Jack Shafer, deputy editor of Slate, bravely punctured the myth that journalists are as much in the dark as viewers by posting New Hampshire "exit poll" results at 4:30 EST. He was immediately scorned by peers for violating what the media cabal considers its exclusive store of information. In releasing the numbers, Shafer wrote: "The self-censorship the media practices on exits polls is based on the idiotic and condescending notion that only members of the media can be trusted with this precious information... Information wants to move. If my friends, enemies and acquaintances in the media continue to feed me the exit poll numbers during this campaign, I'll continue to post the numbers here in real time."
Bravo. When New York Press contacted Shafer to congratulate him for poking pins in the cartoon figures of Bernard Shaw, Judy Woodruff, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, etc., he issued a terse reply. "You're in the minority," Shafer wrote. "You'd think I had burned a child at the stake and buried the ashes in a shallow grave from the reader response [at Slate]."
We don't necessarily recommend Shafer's guerrilla tactics for the entirety of the campaign. For example, come Election Day in November a premature declaration of the presidential winner could depress voter turnout in the Pacific time zone. That may have no influence on who wins the White House, but local races would certainly be affected.
But here's a novel idea, one that doesn't square with today's unstoppable acceleration of news dissemination. Why not prohibit exit polling altogether? What purpose does it serve except to annoy the voters accosted outside the voting precincts and better prepare journalists for their night's work? Plus, for the small percentage of Americans who actually care about the elections, wouldn't it be grand to watch television and not know at 8 p.m. the winners and losers based on 1 percent of the votes counted?