Al Gore the winner in Michigan," but will instead try to explain better what is the basis of the projection. For example, anchors will say "CNN projects, that based primarily on exit poll estimates, that Al Gore will win Michigan," or will say "based on the results of voting from key precincts and an evaluation of the returns so far from around the state, CNN estimates George Bush will win the state of Virginia."
In addition, CNN will be careful with its language regarding the reasons for why a call is not being made. It will instruct its anchors to be specific. "It's too close to call in Georgia," has a different meaning from "we don't have enough information yet in Georgia to make a call there." The former means it is a close race. The latter simply means we need more information to make any type of characterization.
CNN's onscreen graphics will reflect better what it knows and precisely what it means to say. On election night, CNN's full screen graphics included the words "CNN Estimate" but the words were not as prominent as they should have been. CNN's new policy will position the words "CNN Estimate" as the title on the full screen graphic.
In very close races, CNN's reporting will inform viewers at the earliest appropriate time regarding a state's mandatory recount provisions.
8. Other Changes Regarding VNS
Providing it remains a member of VNS, CNN strongly urges that there will be one or more outside respected academics, journalists or research professionals added to the board to provide independent perspective regarding VNS operations.
CNN also will appoint its Executive Vice President for News Standards to take an active role in its involvement with VNS.
9. Uniform Poll Closing
CNN enthusiastically supports the adoption of a nationwide Uniform Poll Closing Act by Congress. If so adopted, CNN pledges not to make any projections until all the polls are closed nationwide.
Despite the best intentions and weeks of news department preparations prior to the election, for a variety of reasons CNN and the other networks fell short in their coverage of Election night, 2000. We at CNN do not intend to let that happen again. The lessons learned that night and in the weeks to follow, along with the excellent recommendations in the reports which have been submitted, have helped us devise strong new guidelines for election coverage which we are confident will ensure the mistakes of last year are not repeated. Indeed, we now feel like we are better positioned than ever to provide our viewers with the kind of thorough, fair and accurate reporting that has always been our standard.
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