professor advised ABC against calling Florida
night is all just a blur," said Paul Freedman, an assistant
professor of government
and foreign affairs, who spent election night on the high-pressure
"decision desk" at ABC News, helping the network call
was very tense," Freedman said. "The phones were ringing
constantly. People were shouting. People were screaming. Ted Koppell
kept calling up and saying, 'I need to get on a plane. Am I going
to Austin or Nashville?' "
Koppell, like the rest of the country, was still waiting for the
answer to his question a week later as the recount of votes in
Florida continued in this historically close presidential election.
that night, as all the world watched the U.S. presidential election
unfold on network television, Freedman drank cup after cup of
black coffee and stared at a computer screen that pulsed with
three streams of data from 17 states. It was this data -- exit
polls, precinct reports and county election results -- that he
and his partner, an old election hand, used to call the elections
they had been assigned.
"At the top of every hour, the head of the decision desk
asked for our calls," Freedman said. "We'd give her
our calls, she'd talk to the production booth upstairs, and literally,
within 30 seconds, you'd see the graphics on the TV screen.
first time I was asked to make a call, my heart was pounding,"
1990, all the networks have paid jointly for the same data gathering
operation. On election night, Voter News Services feeds its network
clients national election data by computer pipeline from the World
Trade Center. Since they all use the same data, the networks must
find other ways to gain a competitive advantage.
networks compete to call the races first," Freedman said.
"You need two things to be successful on election night.
You need to be right and you need to be first. It's easy to be
either one. It's hard to be both."
bank of television screens, showing all the other networks' election
night broadcasts, lit one of the walls where Freedman worked with
a team of about a dozen political scientists, statisticians and
election night pros. Although the sound was turned down, they
could see when the competing networks called a race.
Freedman had traveled to New York the week before the election
to get up to speed on the computer system he would be using and
to build up his background knowledge of historical voting patterns
and the state senate races he would be following.
night, I didn't have to agonize over Ted Kennedy winning in Massachusetts
and Orrin Hatch in Utah was not a nail biter,² Freedman said.
it let him focus on the races that were too close to call.
"ABC was the only network not to make a call in the Washington
state senate race," Freedman said. "I held firm on that.²
the caution of Freedman and a few other members of the decision
team, however, ABC gave in to the tremendous pressure to call
the presidential race in Florida, joining the other networks in
calling the state first for Al Gore around 8 p.m., then for George
Bush about 2 a.m., and finally withdrawing the call entirely.
hindsight, the best thing to do would have been to say it was
too close to call and not call it at all," Freedman said.
"What was at stake in Florida was who our next president
would be. The pressure on the networks to make a call was extraordinarily
high ... I'm proud that ABC made the wrong Gore call last."
he do it again?
no denying it was fun," Freedman said, "scary but fun.
It was a night to remember."