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House Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on TV Election Night CoverageAired February 14, 2001 - 4:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: What happened election night November 7th in the year 2000? You've been watching since 11:00 a.m. here on CNN the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing with regard to in- house and independent investigations, with regard to what went wrong during the presidential race and the counting and reporting of votes. So far, you have heard from consultants who have looked into the coverage. They've talked about their findings. They've had Q&As with members of Congress rather.
And coming up will be the network chiefs. We have a list of them here: from CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC. Also, the Associated Press and VNS.
They're getting ready to be sworn in, give their opening statements and then also engage in Q&A.
We want to bring in our congressional correspondent, Kate Snow now. She has been following the hearing. And Kate, thanks for joining up here with us.
KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
PHILLIPS: Why don't we talk more about VNS, what VNS is, and sort of set up where we go from here, Kate.
SNOW: Sure, sure, Kyra. Let's summarize briefly what happened earlier today.
VNS is the Voter News Service. That's a service, an organization used by all of the networks, by the Associated Press to judge races, to sort of call races on election night.
There's been a lot of criticism of VNS. You heard a lot of back and forth about whether Voter News Service aired in its judgments. In fact, you're going to hear now shortly from the director of that agency, who will say, yes, that they have made some mistakes. He will say we owe the public an explanation of the mistakes that we made last November.
Another issue that's been coming up, whether exit polls should even be used to try to gauge races and to try to call early -- call elections early: some Democrats attempting to place all of the blame here on VNS, on the Voter News Service and on those exit polls. So far, the committee, as you mentioned, has heard from there experts who are outside experts, journalists who had been engaged by CNN, by this company, to do an outside review of CNN's own election coverage. There was also a gentlemen there who had appeared, who had done a study of Voter News Service.
Now, one of the authors of the CNN study, Ben Wattenberg, a political demographer also happens to work for a conservative thank think, has suggested that exit polling, that it's helpful as an analytical tool, but he said its usefulness as a predictive tool is no longer. He said it's almost worthless.
The report author for CNN has suggested that exit polling should, in fact, no longer be used. CNN the network has said that it will use exit polling now only in cases where elections are very close.
Also one other thing, Kyra, a lot of talk about bias, intentional or nonintentional. Intentional bias has been denied by all of the networks, and in fact, the committee chairman, who you've been seeing, Mr. Tauzin, has said there is no intentional bias. They are concerned, though, that there has been some unintentional bias in some of the models used to project these races -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Kate, please stand by. We're going to go ahead and listen into the hearing as the network news execs come before Congress to be sworn in and give their opening statements and then engage in Q&A. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... of the law firm Clifford, Chance, Rogers and Wells.
REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R-LA), CHAIRMAN, COMMERCE COMMITTEE: OK. Counsel, you may move forward and sit at the table with your client if you like. And counsel, will you be giving testimony today?
Counsel, will you be giving personal testimony today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not.
TAUZIN: In that case, let me ask you, Mr. Savaglio, if you will raise your right hand and if I may swear you in. Do you swear that the testimony that you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
TED SAVAGLIO, DIRECTOR, VOTER NEWS SERVICE: I do.
TAUZIN: Then, sir, you are now under oath and we will take your -- some of your testimony.
SAVAGLIO: Thank you.
Thank you, Chairman Tauzin and members of the committee. Last fall, we witnessed the closest election that anyone could have imagined. Its closeness brought to light a series of flaws in the election procedures and in reporting on the electoral process to the American people. Those flaws included errors made by the Voter News Service, of which I'm the executive director.
As professionals who have tabulated, analyzed and reported on thousands of elections, my staff and I have spent this post-election period working to understand precisely how those errors occurred and how to prevent them in the future.
The electoral process is a cornerstone of our nation. Reporting on the culmination of that process is a serious responsibility. We owe the public an explanation on the mistakes that have been made. I can assure you we feel that responsibility keenly.
At the outset, there is one matter I would like to lay to rest. In reporting to our members and our subscribers, and indirectly to the American public, we have one paramount concern: reporting and analyzing the results of the election accurately and quickly as possible. The notion that some kind of political bias enters into our work is simply without foundation. And I'm pleased, Mr. chairman, that it appears to be common ground among us here today.
I also appreciate the assurances that you have given that this process will not offend the free-speech principles that we must -- both must defend.
The Voter News Service was created in 1993 and is owned by ABC, the AP, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC. They are among the leading news organizations in the country and they are committed to the highest standards of journalism.
The purpose of the Voter News Service is to collect, tabulate, and disseminate vote returns, exit poll data and projections of election contests. That information is distributed to our six member organizations and to other subscribing news outlets who conduct their own analysis and interpretation and report it to the American people as they see fit.
In addition to providing information to analyze election results, VNS projects the outcome of contests to its members and subscribers. Our projections are based on complex statistical analysis that take many factors into account, including, among other things, the actual vote in sample precincts, tabulated vote at the county level, and the exit poll. All of this data is reviewed and interpreted by VNS analysts, who add their own knowledge and experience before making a decision. Projections are made by people, not by computers.
Since 1990, when the first joint polling and projection effort began, we've been involved in nearly 900 elections around the nation. The methods that we used to project winners in those races have only been wrong once before. In other words, we've been right 99.8 percent of the time.
