The drip, drip of exit-poll leaks.

The drip, drip of exit-poll leaks.

The drip, drip of exit-poll leaks.

Media criticism.
Nov. 7 2006 5:22 PM

The Drip, Drip of Exit-Poll Leaks

The New York Observer appears to have been first.

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006


The New York Times has this exclusive story on its home page  at this moment: "As Voting Nears End, Counting Begins." ... 8:36 p.m.( link)

The Drip, Drip of Exit Poll Leaks

Web sites are flogging two waves of numbers, but nobody is guaranteeing their provenance.

The New Republic (time stamp, 6:08 p.m.) and National Review  (6:25 p.m.) agree on something for the first time since the decision to go to war on Iraq. The Washington Monthly posted the same numbers at 6:10 p.m. The Nation  comes in last at 7:13 p.m., with William Greider citing a Democratic source.


To the best of my knowledge, the New York Observer was first with four races at 5:26 p.m., which means that if the consortium's embargo clock was still ticking at 5 p.m., the embargo lasted only slightly longer than a tall-boy Budweiser on an autumn evening. … 7:32 p.m.(link)

6:11 Update: Perhaps I wrote too soon. The folks from the New York Observer are flogging exit poll numbers from a handful of Senate races.

6:24 Update: A Washington Monthly  blog has published a set of numbers I had only seen in e-mail before.



Heard any early afternoon leaks of exit poll data? I didn't think so. Thanks to the guerrilla warfare of Slate, Matt Drudge, and a slew of copy cats, the polling consortium that collects and distributes exit-poll data to members and subscribers has finally got serious about plugging leaks.

According to news accounts, the polling wizards from the networks and the Associated Press who run the consortium were to be stripped of their cell phones a little before noon today and quarantined in secure rooms in New York and Washington, D.C. To prevent leaks, they were supposed to graze on the incoming stream of election data there and not be set free until 5 p.m. I'm guessing that the Washington wizards occupied one of Dick Cheney's old "undisclosed locations."

The consortium, made up of CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN, and the Associated Press, took these extreme measures because starting in 2000, Slate began publishing the exit poll numbers as soon as one of the hundreds of media insider or politicians who had gotten hold of the numbers leaked them forward to us. We ran the numbers not because they were an especially good indicator of the ultimate victor in any race but because we thought our readers should know as much about the unfolding election as the reporters, commentators, and anchors who were given them in the early afternoon on Election Day.

We also published the numbers to spotlight the hypocrisy of the TV networks, all of which claimed to embargo them until the majority of polls had closed in a state. In fact, anchor after anchor went on television well before the polls closed making noises like "if current trends continue, Joe Jones will hard to beat in Minnesota" without acknowledging that they were referencing the "confidential" exit poll results.


Slate earned a cease and desist letter and a threat of a lawsuit early in campaign 2000 from the consortium, which was went by the name of Voter News Service. (It's called the National Election Pool now.) Having made our point, we complied, but continued to point out how Tim Russert, Peter Jennings, and other embargo criminals had violated the embargo by either leaking the numbers outright or hinting broadly on the air what the numbers said.

Drudge took up the cause for the rest of 2000 and went wild with the numbers. In 2004, everybody and his brother published leaks of exit-polls data, including Slate. (We were no longer bound by its 2000 agreement because the organization that had threatened to sue us, VNS, no longer existed.)

As I write this, the wizards have just emerged from their bunkers with the numbers. CBS, NBC, and and ABC aren't scheduled to start their election coverage until 10 p.m., so they're less likely to break their own embargo than the cable news networks, which have miles of dead air to fill. Help me monitor the early evening newscasts to see which, if any, of the broadcasters bust their own embargos. Send your reports to

(For more on the exit-poll brouhaha, see these ancient "Press Box" columns: "


," "

," "

," and "

," and "

.") … 5:05 p.m.(link)

America's newspapers answered the challenge I threw down yesterday by competing to print the lamest and most vapid headline for their Election Day coverage. Without any adieu, let's go directly to the winning newspaper, the one with the highest editorial budget in the world and the biggest staff, the New York Times. The Timesstacks this hed and these deks to take top honors:


Flurry of Late Spending

Turnout Is Seen as Crucial
as Control of Congress
Hangs in Balance

The hed contains all the news value of "Sun To Appear in East." In what national election do candidates not make an exhausted dash for the finish line? When do flurries of late spending not appear? When are turnouts not seen as crucial? The Santa Barbara News-Press reprises the fatigue theme with, "Candidates use every last minute."

