Tom Brokaw is no M.D., but he diagnoses as “cancerous” the networks’ chronic urge to project winners before polls have closed.
“We stage all these rules not to call an election before the returns are in, based on exit polls, and then we say, ‘It looks like a slam dunk,’” Brokaw says in an interview Wednesday.
Tuesday night, NBC’s anchor emeritus participated in MSNBC’s live coverage of the New Hampshire primary. Like most of the pundits, Brokaw figured Hillary Clinton would lose, he says. Unlike most of them, he didn’t say it on the air.
“It’s inappropriate. Our job is to report and reflect what, in fact, we know; not just speculate on what is likely to happen — especially when people are making own minds up. It’s about them — the voters — not us.”
Technically, networks walk the tightrope between an actual projection and a personal prediction, but it’s a mighty thin rope, Brokaw says.
“There’s almost no line between ‘We’re saying with great confidence’ and, ‘It’s going to be Obama.’”
Still, everybody does it, particularly cable (including MSNBC), according to Brokaw.
“I’m not saying anybody is committing a class one felony. I’m saying that voters should be allowed to go while the booths are open without us saying to them what we know, or in many cases, what we think.
“We still play by the rules on exit polls. We don’t play by the rules on everybody spouting off.”
So why not cap the spout?
“Because we’ve created this electronic greenhouse, and it only gets artificial light. We all have too many hours to fill and too little imagination to fill them creatively.”