11/26/1984 at 01:00 AM EST
Now that the election is over, it's time to assess how the networks did: Lousy. They ran all over each other to call the race before the voters had even finished voting. At 8:01 p.m. ET—an hour before the polls closed in New York, when it was only 5:01 p.m. on the West Coast—CBS came in first predicting the winner. Give 'em a trophy. ABC followed at 8:13, NBC at 8:31. Maybe that affected other races, maybe it didn't. NBC says a study found that only "a few Oregon voters stayed home because of the projections." But that's not the point. Influencing just one race anywhere would be irresponsible. The networks have become as good as the politicians they cover at excusing themselves with rhetoric. They said that they called a state only after all—or in some cases most—of the polls in that state had closed. But this was a national election. All night, every anchor begged voters to go to the polls, saying that your vote still counted (even though the networks had already counted it). That doesn't let TV news off the hook. During the campaign, the conventions and the debates, the networks' reporters and anchors were more like entertainment critics than newsmen, judging the candidates not on what they said but on how they said it. On election night, they were more like sportscasters. In the next campaign, let's hope the networks learn how to use their pretty voices and graphics to give viewers perspective and background. And come the next election night, why don't the networks just shut up? Why don't they keep their exit polls to themselves until the real polls have closed? The nation waits four years to get a new President. It can wait three hours to find out who it will be. While we wait, we can watch Paper Dolls—a better way to kill time than watching Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw blather on.