Unfortunately, when you make a mistake as glaring as calling Al Gore the winner in Florida, the number of times you've been right seems less relevant. The plain fact is that despite our best efforts, the Voter News Service let down its members and subscribers and ultimately the American public. We're determined never to let that happen again.
On election night, our statistical models, based on our exit polls and actual vote from a number of sample precincts, showed that Vice President Gore was ahead in Florida. Our decision team considered other variables and determined that the data clearly justified making a call. The reality, however, is that the race was a virtual tie.
Based on all that we've learned since then, the error in Florida was due to a convergence of a number of factors to which all polling and projections are subject, which in this case all pointed in the direction of a Gore victory. None of these factors alone would have caused the error, but taken together, they did.
Later, after the Gore calls in Florida had been made and retracted, we discovered problems in the tabulation of the actual Florida votes that led to the race being called for President Bush.
In one case, Volusia County, VNS passed on incorrect numbers that were released by election officials, and this went undiscovered until after the Bush calls had been made. Moreover, we significantly underestimated the number of votes outstanding.
Based on this experience and following the recommendations in the Research Triangle Institute study and in other reports, we are actively pursuing a number of improvements, including the following: using larger samples for the exit polls; developing new procedures to account for the effects of the growing absentee and early vote; rewriting the VNS projection and statistical models; working to improve exit poll accuracy and response; completing work on the integration of the Associated Press' tabulated vote as a second source of information; and developing more sophisticated quality in the tabulated vote systems and in the rest of our systems; and finally upgrading and modernizing the VNS -- excuse me -- the VNS technical capabilities and infrastructure.
We are taking these steps because as journalists, we are deeply committed to the integrity and accuracy of our reporting. We're determined to do everything humanly possible to make sure that these mistakes will never be made again.
TAUZIN: Thank you, very much, Mr. Savaglio.
Next, we will welcome Mr. Louis Boccardi, the president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press.
Mr. Boccardi, are you also aware that the committee is holding an investigated hearing? In doing so, we have practice of taking testimony under oath. Do you have any objection to testifying under oath?
LOUIS D. BOCCARDI, PRESIDENT & CEO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: If it's necessary for me to warrant to speak, I have no objection, but I don't think it's necessary. TAUZIN: Well, the chair advises you, under the rules of the House, you are entitled to advice by counsel if you desire to be advised by counsel during the testimony today.
BOCCARDI: The counsel is here.
TAUZIN: OK, in that case, if you please raise your right hand, I will swear you in?
Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
BOCCARDI: I do.
TAUZIN: Then, sir, you're sworn in and we may receive your testimony.
BOCCARDI: Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, good afternoon. The previous witnesses and those who are going to follow me have spoken and will speak in some detail about November 7 and 8. Before I say something about that, I wanted to take just a couple of minutes very briefly to make a different point.
We all accept the seriousness of what happened. That's beyond question. But I first want to place on the record a deep concern about the nature and scope of the committee's inquiry into decisions made by journalists in the course of gathering and reporting the news.
The chairman has said in correspondence with executives of Voter News Service and the networks that there are potential First Amendment issues raised by what you're doing. We agree with that assessment, there certainly are.
AP has serious doubts that the committee and its staff, no matter how sensitive they may be, can avoid crossing the line between appropriate government concerns with the electoral process itself, and on the other hand, inappropriate government involvement with the reporting on that process by a free press.
To put it more plainly, we believe that such an official government inquiry into essentially editorial matters, summoning the people who sit here, is inconsistent with the First Amendment values that are fundamental to our society. I say that with conviction, but without disrespect to the important role; important, but I think critically different role, than that of the media that is played by the various branches of government.
I respect you. As a citizen, I benefit from you. But your job is different from mine, and a hearing such as this confuses the two. We agree that there was serious shortcomings, call them terrible mistakes, I do, in the election reporting from Florida on November 7 and 8. These mistakes cannot be allowed to happen again.
But fixing them is a job for the nation's editors, not for its legislators. What we report and when we report it are matters between us and the audience we try serve. They're not matters between us and our congressmen.
The written statement I have submitted to you reflects what we believe to be the limits of an appropriate public account to a government body of how AP did its work last November 7 and through the morning of November 8. It's an account we've given in stories, speeches and interviews. I will not take your time to repeat it in the few minutes you allow me this afternoon.
The AP is a mutual cooperative that collects and distributes reports to its member organizations. Those members, in turn, disseminate that news to their readers, their viewers and listeners. Like newspapers, AP is free of government licensing.
Our member editors and publishers and broadcasters hold us strictly accountable for honoring a bedrock of impartiality, for vigorously defending the rights of the media to collect and report the news free of outside interference both in the United States and overseas. And overseas, some of our people have paid the ultimate price for this commitment, their lives.
We've covered every presidential campaign since 1848, the year we were founded. AP editors staffed a newly-opened office in New York to report that Zachary Taylor had defeated Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren to become the nation's 12th president.
We meet with you this afternoon to talk about the election of our 43rd. Reporting the names of election winners promptly has always required substantial effort on our part because, as the committee members know, the official vote canvass can take days or even weeks to complete and to announce.
To produce official, unofficial, but accurate results for the public can promptly know who won. AP collects returns at the local level, tabulates them with the greatest care and reports them. In this way we are able to provide timely results, not only of national and statewide election contests, but also state legislative races.
