I agree with Glenn Reynolds on political matters far more often than not, but I definitely have a different perspective on this:
- the networks were going to call it for Schwarzenegger the minute the polls closed, and then turning on the TV just before they did and seeing the talking heads acting as if the whole question were up in the air, when they knew better, and were just about to say so.
Yeah, I know there’s controversy about reporting this stuff before the polls close, but there’s something worse than unseemly about, basically, lying to viewers for what you see as their own good. And once you admit you’re doing it some of the time, as the networks do in these cases, you make people wonder when else you’re doing it.
I realize his central issue is trust of the press, which is certainly not an unreasonable concern – the easy-way-out emphasis on spectacular events like violence in Iraq as opposed to the more difficult-to-convey process of rebuilding the country gives the reader or viewer the impression that the situation is worse than it is. I am gratified that the press has seen fit of late to make their own shortcomings in the matter a story itself.
But the early reporting of election news is a different matter. I have no problem with the press mentioning the results of their own exit polls or other measuring thecniques, but I don’t want them “calling” an election – no matter how one-sided – before the polls are closed, because I don’t want even one voter’s decision to be swayed by the assumption of futility.
Voting results should reflect the relative appeal of a candidate’s policies and personality, not status on the leaderboard. That is why I think the argument of those who “blame” Ralph Nader for “taking votes away” from Al Gore is absurd: Nader didn’t “take away” votes from anyone, he gained votes for himself, and the tally of those votes is an important gauge of the popularity of Nader’s positions, his personality, and dissatisfaction with the two party system.
Therefore, unlike Glenn, I do not see the media’s “neutrality” – refusing to call a race before the polls close – as dishonest, disingenuous, or cut from the same cloth as the misrepresentation of the relative importance of event vs. process. I see it as their acceptance of the civic responsibility to not unduly affect the outcome of an election, elections being the very foundation of our democracy. And by the “outcome of an election” I mean not just who wins and loses, but the final vote tally, which carries important meaning of its own.