Press Box

CJR Pricks

The venerable journalism review tosses an undeserved Dart at NPR.

One of my lifetime ambitions was realized this month when the Columbia Journalism Review’s “Darts & Laurels” column flung one of its Darts my way. The Dart wasn’t for me, mind you. It went to National Public Radio and the host of its Day to Day program, Alex Chadwick, but I claim part ownership.

As Slate readers and Day to Day listeners know, Slate partners with Day to Day. Chadwick’s alleged transgression stems from that partnership and my practice of posting exit poll results on Slate on Election Day.

Here’s the Dart, written by CJR Deputy Executive Editor Gloria Cooper, from the magazine’s January/February issue:

DART to National Public Radio, for having its ethical cake and eating it too. As part of its Election Day coverage, the network’s program Day to Day aired a brief discussion on the issue of reporting the results of exit interviews before the polls had closed and the potential of such reports to affect the outcome. When the discussion ended, Alex Chadwick, the program’s host, loftily informed listeners that it was NPR’s policy to not report such results—then promptly announced that they would in fact be posted, as they became available, by Day to Day’s new partner. “You can check there throughout the day,” Chadwick suggested helpfully, “at Slate.com.

First, a minor correction: Alex Chadwick is never lofty on the radio; he is unctuous.

Now, to the main event: Listen to what Chadwick actually said:

This note: NPR also does not report the results of state exit polls until after voting has stopped in those states, but our colleagues at Slate don’t worry much about this theory of influencing the outcome, and they’re posting what they can as it becomes available to them. You can check there throughout the day at Slate.com.

Chadwick said nothing about NPR “policy,” as Cooper writes. He simply stated the NPR doesn’t report exit poll results before state polls close. If Cooper had inquired, she might have learned that as a subscriber to exit poll data, NPR is contractually obligated to keep exit poll data under wraps. All Day to Day was guilty of in the segment was reporting the news—Web rascals are posting exit poll information in real time, and millions of people are reading it—and informing its audience of where to go to partake of that news. Day to Day committed no ethical sin because its pact with the exit poll provider didn’t require it to suppress news about which Web sites were posting the information. (Another minor correction: Slate isn’tDay to Day’s “new partner.” Slate has been apartner since the radio show launched in July 2003.)

Although Cooper’s Dart is mistargeted, I insist that Chadwick accept it and mount it on his studio wall to memorialize how niggling and misguided Darts can be. I hope he clips and overnights a few feathers from it so I’ll have a piece of the trophy.

[Addendum, Jan. 16, 2004: CJR Executive Editor Michael Hoyt takes issue with this item in Romenesko, and I respond.]

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Immediately after receiving the feathers, I will place them for sale on eBay. Send e-mail (and pre-emptive bids) to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)