Editorial: Important Victories


Congratulations are due to President, and President elect, Barack Obama for his hard-won victory, to Gov. Mitt Romney for fighting hard in defeat and exiting with a classy speech, and to the networks that covered Election Night for getting it mostly right, and for putting in long hours and investing in the people and technology to do so.

We all should get a lump in our throats and stand a little taller knowing that we can pound each other’s political positions—to the tune of hundreds of millions in ad dollars to TV stations, those outlets would add, gratefully—without violence or more than the usual amount of rancor. We should also be proud of the investment, expertise and ingenuity that went into covering that battle.

We once wrote on this editorial page, talking about the news resources put toward the coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy, that only a commercial communications system would have the financial wherewithal, flexibility and creativity to pull off such a herculean task. That also holds for the peaceful transfers, or lack of transfer, of power every four years, though that is not meant to be a knock on PBS.

Add to that wherewithal, flexibility and creativity the restraint news outlets showed in not letting speed outrun accuracy—an even tougher task in a world that moves at the speed of tweet—and there was much to be proud of last week.

B&C editor-in-chief Ben Grossman counseled news outlets in his Nov. 5 column: “I know you want to be first, but remember first to be right.” For the most part the outlets appeared to have followed that mantra, which, after some blown calls in past election outings, was defi nitely the better part of journalistic valor.

chronicled the coverage over multiple platforms Election Night and kept track of the horse race element of who called what first (see for yourself at BCBeat.com). But there did not appear to be a headlong rush to be first by a minute or five if it meant going out on a limb that could be sawed off.

The good cop/bad cop team of Wolf Blitzer and John King was one example of an approach that seemed, well, fair and balanced. CNN erred on the conservative side, journalistically that is. While it tended to call some states later than other outlets, it had often more than subtly signaled the likely outcomes through King’s county-bycounty analysis of the votes that were in and the ones that were still out. And whenever King would come close to warming up the fat lady in any particular state, Blitzer would point out that it was still a close race—and that people still needed to vote.

Being first to call a state may earn bragging rights in press releases. But if you’re in journalism to produce the most press releases, then we have some Sunday shoppers looking for content to put opposite ads for gutter cleaning and same-day plumbers.

That me-first game is one played among networks, not a value-add for viewers who have plenty of other places to look if they are not getting accuracy and insight from a news outlet.