We collect results on 6,000 elections in a quadrennial or biannual year. That number includes the 500 or so for which Voter News Services also has done tabulations. In terms of races covered, we are the largest, and forgive me, we think the most reliable collector of returns in the country.
Our standards for deciding when to declare a projected election winner have not changed substantially. They are not secret. We've recited them publicly before. Statewide returns from VNS and from AP's own vote collection network are monitored in each state bureau by individuals well-versed in state political demographics and the dynamics of individual contests. In the case of federal elections, analyst in Washington become engaged.
We've given a public explanation several times of our work last November. I've restated in what I gave the committee before today. We made one erroneous projection on election night; the early call of Florida for Gore. It was based on flawed data and analysis from VNS, but we take full responsibility for what we did. The committee already knows from its review of several publicly released studies by VNS and its members, and from its conversations with the managers of VNS, the search for the origins of the erroneous early Florida projection is focused on certain statistical assumptions about the makeup and behavior of the voters that turned out to be incorrect. No point in my citing them again here.
In regard to the late Bush call, as the committee is aware, AP did not join in the early morning victory declaration that the networks made. It was our independent editorial judgment based on our own voting counting and what we saw from VNS and the input of our analyst that the race was too close to call. As indeed, it turned out to be. It would be right to summarize that the pressure on AP at that moment was enormous.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, AP agrees with much that has been said here all day and will be said after I finish by the network news chiefs. We agree: No projection should be made until all polls in a state are closed. We agree: The Florida mistake seriously damaged the news media in the eyes of the public we serve. We agree that VNS must be intensively reviewed to eliminate technical and any other weaknesses, administrative or anything else.
What's broken must be fixed. What's broken, I might add, includes many aspects of the election system outside the purview and capacities of the media. We feel deeply the distinction that must be maintained between the editorial process and legislative inquiry. And I worry that a proceeding such as this blurs that distinction.
Thank you very much.
TAUZIN: Thank you very much.
I might add that we all share a mutual respect. I hope we understand that for our different roles. And I appreciate your concerns, and we have tried to be very sensitive to them throughout the process.
Let me add one fact. I don't believe that AP was invited to testify in the '80s. But I know the networks were and they did participate in hearing in the '80s. And we did have these conversations in the '80s as a precedent to the ones we're having today.
BOCCARDI: We were not involved in those discussions.
TAUZIN: I don't believe you were involved, that's correct.
And let me also add that I know this is not a rule of our committee, but you all may respectfully decline to answer any question if you think we are intruding. We'll always give you that right. And I hope you will use it lightly, obviously, we're here to find the truth and the facts, but you always have that right and respect for the different roles we play. Let me turn to our next witness, Mr. David Westin, president of ABC News in New York. And, David, if you will join me in the process. Now, David, under the committee practice, investigative hearings it is the practice to take testimony under oath, do you have any objection to testifying under oath?
DAVID WESTIN, PRESIDENT, ABC NEWS: No, sir.
TAUZIN: The chair advises you that under the rules of the House and the rules of the committee you are entitled to the advice by counseling. Do you desire to be advised by counsel during your testimony today?
WESTIN: No, thank you.
TAUZIN: Then if you'll raise your right hand I'll swear you in. Do you swear that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
WESTIN: I do.
TAUZIN: Then you're properly sworn under oath and you may give a summary of your testimony, sir.
WESTIN: Thank you.
I appear before the chair and the members of the committee today to talk about ABC News coverage of the election in November, 2000. In addition to a copy my remarks, I also would like to submit for the record a copy of the February 8 statement that we submitted to committee staff for earlier for the to go through in detail.
TAUZIN: And without objection, it's admitted into the record.
WESTIN: Thank you very much.
Those of us at ABC News are very proud of the job that we've done over many years in covering elections, from the days of Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith through the days of David Brinkley, to the team of journalists headed by Peter Jennings today, we have done everything within our power to make sure that we report elections to our audience in an accurate and timely fashion.
There is literally nothing that we do that is more important to us. And I'm pleased that by and large there have not been exceptions. We've succeeded in our mission of being accurate and timely.
But let me start right at the outset and say, in November we failed twice in the projections we made for president in Florida. Those were serious mistakes. We take them seriously. ABC News is responsible for those. And as the head of ABC News, I am responsible for them.
But ultimately the American people will hold us responsible for what happened. We all are mindful as well, as the chair said more than once today, that in our system of government, it is ultimately the marketplace of ideas protected by the United States Constitution that will correct those mistakes for us. They provide the check on us; not the government.
The morning after the election, on November 8, early in the morning, we began our investigation to find out as much as we possibly could about what happened and what went wrong.
And to answer the question earlier from the chair, that investigation was conducted by internal people from ABC News who are responsible for our standards and practices, by in-house counsel from ABC Inc., which is our corporate parent, and ultimately by the outside law firm of Verner Liipfert, located here in Washington.
So that's who participated in the investigation.
From that investigation we learned a number of things, many of which, frankly, have been reported here.
Early on, two weeks after the election, we came out with a statement in which we addressed a number of the issues that have been raised here, both the commitment to do whatever it takes to get VNS fixed, to address things like absentee ballots, to address things like errors that arise in exit polls. Also to support a change, frankly, in ABC News policy so that we will no longer project the winner of a race in a state until all the polls, every one of them, have closed within the state, which is, as you indicated earlier, Mr. Chairman, a change from what we talked about in 1985.
