When no story becomes the story

Is the time it takes the networks to make a call really a good indicator of anything?

Published April 23, 2008 1:25AM (EDT)

We do have some sympathy for television talking heads on nights like tonight. There is, after all, a whole lot of airtime that has to be filled, and little real news with which to fill it. Even so, we think some of the discussion on MSNBC tonight -- the various anchors made a story out of the lack of a story -- might have shown just a little lack of self-awareness.

On the one hand, the final margin of victory in Pennsylvania tonight is going to be pretty important for gauging Hillary Clinton's momentum (or lack thereof) going forward. On the other hand, we think it might be a little much to suggest that another important measure is the amount of time it takes the networks to call the race. Keith Olbermann doesn't agree. A little after 8:20, as he teased the segment that would be coming after a commercial break, Olbermann -- referring to both campaigns -- asked, "How are they spinning the fact that 22 minutes after the polls closed, this race is still too close to call?"

We have an easy answer for that question. How about something along the lines of, "Well, why would you expect to know the winner of an election only 22 minutes after the polls closed?"

It's the media that has made a practice of declaring victors before any precincts have even reported. It's silly for reporters and pundits to then turn that practice into a line of attack. For God's sake, when the call did finally come, only 1 percent of precincts had come in. Is it really too much to ask that we at least wait that long? (Not to mention that there's been plenty of recrimination in the past about the media making calls too early -- remember Florida in 2000? -- and plenty of promises that we'd all be more responsible. What happened to that?)

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

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2008 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton Keith Olbermann Msnbc War Room