Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

News executives explain Election Night coverage to Congress

February 15, 2001


— The heads of the United States' largest television news networks, called Wednesday to Capitol Hill to account for errors in their coverage of presidential election results, were forced to watch a videotape of the night's most embarrassing moments and listen to hours of testimony detailing their mistakes.

The network heads, joined by the president of The Associated Press, waited in hard-backed chairs for more than five hours before they could explain themselves and bring a charge of their own that the five-week battle over Florida's would have happened even if they had gotten it right.

"Millions of votes are thrown out in election after election. Now there's a story, there's a screw-up," said Andrew Lack, president of NBC News. "I just ask respectfully that you extend your focus beyond not just the problems the media had on Election Night, but the problems voters had on Election Day."

After taking their places at the witness table in the elegant hearing room of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the men who run ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox News and AP bristled when they were sworn in before testifying.

The president of Voter News Service, the polling organization whose faulty data led the news organizations that shared it to make two premature calls of victory in Florida, also took the oath.

A visibly uncomfortable Louis Boccardi, head of AP, said he didn't feel it was necessary to be sworn in. He also protested being called to Washington, saying fixing the mistakes was "a job for the nation's editors and news directors, not legislators."

Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News, said that "with or without a swearing-in photo-op we will hide nothing."

Despite the nearly eight-hour hearing, there was little new to add to the results of internal investigations the organizations have already released about the night's errors.

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