Exit polls and the forced transparency of the MSM

Blogs and the blogosphere are taking hits (again) in the Mainstream Media over the publication of those skewed exit polls election night. This should come as a shock to no one, for there is most certainly a war underway between these two camps.

The MSM wants to hang on to their secrets. The blogosphere demands transparency.

So let’s look at a bit of what’s being said. Chief among the critics are the two guys paid by the networks to conduct the exit polls. Details are from The New York Times:

The report, written by Joe Lenski and Warren Mitofsky and obtained by The New York Times, details systemic glitches that skewed the data in ways of which several news organizations, who paid tens of thousands of dollars for the service, were not aware.

In some cases, the report said, survey takers could not get close enough to the polls to collect adequate samples of voters opinion. They were often stopped by legal barriers devised to keep people electioneering – not necessarily bona fide poll canvassers – away from voters.

The report also theorized that the poll results more frequently overstated support for Mr. Kerry than for President Bush because the Democratic nominee’s supporters were more open to pollsters. Whatever the case, according to the report, the surveys had the biggest partisan skew since at least 1988, the earliest election the report tracked.

Millions of people viewing those sites may not have approached the data with enough skepticism, the report said, in part because many of the sites did not include specific or detailed caveats that the results were preliminary and many fell within margins of error.

The report saved some of its harshest words for the networks and subscribers, whom it accused of allowing the data to leak.

“If it were not for leaks we would not have much of the problem forced on us by the leakees: the nonsubscribing media and the politicos,” the report said. “They don’t know how to evaluate what is being leaked, and then they demand that the leaked results be accurate in midday before it is vetted and before it is complete.”

Here we have two guys paid to do a job, that upon completion of the job acknowledge that it was a bad job, but then say nobody would’ve known had the people who paid for the numbers not leaked them (their prerogative) to others who made them public. It’s like Terrell Owens blaming Jeff Garcia for Owens dropping passes.

But I digress.

Owen Youngman of the Chicago Tribune, a writer who never met a big word he didn’t like, cuts through the crap in his disdain for certain elements of the blogosphere. (Word definitions are added)

I do not dispute that these blogs and their authors are serving an increasingly meaningful role in the exchange of ideas and dissemination of opinion today. I read blogs, I think about blogs, I shake my head in wonderment at the bloggers’ seeming indefatigability (tireless determination). But, more to the point, I shake my head in disappointment at how, in taking advantage of the Web’s freedom to post a perspective, many of them fail even to aspire to the pursuit of perspicacity (the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions).

That is, they publish because they hear “something” from “someone” who is “reliable.” Sorry, not good enough.

I’m sorry, but it IS good enough, because — for the millionth time — the blogosphere isn’t trying to replace the MSM. Their role is different. Each needs the other for the public to be served, although that means giving up pretenses.

In a critique of the event, Mark Glaser of the Online Journalism Review offers his typically insightful observations.

As for rationales, Slate media critic Jack Shafer, who ran the exit poll page, told me that the reasoning for publicizing the numbers was all about demystifying a process controlled by the media elite.

“Think of the exit poll as a secret tracking poll conducted for the elite,” Shafer said. “All Slate is doing is giving civilians a look at the process that they’ve been locked out of previously. The exit poll numbers are being swapped from NEP to its clients to politicians and journalists to boardroom big shots today like crazy, so why shouldn’t civilians have access to the information? I trust readers and voters to see the exit polls for what they are.”

But if Slate truly saw them for what they were — “a snapshot of an extremely fast-moving object,” as Shafer says — why trumpet them so prominently on their front page with a photo of Kerry looking triumphant? And even run a headline about how Bush might still pull it out (as if he were losing)?

I agree with Shafer completely, and I doubt it was his decision to actually “go” with the story as if it were the real deal.

Here’s the reality, friends. Without those numbers being made public, we wouldn’t have known an important caveat for the whole evening — that the networks exit poll data was questionable. Secondly, we wouldn’t have been able to understand the moods of the presenters. James Carville was beside himself with glee early in the evening, while Bill Kristol looked like somebody had shot his dog. Finally, we wouldn’t have known this controversy existed in the first place.

Joe Lenski and Warren Mitofsky told the Times that no one had asked for their money back. In other words, they would’ve gotten away with it after some shuffling and, cough, cough, adjusting. Go back and read their explanations about what happened. Don’t you think that’s important information for us to have? You can say that it would’ve come out eventually, but do you really believe that?

Finally, I do think this is yet another chapter in the continuing forced transparency of the MSM and their methods. Not only did the bloggers pull aside the curtain election night and reveal another secret, they also continued to cut away the foundation of the pedestal that separates them from the people they are supposed to serve. I view that as a good thing.

Overall, I think the networks did an outstanding job Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. That shouldn’t be overlooked in this war between the old and the new.

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