We also, in that early stage said it was critically important as we go forward that we are much clearer and more emphatic about what a projection is and what it isn't. It is not reporting the ultimate certified result of a race; it is a statistical estimate which always has a margin of error in it. And we need to do a better job of explaining that to all of our viewers. We are committed to making whatever changes need to be made.
At the same time, I have to say, with all the problems we've talked about today and I've heard about with VNS and with exit polls and with absentee ballots, all of which are terribly important and need to be addressed, we could have served our viewers much better if, on election night, we had been clearer about what was going on when we were making a projection.
We've tried to do that over the years, but we have fallen back in part, frankly, because of the success of the process over many years.
I think it bears reminding that for many, many years, this process has generated accurate projections. And even November 7, ABC News made some 100 projections of races, and we were wrong in one instance, a very serious one, and we take it very seriously, but we do need to put it into perspective. In addition, in reflecting on our system and how it works, we concluded that we could have served our viewers better if we had done a better job of insulating the key people -- our professional analysts who are looking at the data as they come in and looking at the statistical models -- had insulated them better from the competitive pressures that inevitably arise.
And I can tell you that if you sit there and four of your competitors have projected the next president of the United States and you haven't, there is a lot of competitive pressure -- what anybody will tell you.
Now you'll notice I haven't really talked about VNS. And there's a reason for that. We're a co-owner of VNS. We're on the board of VNS. We're responsible ultimately for the accuracy of the output of VNS, just as if ABC News people were out there conducting all the exit polls and gathering all the raw vote data from the counties and from the precincts, and I don't want to shrink from that responsibility. I have to be direct and honest about it.
Having said that and having reviewed what we've reviewed at this point, I must also tell you that I continue to believe that properly corrected -- and there are a number of corrections we can talk about some more -- properly corrected, the VNS approach, supported by our decision desk and our professional analysts, remains the best and most accurate way of doing timely reporting of the election, which is our only goal, ultimately.
In conclusion, let me address for a moment the possibility of effect on voter behavior of early projections, because there's been a lot of discussion about that today.
From what I know -- and I'm not a professional in this area; some academics looked at it -- it is inconclusive, it is complicated.
Nevertheless, as I said earlier, we are committed to try to help address this in two ways: number one, not to project the race in any state until all the polls, not just the substantial majority, have closed in that state; but number two, we wholeheartedly support the efforts of certain members of this committee to adopt a uniform poll closing time.
We think that's the right approach. And speaking personally, I would be perfectly happy with a world in which we don't make any projections, in which there's a uniform time for closing and there's a system of voting in this country that is so reliable and so instantaneous that ABC News in future elections can simply get on the air and say, "These are the actual, bona fide, certified results." I'd be very pleased with that. But until we can get to that time in this country, ABC News, I can assure you, will remain committed to doing our very best to reporting accurately and in a timely fashion on all elections.
TAUZIN: Thank you very much, sir. And next will be Mr. Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News of New York.
Mr. Heyward, if you will help me through the process again.
As you are aware, the committee is holding an investigative hearing. When doing so, we have the practice of taking testimony under oath. Do you have any objection to testifying under oath?
ANDREW HEYWARD, PRESIDENT, CBS NEWS: Given that it's your practice, Mr. Chairman, it's OK with me.
TAUZIN: Thank you, sir. The chair then advises you that under the rules of the House and the rules of the committee you're entitled to be advised by counsel.
HEYWARD: No, thanks.
TAUZIN: You do not? In any case, then would you please raise your right hand and we'll swear you in?
Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
HEYWARD: I do.
TAUZIN: Thank you, sir. You're now under oath. You may give your testimony.
HEYWARD: Thanks very much, Chairman Tauzin, Congressman Dingell, members of the committee. I am Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and I appreciate the opportunity to turn on the microphone and to provide my comments on this subject: news coverage of election night 2000.
CBS News and the other network news operations made very, very serious mistakes that night, and they're mistakes that all of us at the table, and certainly I, deeply regret. Our Florida flip-flops were deeply embarrassing to us, and, more importantly, damaging to our most important asset, which is the hard-won credibility that we fought for over the years with our viewers and listeners and Internet users.
It's evident, in retrospect, we should not have called Florida for either candidate. Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you've heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time, and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time, in the very state that held the key to this election.
That's why everyone at this table has acknowledged the problems and I think moved very quickly to address them, not in response to outside pressure or to criticism, but at our own initiative. The American people, who are our viewers and listeners, deserve nothing less than this.
On November 14, CBS News appointed a distinguished three-person panel, including a well-known outside expert, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who's dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, to investigate what went wrong and to recommend a set of steps for future election coverage.
On January 4, the panel issued an exhaustive, 87-page report, and we made it available to you and every American citizen on our web site, CBSNEWS.com. We've also entered its recommendations into the record of this proceeding.
The recommendations are far reaching and thoughtful, and CBS News intends to adopt all of them. Very briefly, we will strengthen the checks and balances on the CBS News decision desk, which is the entity responsible for analyzing exit poll data and vote data on election night. We will beef up our news-gathering resources on the ground in key states with particularly close races. And we'll toughen the criteria for projecting winners in very close races.
