Playing the numbers.

Media criticism.
Feb. 4 2004 5:40 PM

Playing the Numbers

The early exit polls are everywhere you look.

This time four years ago, the Voter News Service news consortium (run by and for the TV networks and the Associated Press) was sending nasty mail to Slate about its practice of publishing the exit-poll numbers its owners and subscribers were sharing with everybody in politics and journalism. Now that VNS is no more, its successor consortium, the National Election Pool, seems to be throwing in the towel. At this hour, the e-mail and Web consensus holds that Matt Drudge's numbers, which match those proliferating elsewhere on the Web, are authentic. At 5:10 p.m. he posted this:

AZ Kerry 46, Clark 24, Dean 13.
MO Kerry 52, Edwards 23, Dean 10
SC Edwards 44, Kerry 30, Sharpton 10
OK Edwards 31, Kerry 29, Clark 28
DE Kerry 47, Dean 14, Lieberman 11, Edwards 11

Even the journo-scolds whose job it is to tut-tut about the release of such interesting information to the public are busily helping to spread the word. Zachary Roth at the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk writes:

The early exit-poll numbers from five states conducting primaries today are now all over the blogosphere: In addition to Drudge, Josh Marshall, the Daily Kos, Glenn Reynolds, and Chris Suellentrop for Slate all link to the numbers, either on National Review, or at Political Wire, which seems to have its own source, and which hasn't yet responded to Campaign Desk's request for comment.

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Roth calls the publishing of the exit-poll numbers "in terms of journalistic ethics … a copout." But in terms of the effort to contain the exit-poll numbers until the actual polls have closed, it's more like no contest when the journalism cops themselves are joining in the looting.

The remaining issue is when the networks and other news organizations that subscribe to the National Election Pool will became unhappy enough with their competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis blogs and nontraditional media to begin releasing the early numbers themselves.

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Exit-poll me, baby, at pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.