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October 7, 2004 4:07 PM   Subscribe

No need to actually vote, folks: the Election result has already been written by the AP: At this hour, President Bush has won re-election as president by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin in the popular vote nationwide. Ralph Nader has 1 percent of the vote nationwide. That's with 51 percent of the precincts reporting. (they say it's a test article, but who ever heard of an election results article being pre-written?)
posted by amberglow (32 comments total)
Screen shot.
posted by fleener at 4:11 PM on October 7, 2004

Election results are always pre-written. It's just to see how they will look on the various news readers, etc.

However in my experience these usually come out about a week or less before the election... not a month!
posted by cell divide at 4:14 PM on October 7, 2004

It's not only common for news organizations elections to have canned formula pieces made ahead of time, it's nearly universal. One of my jobs at The Miami Herald, for instance, was to keep a special section announcing Fidel Castro's death ready at all times - just in case. The A.P. just screwed up.
posted by stevis at 4:15 PM on October 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

Obituaries yes--breaking news no, or so i thought.
posted by amberglow at 4:18 PM on October 7, 2004

Well thank goodness I know who to vote for now so I can say I was on the winning side.

2004: The Year We All Lost All Respect for Journalistic Integrity

stevis, yeah, the AP screwed up, who was it, NBC that posted the "metrosexual" piece about Kerry. Let's see them start screwing up and screwing Bush up for once.
posted by fenriq at 4:23 PM on October 7, 2004

posted by eastlakestandard at 4:34 PM on October 7, 2004

That was Fox, fenriq. But your point stands.
posted by rafter at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2004

they've issued a correction: Correction: President Bush Did Not Win Election on October 7

I can't believe the AP uses "real" numbers/results and not placeholders or ** or something. What's up with that?
posted by amberglow at 4:39 PM on October 7, 2004

Amberglow-- it's because to generate news graphics for various use, there are newsreader programs which can generate data bits from these feeds which need to have real numbers to work with. You wouldn't be able to see the look of the graphic if it didn't have real numbers.
posted by cell divide at 4:42 PM on October 7, 2004

Who ever heard of an election results article being pre-written?

This guy.
posted by Fourmyle at 4:46 PM on October 7, 2004

And notice that those aren't real numbers.

I think it is pretty safe to say that even if the winner doesn't get a majority of the votes, the top three will still account for well over 91% of the vote.
posted by obfusciatrist at 4:48 PM on October 7, 2004

rafter, thanks for the clarification. Somehow I just can't seem to get my head around the words Fox and News together.
posted by fenriq at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2004

You reminded me cell: what's up with VNS? Who's providing exit poll numbers for this upcoming election? And does the AP actually get all the results from each voting district as their polls close, or the state elections people, or what?
posted by amberglow at 4:51 PM on October 7, 2004

Weird. Everybody knew Rodney Dangerfield was on his way out for months, yet when he finally died it seemed to take the news media by surprise. If they had so much time to prepare for it, and made 'tests' for impending news events ahead of time, you'd think they woulda done it better. What with all that preparation time.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:51 PM on October 7, 2004

For what it's worth: I emailed them about this earlier today; this was their response:
As soon as we learned about the article, we had it removed. Unfortunately, we're not able to post another story in its place. We posted a correction on our Home and News page that has a higher prominence (on our site at least) than the original article which was on the web site for 35 minutes.

We use an automated system for Associated Press national news, politics, science, entertainment, etc. If you see how much news we have on the site, you'll understand why we use automation (I am a department of one).

The Associated Press tests about 4 times a week for a month prior to an election, especially one as crucial as a presidential election, to help TV stations and newspapers make sure their publishing systems are working properly (the irony doesn't escape me). The AP's numbers are completely random with every test; if this error happened yesterday or tomorrow it just as easily could have declared Senator John Kerry -- or even Ralph Nader -- the winner.

We are sorry for the mistake, but it was unintentional on everyone's part and we responded quickly to remove it.

Ted Miller
WBAY Web Manager
I don't know anything about whether the 'AP tests' are plausible or not, but I do know what it's like to work in a small web shop... personally I'd lean towards attributing this to goof-up rather than malice.
posted by ook at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2004

Let's see them start screwing up and screwing Bush up for once.

I could have sworn there was something on CBS recently... I guess I must have dreamed it.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:16 PM on October 7, 2004

Does anyone actually believe that, if the fix was in, they'd tell the AP?
posted by jpoulos at 5:17 PM on October 7, 2004

Oh no, I think it's much more reasonable to suspect a vast right-wing conspiracy centering around a TV station in Wis-fucking-consin despite all the evidence to the contrary. Excuse me, I need to buy some shares in Alcoa.
posted by keswick at 5:19 PM on October 7, 2004

Are you accusing CBS of creating those memos and "accidentally" publishing them, Krrrlson? If not, then I'd say it's apples and oranges.
posted by turaho at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2004

I'm pretty sure it fits under the heading of "screwing up and screwing."
posted by Krrrlson at 5:34 PM on October 7, 2004

Amberglow, you know I ordinarily love you, but you're being idiotic here. Every newspaper in the country has a "Bush wins!" story and a "Kerry wins!" story already drafted. It's just something newspapers do--they want to see what the front page is going to look like so they can plan ahead.