We'll develop and we will consult multiple sources for vote tallies. We will explain to the audience very clearly how exit polls work and exactly how a particular projection is made. We will clarify our language and our graphics to distinguish more clearly between projections and final results. We'll also work with our network colleagues to address problems with the Voter News Service, and if necessary, we will develop alternatives to VNS. And finally, we will not project the winner in a state until all the polls have closed there.
Now, I believe that these changes and similar ones that have been announced by our competitors will go a very long way toward ensuring the credibility that draws a vast national audience to election night coverage on television.
Having said that, I think it's equally important to point out that I don't accept all of the criticisms that have been leveled at the networks. The notion that the pattern of state-by-state calls reflected bias against President Bush, for example, has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who were the most highly critical of us.
I was glad to hear say again today, Mr. Chairman, that the committee's investigators found no evidence of intentionally misleading or biased reporting.
This election also revived the decades-old debate about calling races in states before all the polls have closed there. Our report, like the findings of the other networks, rejects the argument that the first call in Florida, which occurred about 10 minutes before the final 5 percent of the state polls closed in the panhandle, had any measurable effect on voters. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, given the widespread perception that network projections do affect voter behavior, CBS News has decided that in future elections we will not project the winner in a state until all the polls have closed there.
There's a simple way to resolve this issue once and for all, we've heard a lot about it today, one that CBS News has advocated since the mid-1960s: That's a uniform national poll closing.
We applaud you the news that you, Mr. Chairman, along with Congressmen Dingell, and Markey and Stearns and several other committee members are sponsoring such a bill.
Finally, I think it's important, and this is really important to me, not to confuse news coverage of the election with the election itself. It took the nation, not the networks, the nation five weeks to pick a president. Let's assume for a second that we had gotten Florida right and never projected a winner there. The country would still have undergone its five-week marathon and there would still have been debate about the outcome and how it was reached.
We come here today voluntarily out of our sense of duty to this respected body and to the American people that all of us here serve. I want to state for the record that I'm very grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, for your written assurances that the hearing is not out to prove a point or make a political statement, and that this committee will in all respects continue to be mindful of our First Amendment rights and protections in this matter.
But the Constitution does protect us against unwarranted interference from government, but we, like you, are accountable to the most important constituency of America, the citizens of this great nation. So, please accept that it's in that spirit that I'm here to answer your questions and thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
TAUZIN: Thank you very much, and I deeply appreciate that attitude. That's what this is indeed all about. I was asked this morning what this was about, I identified it as platform for all of us to come and tell the American public what we're going to do to make it better, and that's essentially it. I thank you for that.
Our next witness will be Mr. Tom Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of CNN in Atlanta, Georgia. And Mr. Johnson, if you will help me through this again. You are aware that the committee is holding an investigative hearing and that when doing so, it's a practice to take testimony under oath. Do you have objection to testifying under oath?
TOM JOHNSON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, CNN: I do not.
TAUZIN: The chair then advises you under our rules and the rules of the committee, you are entitled to be advised by counsel.
JOHNSON: I am.
TAUZIN: In that case, would you raise your right hand, sir -- oh, you have your counsel. I didn't hear that.
JOHNSON: I do, Mr. Floyd Abrams.
TAUZIN: Do you intend to testify, counsel?
ABRAMS: No, your honor. No, I will not testify. TAUZIN: Then would you please raise your hand, sir? Do you swear that the testimony you are going to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
JOHNSON: I do.
TAUZIN: Thank you, sir.
Counsel, you're entitled to sit at the panel, if you'd like to.
ABRAMS: No, thank you. Fine.
JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I appear before you today to outline the decisions CNN has reached about the changes we will make in future election night coverage. At the outset, I would like to say that CNN is acutely aware of our responsibilities to the American public, and of the responsibility of Congress to enact appropriate legislation relating to the electoral process.
At the same time, as you have heard earlier today, there are sensitive First Amendment issues raised by any hearing relating to editorial decisions by journalists, and I trust the committee will, as it has said, bear those in mind.
Looking back on campaign 2000 coverage, I am very proud of the hundreds of CNN journalists who devoted their efforts to informing the American public about the issues of this last election. However, CNN did make major mistakes both in its initial projection of Vice President Gore as a winner in Florida and then in prematurely projecting that then-Governor George Bush had won in Florida.
As a result, I appointed a totally independent panel to advise us of what went wrong, why it happened, and what should be done to prevent a recurrence in the future. You heard from that outside panel earlier today.
As a result of our full review and to ensure complete reliability in the future, CNN has announced a number of decisions last week. The first relates to CNN's future connection with VNS. We will remain with VNS if, and only if, significant changes are made. The errors that plagued election night 2000 must never be repeated.
Among the action steps: a revision of VNS's projection system and statistical models, these then will be reviewed by outside experts; additional research into methods for better estimating the increasing number of absentee and early voters as well as to better analyze the nonresponse rates and possible statistical bias which we discussed in the exit polls themselves.
Beyond the efforts to improve VNS, CNN has decided it will have a second source for the data used to make projections for the close races. CNN will fund a back-up sample precinct vote reporting system in the states that are expected to have the most competitive races. We will then crosscheck the information we receive from this second source against the VNS data, making any projection based on the data more reliable. Also, CNN will insist that the Associated Press tabulation system, which has been very reliable, be better integrated into the VNS election night data collection system. CNN also will limit our reliance on exit polls. We will only use exit poll survey data to project a winner when the data indicate clearly that one of the candidates has a large margin at closing time.
