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Context of 'November 9, 2000: News Providers Offer Explanations, Admissions of Error in Wake of Election-Night Errors'

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Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. [Leip, 2008] In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. [Tapper, 3/2001] Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” [Consortium News, 11/22/2000] Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. [Tapper, 3/2001]

Entity Tags: County of Broward (Florida), Consortium News, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., ABC News, Voter News Service, Robert Lee, Karl C. Rove, CBS News, Fox News, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, George W. Bush, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Jane Carroll, NBC News

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. [Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, Fox News, George W. Bush, NBC News

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

A screenshot of CNN’s on-air graphic declaring George W. Bush the winner in Florida. The graphic shows Bush with a 6,060-vote lead.A screenshot of CNN’s on-air graphic declaring George W. Bush the winner in Florida. The graphic shows Bush with a 6,060-vote lead. [Source: TV-Ark News (.com)]Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. [New York Times, 11/9/2000; Leip, 2008] The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” [American Journalism Review, 1/2001; Nation, 11/6/2006] After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” [New York Times, 11/9/2000]

Entity Tags: Mark D. Fabiani, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, NBC News, George W. Bush, Frank Hunger, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Fox News, Associated Press, CBS News, County of Volusia (Florida), Donna Brazile, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, ABC News

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” [Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, George W. Bush, Fox News

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The US electoral map as of the morning of November 8. Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon are still rated as ‘too close to call.’The US electoral map as of the morning of November 8. Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon are still rated as ‘too close to call.’ [Source: BBC]America wakes to a presidential election too close to call, though many morning newspapers, basing their headlines on the latest information received before going to press in the early morning hours, have headlines declaring George W. Bush (R-TX) the president-elect (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The margin in Florida stands officially at Bush with 2,909,135 votes (48.8 percent) to Democratic contender Al Gore’s 2,907,351 votes (48.8 percent)—a margin of 1,784 votes in Bush’s favor. 136,616 votes, or 2.4 percent, are registered to other candidates. Stories of voting irregularities are surfacing, particularly in Palm Beach County, where thousands of voters complain that their punch card ballots led them to vote for candidates they did not intend to select (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After). Later in the day, the Florida state government orders a full machine recount in compliance with Florida Election Code 102.141 that requires a recount of ballots if the margin of victory is 0.5 percent or less. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, recuses himself from the process. [Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit In and For Palm Beach County, Florida, 11/8/2000 pdf file; Jurist, 2003; Leip, 2008] The press reports that if the recounts do not clearly determine a winner, the US might have to wait “up to eight days longer as absentee ballots mailed from overseas are counted” (see 12:00 a.m., November 17, 2000). Governor Bush joins with Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth, the Florida chairman for the Gore campaign, in a promise “to deal swiftly with any election irregularities.” Governor Bush says, “Voter fraud in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000] Bush is credited with having won 29 states with 246 electoral votes. Gore has 18 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 255 electoral votes. Oregon and New Mexico are also rated as “too close to call,” but because of the electoral vote totals, their total of 12 electoral votes are irrelevant. Florida’s 25 votes, however, are necessary for either candidate to win the election. To be declared president, one or the other needs to reach 270 votes. Wisconsin and Iowa are also briefly considered close, though Gore wins both of those states, and eventually Oregon and New Mexico (see November 13 - December 1, 2000), all with razor-thin margins. [Leip, 2000; CNN, 11/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Robert Butterworth, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The headline in today’s Palm Beach Post.The headline in today’s Palm Beach Post. [Source: Palm Beach Post / Authentic History]In the aftermath of the Florida election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), television and press news outlets offer a round of explanations, excuses, and apologies for the mistakes and miscues that marked election-night coverage (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000, 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000, 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000, and 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Knight-Ridder newspapers say the election night will “forever… be known” as “The Night That Television Got It Wrong.” The Baltimore Sun observes: “Whipsawed between presidential election returns that turned on a dime, and production schedules that couldn’t, newspaper editors crossed their fingers in the early morning and started their presses. And many got the story wrong.” The New York Times says that network executives are “examining how the errors could have occurred,” and goes on to state that many in academia, politics, and the news media are calling the mistakes “perhaps the most egregious election-night gaffes in the modern television era.” CBS News says: “We all made our own calls. All of us made the wrong call twice. It was different people, different eyes looking at it. Each of us thought when we looked at the data that it was a good call. It did not appear to be as risky as it turned out to be.” California pollster Mark DiCamillo says: “Everybody is dying to know who won when the polls close. There’s tremendous pressure that builds. You’ve been looking at exit poll data. It’s very hard to say it’s too close to call. It’s the pressure cooker on election night television coverage.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000]

Entity Tags: CBS News, Baltimore Sun, Mark DiCamillo, Knight Ridder Newspapers, New York Times

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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