I promise I have done this myself in my newspaper days, and so has every other journalist in the United States of America.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:36 PM on October 7, 2004

Plus, I'm fairly certain that we've seen these tests accidentally get through before, in the past several years. It's really not a big deal.
posted by theonetruebix at 5:40 PM on October 7, 2004

posted by Krrrlson at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2004

I may be idiotic, but a newspaper layout (often with greeked or dummy copy) is not the same as a wire feed article posted on a website. As a matter of fact, aren't far more wire articles actually sent out every day, all day and night, than actually run? No local tv station runs every single wire feed thing, do they? This one certainly doesn't, or it would look more like that page drudge links to. (which does not list that re-election story, btw)
posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on October 7, 2004

The AP feed is manned by twenty-three-year-old kids who are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, and any number of things can and do go wrong.

Dummy, placeholder, and mock-up text gets published more often than anyone would hope ("greeked" text refers properly only to nonsense text like the ever-popular "lorem ipsum").

If you look down to "pennywit"'s comment on this discussion of the Fox News fake-Kerry-quotes hoopla, you'll see a more cogent explanation than mine of how something like this can happen.

Of course, the most famous recent example was the Great CNN Obituary Screwup of 2003.

My all-time favorite, though, was the hed that mistakenly ran in the New York Times over one of Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's hideously tiresome pieces--"An Unfathomable Bore That Defies Intuition". Whoopsie!

My guess is that what happened is this: AP editor says to young newsdrone "Hey, Phil, write a mockup of an election story" for no better reason than that the editor wanted Phil to stop bugging her about introducing him to her single female friends. Phil sits down and writes the mockup, complete with numbers pulled out of his rectum. He saves it to the system.

A while later, some other twenty-something high on Red Bull either a) sends Phil's mockup out on the wire by mistake, or b) sends Phil's mockup out on the wire as a prank.

Then, some other dimbulb at Yokel TV does the wrong cut-and-paste (actually, it's really, really easy to attach the "publish" command to the wrong text in Quark). Or, some prankster at Yokel TV does it because he thinks it's hilarious.

I am suspicious of a lot of things in this world. This, not so much. There are 10 million ways this could happen by accident, each of which is more likely than that the secret Diebold/Bush cabal, if it existed, would give any advance warning of anything to the Associated Press.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:34 PM on October 7, 2004

From daily kos:
Spoke to Elizabeth at the AP.  The AP has no record of this story in their systems.  Sent her to this diary so she could see for herself.  Have also faxed a printed version of the story to her.  Anyone with the screen shot needs to fax it to 202-659-4501.

posted by amberglow at 6:44 PM on October 7, 2004

ag, dear, if you read the comments on the Daily Kos (I followed your link), you'll see several people explaining what happened, including the person who is a wire editor who sees this stuff all the time.

I hadn't thought about it as an "automatic story generator" gaffe from a CMS, because I've never used one, but that makes the most sense (and explains why the math is all screwed up--Phil-the-junior-reporter probably just pulled the percentages out of some old poll, and the rest out of his rectum).
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:58 PM on October 7, 2004

Krrrlson, are you talking about Survivor? Yeah, its on tonight.

Oh wait, the memos? Yeah, Dan Rather with his head up his ass. I wonder who really made the memos and what their agenda was. Theories abound. But yeah, you're right.

I guess its just Kerry's turn, since, well, he's leading in the polls now, to take the brunt of the occasional stumblings of the monster that is the media.
posted by fenriq at 7:09 PM on October 7, 2004

Wait, how would this affect Kerry or Bush negatively or positively? I can see how it affects the AP negatively, but I don't see how this would have an impact on either candidate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:15 PM on October 7, 2004

The test type explanation is vaguely plausible -- but they should not have put real numbers or even words in the file. Could have used greek, quite common.
posted by Slagman at 9:09 PM on October 7, 2004

I used to work for the AP (yes, when I was a 23-year-old who wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer). The AP does this before every election, just to make sure that everything works smoothly.

We ran tabular material and dummied news stories to make sure that the stories ended up where they were supposed to go. For example, some election tabular material resembles sports stats or business stocks tables. You want to make sure that the election stuff goes to news desks, not sports or business desks. You want to make sure everything will line up OK on the printed page. You want to find out if there are any bottlenecks, where you send a story at 8:02 p.m. and the newspapers get it at 8:03 p.m. but broadcasters don't get it until 8:16 p.m.

In short: The AP is being responsible and there's nothing remarkable about this.
posted by Holden at 8:50 AM on October 8, 2004

Another mistake that favors Bush: MSNBC's web site briefly annouced 300,000 new jobs today. [via Oliver Willis]
posted by kirkaracha at 11:13 AM on October 8, 2004

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