DAVID BIANCULLI

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CBS Calls Indiana for Clinton, Then Sweats Hours Waiting for a Second Opinion
May 7, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
indiana-vote-too-close-95-p.jpgFor a while Tuesday night, and into Wednesday morning, there were fewer than 15,000 votes between CBS and a potentially huge embarrassment.

Almost six hours after Katie Couric presented a prime-time newsbreak awarding North Carolina to Barack Obama and Indiana to Hillary Clinton, no other network had yet called a winner in the Indiana race.

Couric called the races at 8:09 p.m., projecting the results, at it turned out, correctly. But in Indiana, the margin was so small, and the amount of missing votes from one key county so crucial, that as time went on, the race tightened, and tightened, and tightened. So, I suspect, did some of the sphincters at CBS News. (Sorry. Couldn't resist. And I'm talking biologically, not insultingly.)

indiana-cnn-95-percent.jpg

At CNN, Larry King complained to John King about the missing votes, which stretched the suspense to the other side of midnight, wondering why they just couldn't call and get them. At Fox News, Karl Rove started doing his complex math as the first tallies from Lake County finally came in, and announced with surprise that, if Obama held to those percentages, he might actually win the state. And at MSNBC, the "A" team of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann went off the air at 1 a.m. ET, with the race, for a few more minutes, still undecided.

indiana-clinton-wins.jpg

Finally, more than six hours after the Indiana polls closed, the cable networks began to call it for Clinton. Politically, Clinton's win in Indiana, by the thinnest of margins, avoids an avalanche of really bad press. Obama's decisive victory in North Carolina erased Clinton's gains in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in delegate and popular counts, but her narrow victory allows her to save face and keep going.

The same is true for CBS and Couric. Had Gary, Indiana gone a little stronger for Obama, and had he claimed a late-night, 11th-inning upset, CBS would have been scolded fiercely today, and for a long time to come, for letting competitive eagerness get in the way of journalistic accuracy. It wasn't exactly "Dewey Defeats Truman!," or even "It's Ford!," but CBS risked a big chunk of its credibility by reporting so firmly so quickly.

This time, it's no harm, no foul. But next time there's a race that close, will CBS be out there alone again? And if so, does that mean its analysts and pollsters are more accurate than the competition -- or just more reckless?

 
 
 
 
 
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