Crystal Graham: Just the facts please

crystal grahamWhen elections are over and done with next week, I hope my confidence will be restored in network television.

I hope that the networks learned from the mistakes they made four years ago as election results were tabulated.

We’ll know for sure in a matter of days.

Recently, George W. Bush was asked in a town-hall meeting to give examples of mistakes that he made in the past four years since elected President of the United States.

He has been criticized for talking around that question instead of answering it directly.

I’m the first to admit, we all make mistakes.

As a nation, I think we understand that even our president will make a few.

In fact, as a nation, I think we expect our president to make some mistakes throughout his tenure in the White House.

If you asked Dan Rather or another network news anchor today about the election of 2000, I hope they would concede that they made their fair share of mistakes.

And not try to blame everyone else.

Or avoid the question altogether.

The networks made BIG mistakes.

Not one or two errors in judgement, but an entire evening of blunder after blunder after blunder after blunder.

And if those same anchors were asked today how they corrected the mistakes of 2000, I hope they would say …

“Tune in this year. You will see.”

I still remember November 2000.

The entire night seemed like a joke.

A joke on Al Gore.

A joke on the viewers.

And it wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny to Al Gore.

It wasn’t funny to George W.

It wasn’t funny to anyone who truly cared about the election.

It certainly wasn’t funny to me.

I had somehow dozed off hours into watching the returns …

My husband, however, was wide awake.

He’s a political junkie and lives for nights like that one.

He woke me up every five minutes or so with an update.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he would say.

More often that not, he was right.

Everything about that night was unbelievable.

It couldn’t have been scripted better by anyone in Hollywood.

That single night of network disasters generated more fodder for late-night television than the scandalous affair of former president Bill Clinton.

I don’t have to tell anyone who was paying attention to the election coverage, that night was a comedy of errors.

But too much was at stake for many of us to laugh.

Four years ago, most networks called Florida for Al Gore while the polls were still open in the state.

If I lived in Florida and was headed to the polls and heard that Florida had been called for one of the candidates, like most Americans, I would likely find it useless to go cast my one lone vote.

I probably would have made a u-turn and called it a night.

One thing I think we all learned in 2000 was that every single vote does count. We should all have the opportunity to exercise our right to elect the next leader of our wonderful country.
My advice to television stations: don’t spoil our fun.

Don’t be the eager beaver.

Wait until the polls are closed to announce results.

For those of us at home watching the election coverage, it seemed impossible that one station (and then another and another) would call Gore the winner of Florida – before final numbers were in.

Later, those same stations that had predicted the winner in Florida had to retract that call and say the state was too close to call.

Too close to call.

If only they had thought of using that term a bit sooner.

As a television host of a local news program, I understand how some things work in the television business.

I understand how important ratings are to the overall scheme of things.

And I also understand that in this day and age, a lot of quick decisions are made to break a story before the next guy.

But even in this dog-eat-dog world, I know that getting the facts right is even more important than getting the story first.

In light of the election fiasco of 2000, I have a few more suggestions for networks on Nov. 2.
It’s pretty simple really.

Give us the facts.

I don’t care what the person in some booth is telling you in your earpiece.

I don’t care what words someone typed into your teleprompter.

I don’t care to hear your projections or educated guesses.

I don’t care if your exit polls supposedly lean one way or the other.

I don’t care what some computer spits out.

I don’t care who you predict will win.

Give us the facts.

That’s what we rely on you for.

Tell us when all precincts are reporting – tell us then and only then the winner of a state.

It will make for a long night, I admit.

But I’ll be up with you.

We’ll be up with you.

In 2000, Dan Rather assured CBS viewers they could take the network’s projections “to the bank.”

I’m still wondering where I can cash in on that one.

I’m probably not the only one.

As one viewer who represents millions, I ask you to use wise judgement and caution on Nov. 2.
In an election that has been too close to call for weeks now …

… let the other guys make so-called educated guesses.

… let the other guys rely on exit polls.

… let the other guys make the early calls.

… let those other guys end up with egg on their face.

We count on you to report the facts.

Nothing more, nothing less.

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