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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 11:59 PM ET, 02/04/2012

Nevada caucuses: What’s CNN up to?

CNN is proud of its investment in coverage of the Nevada caucuses. All you have to do is tune in to the Twitter feed of CNN’s Washington bureau chief, Sam Feist:

CNN’s aggressiveness on results won the cable network some attention on Saturday night. This report by Reuters relied on CNN numbers, as did this post by Slate’s Dave Weigel.

Pickup notwithstanding, CNN went all out on Nevada. It had 30 people on the ground all over the state, said Feist in a Saturday night interview. ”What we did is we had people at many different locations....We decided to develop our own vote-reporting system,” he said. The idea was to collect caucus results from the various counties as soon as they were available — and to not rely on the Associated Press or anyone else.

The results of the results-gathering team were good, said Feist. “We were way ahead of AP,” he noted. Such a boast requires an AP reply, and here it is: “We certainly welcome CNN to the complex task of accurately counting votes, while noting that CNN uses -- and used on Saturday night -- AP results.”

A question: In a state where the race was never supposed to be close, and with a dropoff in public interest, was it worth it to blanket the desert just to get some early, solid figures? “We never know whether it’s going to bear fruit,” said Feist. “We gave our viewers a lot of information early on.”

And, in the process, CNN gave at least one competitor a fit of jealousy.

That little Twitter convulsion comes courtesy of Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary w/Todd Starnes. It was a curious night for someone connected with Team Fox to take a shot at CNN, considering that Fox News Channel all but sat this one out, starting its two hours of coverage late in the evening. As Politico noted, Fox viewers were able to watch Mike Huckabee interview Meryl Streep while other cable nets were hustling on the news.

Nor does CNN’s Feist see a hint of gun-jumping in his network’s numbers-heavy presentation. What they did, said Feist, complies with all the basics of journalism: “This is public information and we report it,” he says. It just happened in Nevada that not all the counties closed their voting at the same time. Feist says that when the network reported its early results, there was only one county — Clark (home to Las Vegas) — that hadn’t finished up. Slamming CNN for putting out official information as soon as it was available, continues Feist, doesn’t comport with any contemporary standard for elections coverage. Expecting a network to hold off on reporting partial vote totals, he suggests, is tantamount to expecting it not to report East Coast voting results on general election night before the polls on the West Coast go dark for the night.

Touchiness over these questions dates back to 2000, when the news networks got chewed out by Congress and the public after calling the state of Florida for Al Gore before all the precincts in the state had closed for the night. All the news bosses pledged to never again call an election before all the polls had closed. CNN and its competitors complied with that commitment on Saturday night.

Of course, sticking to that commitment was something of a formality, given that projections on the race were dead on. On Wednesday, a poll projected that Romney would capture 45 percent of the vote, with Gingrich at 25 percent. Actual totals, per the latest numbers, put Romney at 48 and Gingrich at 23.

Note: Post has been expanded from original version to include observations on extent of Fox News Channel coverage (two hours, not one, as originally stated), comparison of pre-caucus polling against caucus results, AP response, and fact that Clark County is home to Vegas.

By  |  11:59 PM ET, 02/04/2012

Tags:  nevada caucuses, mitt romney newt gingrich, cnn, sam feist, fox radio

 
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