Twenty-six states were called by CNN using VNS exit poll data. All of those were correct calls. Despite that, CNN will raise significantly the criteria for future election exit poll projections. If a race cannot be called at poll closing, CNN will only project a winner in that state using actual vote data from the statewide vote tabulations and sample precincts.
One of the lessons learned from election night is that when a race is extremely close, the reported vote might be incorrect. Therefore, even if it is reported that all the outstanding ballots in a state are counted, CNN will not project a winner if the balloting shows there is a less than 1 percent margin between the two candidates.
These new policies certainly will slow down our election night projections. Had these standards been in place this past year, we would have delayed at least 30 minutes in 10 states and Florida never would have been called early in the evening for Vice President Gore or in the early morning hours for Governor Bush. And, as you heard from others today, CNN also has decided it will no longer project a winner in any state until all the polls are closed within that state.
As a result of our review, CNN also will change our language regarding projections. CNN anchors will avoid saying that a state is too close to call, if, in fact, we just don't have enough data available to make the call in that state. And CNN's anchors will describe more specifically in each state the basis for our projections, whether it is exit polls, sample precincts or the reported votes.
With these and the other proposed changes, I am confident that the errors of the past will not be repeated. I do want to respond to one question that's been raised and I think it's been emphasized earlier today, our reporting about election night was not biased. CNN's selection of which states to project winners at particular times in the evening was not biased.
And on the matter of legislation -- and I say this as much as a former Californian, as a person today living in Georgia -- I strongly urge the Congress to adopt a nationwide uniform poll closing act. If such an act were adopted, CNN would not make any projections until all of the polls are closed nationwide.
To close, I assure this committee that CNN will go the last mile to fix the problems which have been identified, as I have told our staff and I know that we all understand it, we would rather be right than first. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
TAUZIN: Thank you very much, sir. And our next panelist will be Mr. Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox News, New York, New York. And Mr. Ailes, if you will help me through this process.
You are aware that our practices is to take testimony under oath when we are doing an investigative hearing; do you have any objection to testifying under oath?
ROGER AILES, CHAIRMAN & CEO, FOX NEWS: It wouldn't make any difference. I plan to tell the truth either way.
TAUZIN: Very good. The chair advises you, under the rules of the House and the rules of the committee, you are entitled to be advised by counsel. Do you desire to be advised by counsel?
AILES: My counsel is here, Dianne Brandy (ph) and (inaudible) so whatever she does not plan to testify.
TAUZIN: In that case, would you please raise your right hand? Do you swear the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
AILES: I do.
TAUZIN: Thank you, sir. You are now under oath and you may give your testimony.
AILES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Dingell, who I guess is not here, members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to tell what happened on election night, 2000.
This was Fox News' first cycle with VNS, '98 and 2000 and our first presidential election. In a sense, both the networks and Congress have similar tasks: We've had to come up with solutions for our reporting on election night and Congress is considering election reform and campaign finance reform. These are very complicated issues and take years to sort out.
But in just a few weeks, we've come up with what we collectively believe are solutions to the problems that we had on election night, 2000.
Like you, I'm concerned about the mistakes we made. Our viewers depend on us for reliable and accurate information, especially during important events like the presidential election. If we lose their confidence, we lose everything.
For this reason, at my direction, Fox News performed an in-depth review of events that transpired on election night. As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history, the wheels apparently came off of a rattle-trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.
As Fox relied on those numbers, we gave our audience bad information. Our lengthy and critical self-examination shows that we let our viewers down. I apologize for making those bad projections that night; it will not happen again.
We were the first network to announce that we will never call a state again until all the polls are closed in that state. We are working on internal safeguards, including placing more of our own personnel in key precincts to gather information and report results. If we stay with VNS, we will spend more money to help fix the computer models and report the elections.
FOX News favors Mr. Markey, Mr. Dingell, Chairman Tauzin's legislation for universal closing times across the nation.
Now, I would like to say a few words about this hearing. From the beginning, Fox News has cooperated fully with this committee to find solutions. While I honor and respect this committee's role in searching for legislative solutions, Mr. Chairman, I am deeply disappointed that this is being handled as an investigative and not a legislative fact-finding matter. I am further disappointed that this committee views its role as adversarial, requiring us to take an oath as if we have something to hide. We do not.
With or without the swearing in photo-op, we will hide nothing.
I know all of these gentlemen on this table personally. I have worked with some. We are all competitors and in some cases we don't agree on issues. In other cases, we're not even that fond of each other.
However, we all understand the importance of our respective journalistic enterprises and journalistic integrity. And they, as well as I, will tell the truth whether we are under oath or not.
Everything our organizations did on election night was done under the protection of the First Amendment. And that may become more relevant as these discussions and questions continue.
The final personal note: There seems to be a bipartisan agreement that we should slow down our competitive spirit and thereby slow down the election, and I can almost assure you that if you put us through another day like this, the next results may not be known for three weeks. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
TAUZIN: Thank you, Mr. Ailes.
I'd like to report to the committee that we held quite a number of investigative hearings during the last session of Congress. We had 128 government and 170 nongovernment witnesses, all of whom traditionally placed under oath. It has no meaning other than the fact that investigative hearings are taken under oath.
