BOB GARFIELD: New Hampshire voters finally went to the polls this week, and while they voted, the rest of us watched -- and waited.
DAN RATHER: Good evening. Voting places here in the first presidential primary of Campaign '04 will be open just a little while longer -- till 8 Eastern time. So we can't tell you -- we don't yet know in what order the Democratic candidates will finish, but -- but we can tell you about the voters, including how they chose a candidate.
BOB GARFIELD:Contrast Dan Rather's somber commitment to journalistic responsibility last Tuesday with his and all the other networks' performance on Election night 2000. Few will forget the image of Rather being forced to eat his words after calling Florida for Gore and assuring viewers that they could take that to the bank. So this time around, the networks are being extra careful not to announce winners and losers until all the polls have closed, even though they have access to exit poll data much earlier than that. But political junkies --fear not. Andrew Tyndall, who tracks nightly newscasts and dissects them in the Tyndall Report, says a careful watcher can still scope out the winner as early as half past 6. Andrew, welcome to the show.
ANDREW TYNDALL: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me play you some tape from CBS' The Evening News with Dan Rather, and tell me what's afoot here, please. [CLIP PLAYS] [PEOPLE CALLING OUT BACKGROUND]
REPORTER: Heading into today, there wasn't a poll out there that had Kerry less than 11 points ahead, in a race many voters here said was about one thing -- who can beat George Bush.
HOWARD DEAN: We will not give up in New Hampshire! We will not...
REPORTER: Dean, who needs at least a second here after whooping himself out of the frontrunner spot after Iowa--
JOHN EDWARDS: I feel very good. I feel very positive, good about how things are going.
REPORTER: Edwards, looking for momentum, headed back to his native South Carolina-- [GROUP OF SUPPORTERS GIVING CONGRATULATIONS] -- and Clark, are all battling for a bounce from New Hampshire.
BOB GARFIELD: Now that seems very straightforward, Andrew. They're sort of, you know, recapitulating the opinion polls going in to Election Day. What's so odd about that?
ANDREW TYNDALL: Nothing's so odd about it. The point is that they did their own exit polls during the vote. If there had been any surprises that they knew about 90 minutes before the polls had closed, they wouldn't have said it in that order. That order, it turns out to be almost an exact prediction of what the result of the election was, right down to saying that Kerry was 11 points ahead of Dean, and I think he won by 13, didn't he?
BOB GARFIELD:[LAUGHS] What a fabulous coincidence, and what good fortune for CBS. ABC did things a slightly different way. Let's listen to some tape from World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. [CLIP PLAYS]
KATE SNOW: The Kerry campaign strategy now, Peter, is to build on any strength that they may have here in New Hampshire, to build more exposure, to try to get more support in those seven states that vote next week.
PETER JENNINGS: Many thanks, Kate. Kate Snow up with us in New Hampshire here. Governor Dean may have pleased many of his supporters today when he criticized the news media for so much coverage devoted to the speech he gave at a rally after he lost in Iowa. Tonight his campaign here is very focused on coming back. Here's ABC's Dan Harris.
ANDREW TYNDALL: Okay, now what Jennings did to tip you off as to the result was he placed the reports from the individuals who are filing from the campaigns in a particular order. Turned out that the order was the order of finish in the primary.
BOB GARFIELD: And what about NBC?
ANDREW TYNDALL:At NBC, instead of doing one on Kerry, then one on Dean, and then mentioning the also-rans, they did one on Kerry and Dean -- Kerry, the frontrunner, Dean coming from behind --and then another one on the three also-rans. All you've got to do is watch the rundown, and you can predict the result.
BOB GARFIELD:Let's just say that many viewers will be able to divine from the way these returns are coming in who's ahead and who is sucking wind. But let's just look at the wisdom of this game of wink-wink, nudge-nudge. What's the argument for doing it this way versus the argument for just simply being straightforward with the data that you have come what may?
ANDREW TYNDALL: Because, strictly speaking, the polls are still open, and voters can theoretically watch the news and either be discouraged or encouraged to vote, so they can be influencing the vote by reporting the news.
BOB GARFIELD:But if it - the code - is so easy to break [LAUGHS] wouldn't the news or the subtext of the news be just as discouraging to a prospective voter as the results of some exit poll?
ANDREW TYNDALL: You know, I sat down beforehand to watch all three of these evening newscasts on Tuesday night before I knew the results of the election. Once I'd seen all three of them, I could break the code. I don't think looking at one of them on their own, live, without videotape it would be that easy to break. Now, of course, now if you listen to me explain the code, it's going to be really easy to break.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. South Carolina is coming up. Nobody really knows who's going to win that. What shall we look for in the teasers that open the evening news broadcasts on Tuesday that will tell us who won before it really gets started?
ANDREW TYNDALL: Which state they lead with, because they've already started saying not so much South Carolina, let's look at Missouri instead, let's look at Arizona, etc, etc. Between now and next Tuesday, we're going to know which states individual candidates are running strong in, and the decision which state to emphasize is going to tell us which candidate is winning or losing the expectations game.
BOB GARFIELD: So give me a headline that could theoretically open the CBS evening news Tuesday that would mean Howard Dean is back.
ANDREW TYNDALL: Arizona -- The On-Line State Where Youth Is Active Scores a Major Upset in Tuesday's Primaries.
BOB GARFIELD: Andrew, [LAUGHS] thank you very much.
ANDREW TYNDALL: Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Andrew Tyndall runs The Tyndall Report, a New York-based company that monitors the networks' nightly newscasts.