Press Box

Big Fat Meaty Exit-Poll Numbers

You want Super Tuesday exit-poll numbers? I’ve got big, fat meaty numbers from exit polls from all of the presidential primaries. I’ve had them so long that if I had tossed them on the grill when they came in, they’d been well done by now.

But as followers of this ongoing “Press Box” chronicle know, I can’t publish them for threat of legal action. The collector of the exit-poll numbers, Voter News Service consortium, which is run by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and the Associated Press, has promised to sue Slate to holy hell if we publish the numbers as we have for the last three primary Tuesdays.

All VNS members and subscribers are bound by a contract that says they’ll honor an embargo of VNS data until the polls close in each state. The embargo, however, is largely ignored on Election Day, as VNS members and subscribers share the data freely with friends in politics and the media. Slate, which doesn’t contract for the service, and therefore isn’t bound by the embargo, started publishing the numbers to prove VNS’s blatant hypocrisy, which shows no signs of abating.

As I write this item–5 p.m. Eastern Time–CNN broadcasters are blowing the embargo wide open. Not only are VNS members and subscribers supposed keep the exit-poll data secret, they’re banned from characterizing in any way the direction of the election until embargo is lifted. Their talking heads are couching their commentaries in wraparound language like “If this is a good day for Bush,” when they know it’s a good day for Bush. At about 5:15, CNN’s William Schneider offered this: McCain “is likely to end the night far behind in the delegate count.” Schneider is either dining on tea leaves or on the same exit-poll numbers I am. Well before 6 p.m., CBS’s Dan Rather was citing exit-poll data on the air to say it was a neck-and-neck battle between McCain and Bush in New York. Chris Matthews of CNBC was similarly characterizing the New York race as neck-and-neck.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for VNS’s lawyers to threaten CNN or CBS or CNBC with a suit charging copyright infringement, “unlawful interference with VNS’s contractual relations,” and misappropriation of their “hot news,” as it has Slate and National Review Online, another Web site that has published exit-poll data.

When I first started writing about the exit-poll charade five weeks ago, I expected VNS’s members and subscribers to end the hypocrisy by making its members honor the embargo. I’ve got no problem with VNS’s keeping secrets. I just don’t think Slate deserves a lawsuit for repeating what its members and subscribers are blabbing everywhere.

As I said at the top, I’d love to give the exit-poll data, but I can’t. One site, however, went with the news in the middle of the afternoon. The Drudge Report. God bless that little chowderhead.

(If you’re late to the exit-poll controversy, see “No Exit,” “Exit-Poll Fetishism,” “Peter Jennings, Embargo Criminal,” and today’s [March 7] Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page, where I go on and on about the subject.)