Mistakes were made, but few on election night

The 2012 election will not be remembered for what the press got wrong.

News organizations made some mistakes on election night but quickly corrected them. That's about as good a result as one can hope for on an evening where so many things can and often do go wrong.

The most notable election error was a rumor that spread on Twitter claiming NBC News had declared Elizabeth Warren the winner in her Massachusetts race for the Senate. (This was before she actually won.)

According to BuzzFeed, it originated with this tweet from the Center for American Progress' Action Fund:

ThinkProgress and New York Magazine each passed along the information and then tweeted corrections. (CAP deleted the tweet and I don't see a correction in its timeline):

Journalists took note and helped debunk the rumor:

In a positive development, NBC realized the rumor was spreading and decided to get Brian Williams to debunk it live on air. NBC News also sent out a tweet:

NBC News' Lou Dubois helped spread the correct information:

And he offered a reminder to journalists:

Some news sites did make errors. The New York Times reported on a mistake that The Wall Street Journal made:

This election night’s first award for making a wrong call goes to The Wall Street Journal.

At 9:04 p.m., the paper sent out an alert saying that Mitt Romney had won his native state of Michigan and credited The Associated Press with the story. At the same time, reporters were describing on Twitter the “dead silence” ringing through Romney headquarters that he had lost the state.

The Journal made a quick turnaround. By 9:10 p.m., it had corrected its error.

Digital First's Adrienne LaFrance also tweeted about getting the mistaken alert:

The incorrect WSJ call may have been related to the fact that AP at one point also mistakenly called Michigan for Romney. It issued this correction alert:

WASHINGTON (AP) — CORRECTS: Obama wins NY, MI; Romney wins NE, WY, KS, LA, SD, TX, ND. (Corrects APNewsAlert )

Finally, as Jim Romenesko noted, the Cincinnati Enquirer mistakenly published a chart of voting data that was filled with dummy results rather than the real thing. It issued a correction:

A Cincinnati.com front-page link to a chart with dummy data, created as a design template for election results, was inadvertently posted early Tuesday morning.

It purported to show early voting totals in Ohio counties. However, no votes have been counted yet – by law counting doesn't start until the polls close.

Cincinnati.com regrets the error.

It wasn't a perfect night, but it's encouraging that The Wall Street Journal and the Cincinnati Enquirer quickly issued corrections. And when NBC News was a victim of misinformation, it did a good job spreading the correct information on television and on Twitter.

Other mishaps: ABC had a brief blackout and Diane Sawyer was loopy.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


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