Our final witness on this panel will be Mr. Andrew Lack, president of NBC News New York, New York. And Mr. Lack, if you will kindly go through the procedure. You're aware the committee is holding an investigative hearing, and in doing so, the practice has been that we take testimony under oath. Do you have any objection to testifying under oath?
ANDREW LACK, PRESIDENT, NBC NEWS: No, sir.
TAUZIN: The chair advises you under the rules of the House and the rules of the committee you are entitled to be advised by counsel. Do you desire to be advised by counsel during your testimony today?
LACK: No, sir.
TAUZIN: Then if you'll kindly raise your hand, sir? Do you swear that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
LACK: I do.
TAUZIN: Then you are properly sworn and you may give your testimony, sir.
LACK: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you.
I'd expect that you would like to get to some questions and answers pretty quickly, so I'm not going to use all of the time that's been allotted to me for my initial remarks. You already have my prepared statement, and you know that that summarizes the findings of our election night broadcast and details the steps that we're taking and the steps that we have taken to avoid the errors that occurred that night.
Make no mistake about it, we are embarrassed by those errors, and you have heard chapter and verse today from some of my distinguished competitors. I join them in ensuring that we are absolutely intent on avoiding them and making sure that they don't happen again.
But I would, if I may, like to spend just a few moments and take a different cut at this and call your attention to something that is far more embarrassing to me and more important to me as a reporter and as the president of NBC News. It's something which was exposed to the country in the days and weeks following November 7.
And it's something that I worry may get just a little bit lost in the context of these hearings. Where was our reporting before November 7 about the potential impact, of say, ineffective voting machines or confusing ballots or inadequately staffed polling sites? What was the potential impact of a system that might, in fact, be protecting felons who vote?
We knew this was going to be a close election. And I just don't understand quite how it turned out that we didn't know much about automatic recount standards, which are, as you know, somewhat arbitrary and incredibly arcane, at least for me.
We know now that if you are registered to vote, it doesn't always mean that you'll be permitted to. We know that if you're in the military and you mail in an absentee ballot, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be counted. We know that if you are poor in this country, it means that it will likely be that you will have a little more difficulty voting than if you're rich.
And it occurs to me that a good question for us would have been, say, for the price of a new federal highway, could we have gotten this whole system fixed? Millions of votes are thrown out in election after election in this country. Now that's a story, and there is a screw-up.
We didn't do nearly enough digging, it seems to me, into those facts. And if we had asked some of these questions before the election and had some answers, we might have been in a whole lot better shape on election night than we were. We booted it in more ways than one.
So I just ask, respectfully, of this committee that as this hearing winds down, that you extend your focus beyond just the problems that the networks experience on election night and look at the problems that the voters experienced on election day. As a journalist, I wish I had.
And I yield, Mr. Chairman, the balance of my time.
TAUZIN: You do that very well.
The chair recognizes himself and members in order.
Let me first, again, thank you all for voluntarily appearing and for participating under the rules that are set for these types of hearings. And secondly, again, assure you that as we go through this process, I have asked all of the members on our side -- and I know Mr. Dingell has, similarly, requested all members -- to respect the boundaries that we have discussed here today.
Let me first ask you a bit about your thoughts on exit polling and the value of exit polling in this process. The testimony we just heard and a lot of our own research indicates that exit polling has not gotten much better, and it may have gotten worse over the years in being a good determinator in which to make a projection, that as you heard witnesses say, the number of nonresponses drives up the margins of error. And we've seen some statistics indicating as much as 16 percent errors in those election projections because of that and other problems that you have identified, Mr. Savaglio.
Do you disagree that exit polling is getting worse, not better? Anyone? Anyone think it's getting better?
(UNKNOWN): Well, I don't know that I know the scientific answer to that, from a statistician's point of view. But my sense that, in fact, it is getting better. From our conversations at our decision desk and with the people that we speak to at VNS, one of the problems that occurred on election night is they didn't have enough exit polls, arguably, to make some of the projections or to use it as one of the tools that they were using as part of the projection process.
TAUZIN: Does anyone else think -- Mr. Ailes, do you think it is getting better?
AILES: Well, I think, was there some question of bias toward the Democrats in the exit polls? Was this a question that I heard earlier today, that there seemed to be some statistical bias in that direction?
TAUZIN: No, I was just asking: Do you think it's a better reliable indicator of where voters have voted than it was five, 10 years ago?
AILES: It's very hard to tell. Some pollsters will tell you they're getting more accurate. Most pollsters will tell you, even in polling -- let alone exit polls -- that fewer and fewer people are willing to offer information about themselves, personally and privately. But I don't know the empirical data.
I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and if you ask them a question, they tend to think it's none of your business. And Democrats want to share their feelings. So it's...
You may get some bias there that's inadvertent, just because it's a cultural thing, and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training, you're not going to get them to do that.
TAUZIN: Mr. Ailes, that was actually one of the conclusions of the analysis of VNS that was made, that indeed it may be a cultural difference between members of different parties.
WESTIN: Yes, yes. Our statisticians and our analyst have taken a look at this.
