The beat goes on
Having endorsed Michael Powell as a moderate and a bridge builder (B & C, Dec. 18) and Susan Ness as a steady and conscientious hand-on-the-tiller, if sometimes steering a course from which we diverge (B & C, Jan. 1), our tour of once and future FCC commissioners turns to Harold Furchtgott-Roth, the commissioner who marches to the beat of a different, but deregulatory, drum.
Coming in, the erudite commissioner suprised many TV executives with his admission that he didn't own a TV set. But since then, the commissioner has shown himself to be not only no foe of the technology (he acquired a set for his office) but an outspoken advocate for deregulation of the medium. His independent voice sometimes ruffles feathers on both sides, but this page has a soft spot for absolutists in good causes, particularly ones who advocate a public interest that puts the freedom of the electronic press first.
Someone who believes that accepting the middle ground on key principles is analogous to taking King Solomon up on his initial offer should not be castigated for a failure to compromise those principles. From his defense of a broadcaster's right to choose between carrying a debate or a ballgame to his opposition to using the switch to digital to mandate more content-related public interest obligations, he has shown himself to be a true believer. He cemented his status with this page in 1998 when he attacked commission attempts to rule by "voluntary" standards, which he said "provide a dangerous mechanism for the evasion of statutory limits on delegated authority." That is a point this page has been driving home like a fence post into frozen ground for a long time.
In the tug-of-war between regulatory and deregulatory philosophies, it is good to have someone anchoring the deregulatory side just to keep the result from going too far the other way. Enough analogies. The commissioner is bright, hard-working and worthy of reappointment.
CBS last week released its report on election-night miscalls. The network immediately got points here for the straightforward way in which its findings were presented.
CBS released the report in tandem with a story posted on its cbsnews.com Web site, saying that, "along with other networks, CBS News blew it." The 87-page report was part mea culpa ("the ultimate responsibility for the calls we made lies with us at CBS news") and part apologia ("We-and the public-know that some of the events that affected our reporting on election night were beyond our control.")
Both are appropriate. The networks did mess up, but so did the people employing punch cards and styluses and designing butterfly ballots. Given that so many thousands of ballots were thrown out in Florida, and north of a million and a half nationwide, we may never know just how accurate the first exit poll for Gore was. They are usually very accurate. CBS points out that the exit-poll model has been used to call some 2,000 races since the late '60s, with only six errors before our recent 200-year-flood of a 2000 race.
We endorse CBS' fixes, including repairing Voter News Service; supporting a uniform poll-closing bill; mixing the "decision desk" analysts in with the journalists so that calls are more the product of dialogue and less like dicta; creating a "leaning" category as a buffer between a "call" and a "too close"; and telling viewers how and why calls are made.