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David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, November 11, 2000

TV lost race to
declare a winner

If there was any comic relief in watching the nail-biting presidential election returns, it was in seeing the TV networks disgrace themselves by jumping the gun on declaring a winner.

Based on dubious exit polls, the networks passed Florida's 25 electoral votes back and forth between Al Gore and George W. Bush so many times that it looked like a volleyball match in rally scoring.

Gore actually called Bush to concede the election based entirely on network projections that he would lose Florida when he was only 1,200 votes behind and gaining. And they say Bush isn't smart enough to be president?

Networks defend the early calls, claiming their exit polls are verified by checks of actual votes in key precincts. We in Hawaii know that's a flat-out lie. Hawaii's electoral votes were "awarded" to Gore two hours before the first local returns were released. They couldn't have possibly checked actual votes in any precincts.

TV executives are speed freaks who race to get election results out milliseconds before the competition. For instance, cable networks CNN and Fox conceded the election to Bush about 30 seconds apart -- prematurely, it turned out -- and then cut to the Bush rally in Austin, Texas, to record the exuberant response of the crowd.

The Fox reporter spent most of his account whining that CNN was trying to make it look like the crowd was cheering the CNN report even though Fox had called the race a few seconds earlier. No shame.

TV networks also need gobs of airtime to feed their army of flatulent analysts -- let's call them "flatulysts" for short.

If they just let people vote and waited for the states to count the ballots to see who won, the flatulysts wouldn't have much to talk about. So networks run a parallel election in hyperspeed, using exit polls to produce "results" without waiting for the formality of ballot counts.

If the networks insist on deciding our elections for us, they owe it to us to find a more entertaining way than letting the flatulysts spoil the airwaves all night with their puffed-up punditry. Here are some ideas:

Bullet Drop candidates on an island a la "Survivors" and see who lasts longest eating insects and rats. Well, maybe it wouldn't be fair to force them to into cannibalism.

Bullet Put Detectives Briscoe and Greene from "Law and Order" on the case and see if they can figure out who won Florida.

Bullet Make candidates take a pop quiz in the format of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" See Bush squirm over the names of foreign leaders. Watch Gore sputter when asked who invented the Internet.

Bullet Make Martin Sheen president. He has great credentials. Before pretending to be President Bartlett in "The West Wing," he apprenticed by pretending to be the White House chief of staff to Michael Douglas in "The American President."

Bullet Call in Mulder and Scully from "The X-Files" to check if it was alien influence or simple stupidity that possessed Gore voters in Palm Beach County to mark their ballots for Pat Buchanan.

Bullet Put the election on "Frazier" and let Daphne decide whether to marry George W. or ride off in the Winnebago with Al.

Or maybe they could do this: Show a good movie, run election returns without commentary in a scroll at the bottom of the screen and cut in with newsbreaks when there's actual news to report.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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