Keeping the bloggers at bay
Two-by-two, polling specialists from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press will go into rooms in New York and Washington shortly before noon Tuesday. Their cellphones and BlackBerrys will be confiscated; proctors will monitor the doors; and for the next five hours, these experts will pore over exit-poll data from across the country.
If all goes well, only when they emerge from their cloisters will the legions of ravenous political bloggers have any chance of getting their hands on the earliest indication of which party will end up controlling Congress.
Let's just remember folks that this is about protecting the value of their proprietary information, not some high-minded effort to prevent the misuse of the polling data. That's fine. No one is expected to reveal his or her scoop in advance (in this instance, literally before it's ready for primetime).
What remains ironic though is that it's the major news organizations themselves that over-rely on the exit polls and have done so for years. The 2000 and 2004 debacles aside, the exit polls have long driven the networks' election night coverage, providing them with the pretense of speaking authoritatively about the results before the results are known.
It is television that has turned election night into the political equivalent of the Superbowl, where the Democrats and Republicans will battle it out for four hours or so and then a winner will be handed the trophy by a beaming TV announcer. For those four hours, they want us on the couch eating Doritos, not surfing the web for exit poll data.
You wonder though. If all the money the networks pour into exit polling went instead into political reporting, actual
political reporting, wearing out the shoe leather about who's doing what and where during the last hours of the campaigns and on election day, whether the result might be more informative for the electorate. Maybe, for instance, the networks would have caught on to the NRCC's nationwide robocall scam first, instead of the blogs.
The networks closing themselves off in sealed rooms with no connections to the outside world for five hours in the middle of Election Day is, in many ways, the perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the mainstream media.