THE CHARGE OF THE INDEPENDENT COMMITTEEThe three authors of this report were asked by CNN to constitute an independentcommittee to investigate the performance of CNN and to make findings andrecommendations.Specifically, Tom Johnson, chairman and CEO of the CNN News Group, askedus to determine: What went wrong at CNN? Why did it happen? What should be done toguard against a recurrence in future elections? He gave us the freedom to questionwhomever we wished, to obtain any documents we wanted, to write a report that wouldbe made public reaching whatever conclusions seemed warranted.At the root of Tom Johnson’s three questions we found two other broader onesthat deserve consideration: What were the networks doing? Why were they doing it?II.
PREAMBLEOn Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag raceon the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, thepolitical life of the country, and their own credibility, all for reasons that may beconceptually flawed and commercially questionable.Their excessive speed, combined with an overconfidence in experts and a relianceon increasingly dubious polls, produced a powerful collision between the public interestand the private competitive interests of the television news operations and thecorporations that own them.Their hyper-competition stemmed from a foolish attempt to beat their rivals to thefinish line in calling state-by-state winners in the presidential election, foolish becausefew in the crowd knew then or know now which network got the checkered flag mostoften. Foolish because each network funded its competitor’s work. Foolish, too, becausetheir haste led to two mistaken calls in the state that turned out to hold the key to theoutcome of the election. All, in turn, played an important role in creating the ensuingclimate of rancor and bitterness.Those calls and their retractions constituted a news disaster that damageddemocracy and journalism.