The Press-Enterprisein Riverside, Calif., indicates that fascist dictatorship has yet to take the United States with its hed, "Now voters get their say," as does the Chicago Tribune with, "Voters have the last word," and the Detroit Free Presswith, "Have Your Say." From the Denver Post, "Today, voters have their say." Say, say, say.

The San Francisco Chronicle goes minimalist with "Decision Day" spread across the full width of Page One. News value? Zero. The Philadelphia Inquirer restates the obvious with, "Balance hangs on key races," as if key races have never had much to do with the balance before.

The Washington Postdesperately attempts to inject news into its headline:

Angry Campaigns End on an Angrier Note

This ridiculously implies that previous campaigns have been less combative. The piece running under the hed doesn't provide any documentary evidence that the campaign was especially angry, nor does it give any examples of angrier notes sounded. In fact, all the photos of candidates in the Post depict them as grinning fools. Happy is the new anger? As its lede story, the Miami Heraldre-hedlines this very same Post story "High Stakes." I guess they missed the anger part.

The Los Angeles Timesfails stupendously to embrace my challenge with its Page One hed, "Voting in a neck-and-neck nation: Party rivalry and heated debate over Iraq stir electorate." The hed says something demonstrable and then demonstrates it! No wonder the Los Angeles Timesis going to hell.

Reader Andrew Reynolds votes for "Tips Before Voting" from the Chicago Tribune, which reports, "It may sound strange, but voters should make sure their fingers aren't greasy when they go to the polls Tuesday." Dirty hands can foul touch-screen voting machines and keycards, it seems. The Tribune neglects to remind readers to also wipe.

Dick Smith sends in, "Elections are today. If teens were allowed to vote, would they?" from the Macon Telegraph. Smith's editorial comment: "If grandma had balls, she'd be grandpa."

(What's itching your craw this fine, angry election day? E-mail me at ... 1:09 p.m. (link)

Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

A quiet sets over the press corps on the Monday before a national election. The boys and girls who have covered the campaigns for the last six months have nothing left in their tanks, and the headline writers know it. "Parties Crank Up Voter Turnout Efforts," whimpers the Washington Post'sabove-the-fold headline this morning. Below the fold at the Post,it's "Candidates Making Final Push to Break Out." Crank Up! Push Out! Well, given the date, the headline writers can't very well go with The Campaign Heats Up, can they?

The only newspaper with less genuine news than the Monday-before-the-election edition is the Tuesday-day-of-election edition, as we'll see in six or seven hours from now when the bulldog editions reach convenience stores and hawkers outside of bars. Nothing will have changed between Sunday night, when the Monday paper went to bed, and Monday night, when Tuesday's got tucked in. But across the country, tens of thousands of column inches will be sacrificed by talented, exhausted writers pumping nothingness out of the void and calling it news.

So, if this column reaches you in time, save yourself some pain and cash and don't buy the Tuesday newspaper. If you subscribe, do yourself a favor—tear out the first half of the A section and discard it. If you can purge your paper of its editorial section without looking at it, do so, and go directly to the sports section, which unlike the style, metro, and business sections, will make no attempt to talk politics.

Election news won't begin to swell until supper time, and then it will rush in like a mean high tide over a mud flat. By 8 p.m. everybody—news writers and news consumers, parched for real news during the last couple of days—will be drowning on the stuff. John Dickerson, Mickey Kaus, Bruce Reed, and I intend to bail out the ship of Slate by filing all day and into the night.

Before I commence bailing on Tuesday, my first assignment will be scouring the morning papers for the most vacant non-news political story I can find. See you then.

(Found a vapid election-day story? E-mail it to me at ... 6:00 p.m. (link)