PHILLIPS: House panel with the hearings of what went wrong in November's broadcast election. All the television chiefs came before Congress, made their testimony, and after listening to the information from consultants into -- who looked into the coverage about the -- or gave their findings, rather, about what went wrong during the election, the chiefs came to the plate, and all acknowledged that mistakes were made, however made recommendations also on what would take place differently next election.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
PHILLIPS: Welcome back to CNN Center in Atlanta. Since 11:00 a.m. you've been watching here the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing with regard to in-house and independent investigations into what went wrong on election 2000. The network chiefs have given their opening statements. They're now engaging in Q&A with members of Congress on how they are going to make their election coverage more accurate when the next election comes around and also recognizing the mistakes that were made.
Let's listen in.
TAUZIN: ... raised to us as one of the concerns regarding how we resolve this, even if we go to a uniformed poll closing time.
I wanted to do one last thing with the very last minute I got. On the VNS screens, when you post the information to the networks on those screens, we have the screen tabulation for 2:10 in the morning, the screen that was presented to all of the networks when the networks made the call that the election was over, George Bush won. Those screens indicate that there were only -- according to VNS estimates, only 179,000 voters left in Florida to vote. Was that a correct number, Mr. Savaglio?
SAVAGLIO: No, that was a pretty substantial underestimation.
TAUZIN: By two to one, I mean they had almost twice as number left to vote, right?
SAVAGLIO: Thank you. That was...
TAUZIN: Again, I can make sure that we get the understanding correctly. The screen that presented the information on Florida, the VNS screen, indicated that you had 96 percent of the vote in, 3 percent was out. Of the 179,000 votes was your estimate of votes out. That proved to be fairly inaccurate, right?
SAVAGLIO: Well it was inaccurate, correct. It was a considerable amount 359,000 votes that was...
TAUZIN: Almost twice as much were really out. The screen also says that for Al Gore to have a chance to carry Florida at that moment on that screen, that he needed to get 63 percent of the vote.
TAUZIN: Is -- was that information forwarded to all of the networks at that hour of the night?
SAVAGLIO: Well that was on their screens; and I appreciate that have you asked me the one question that you don't have to be a statistician to answer, because I'm not. The outstanding vote calculation is a very simple -- call it crude if you want -- calculation. It simply states that the number of precincts that have reported out of the total number that are to report, it takes and divides that in assumes that all of the precincts are the same size.
TAUZIN: But they are not.
SAVAGLIO: But they are not. And so, it's simply a ratio -- if 50 percent of the precincts that are in, and there's a thousand votes, it assumes the next 50 percent are going to be another thousand votes and that's -- the reason that the calculation is put in that way is to give the information that's available, it's not possible in most places to get the particular precincts or, at least, it's not possible in our -- in a reporting fashion to put into our system, the specific precincts and their size and the number of votes from each one, as to come up with a more specific number.
TAUZIN: But the bottom line is, you gave the networks that night, on that VNS screen, some relatively inaccurate information, right?
SAVAGLIO: Yes, there's no question about that.
TAUZIN: I believe that Mr. Waxman is next.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. There has been criticism and I mentioned it earlier in my opening statement, that John Ellis, who was President Bush's cousin, and talked with Mr. Bush -- Governor Bush -- now President Bush -- throughout the election night, was responsible for Fox's decision to be the first network to declare George Bush the winner of Florida and the presidency.
Mr. Lack, I would like to know if you would walk me through the process of NBC on election night. Who at NBC had the responsibilities assigned to John Ellis at Fox?
LACK: A gentleman named Dr. Sheldon Glycior (ph), who is the director of our election desk.
WAXMAN: There is an allegation making the rounds that Jack Welsh actually intervened in NBC's decision to call the election for George Bush. I don't know if you have heard that rumor before. I would like to lay it out there and have you comment on it.
LACK: I have heard the rumor. And it's untrue.
WAXMAN: Well, I would hope that the allegation is untrue; if it were, it would be absolutely inappropriate, but I have been told that Mr. Welsh's actions were observed by others, in fact, and even captured on tape, filmed by NBC's advertising and promotions department. It's difficult for me to believe it's true. But it seems there's a simple way to either verify or debunk this allegation.
I would like to have you, if you would, assure us that we would get that tape and Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask you, if you would, to make sure that we have any subpoena that might be necessary so that if there is such a tape, that we have it available to us.
TAUZIN: Our rules will take that under advisement.
WAXMAN: Mr. Lack...
LACK: I don't -- you're certainly welcomed to the tape. I know that the advertising and the promotion is around there. I don't know if there is a tape for you to look at. I was aware that Mr. Welsh was there. I saw him. I observed him. He was in the building to attend a political party -- network party, and he was invited down to observe on a very historic night and a very exciting election night, how we were doing and what we were doing; and that's precisely the manner in which he was there.
I think it's unfortunate that some rumors would get started, that because he -- because he observed our election night process at that point that that would somehow, like in a Rashomon-like tale, turn out to be that he intervened in the elective process, which is untrue and rather foolish. But that's rumor.
WAXMAN: You, yourself, were there at the time?
LACK: Yes, I saw him. I certainly know that that's -- I can state, categorically, that that's just a dopey rumor, truly dopey.
WAXMAN: Well, thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
TAUZIN: Very good.
PHILLIPS: The testimony continues from all the network chiefs as they sit before the House committee hearing with regard to what went wrong during election 2000. We will continue to follow this hearing and the question and answering that's taking place as the executives sit before Congress, members of Congress. We'll continue our coverage write after the break.
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