WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Less than two hours after
declaring on election night that Democrat Al Gore had
won Florida's 25 electoral votes, CBS News
discovered that "exit poll precincts in the Tampa area
had overstated Gore's lead" and that the "tabulated
vote in Duval County was most likely wrong," CBS
News President Andrew Heyward has told Congress.
Heyward's letter to Congress, dated November 17, was
made public Tuesday by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-
Louisiana), who chairs the House Telecommunications
The subcommittee is scheduled to hold hearings early
next year into the erroneous calls the networks made in reporting returns from the November 7 presidential
Half an hour after discovering the problems in Tampa
and Duval County, shortly before 10 p.m. EDT, CBS
retracted its call that Gore had won Florida and said the contest was too close to call.
The networks' problems were compounded.
"Still later that night," Heyward wrote, "another
series of confusions took place -- including what at
this juncture appears to be a very significant
computer error made by the Volusia County Elections
Department -- which led to another series of bad calls
by television networks and newspapers across the
Those calls included projections that Texas Gov.
George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, had become
"In the days since, the question of who won the state
of Florida has yet to be answered to everyone's
satisfaction," Heyward wrote. "That we were all too early in projecting a certain outcome is not open to debate."
Restrictions on networks considered
Tauzin is considering introducing legislation that
would clamp down on the news organizations by
requiring them to hold off declaring winners of states
until the polls have closed. However, a spokesman for
Tauzin said the congressman is not trying to keep the
networks from making projections.
Heyward's letter was the most detailed of several
letters Tauzin made public from the correspondence
that he received from television networks and The
Associated Press -- the companies that run the
Voter News Service.
VNS is the service that coordinates the news
organizations' election data gathering operation.
Tauzin has accused the news organizations of dampening
voter turnout by making an early and incorrect call in
Florida, and thereby discouraging residents from
voting in Florida's western panhandle.
Tauzin also said the networks' early projections might
have discouraged voters in western states from going
to the polls. The networks denied their erroneous
calls had tilted the election.
ABC News President David Westin said the candidates
had needed more than Florida's 25 Electoral College
votes to win when his network withdrew its projection
that Gore had carried the state.
"Thus, there was no point during the evening when it
was likely or even possible that voters would decide
not to vote simply because of the erroneous projection
of the presidential race in Florida," Westin wrote.
Uniform poll closing time sought
"ABC also continues to support uniform poll closing
legislation," Westin wrote. His letter included
detailed answers to 13 questions raised by Tauzin.
"We believe this is a sound means of addressing
concerns about projections made before all polls
nationwide have closed," Westin wrote.
All the networks said they were conducting internal
investigations into the false calls, and hoped that
the error would not be repeated.
CNN has named an independent advisory panel to
evaluate both its election night projection procedures
and the work of VNS.
Joan Konner, dean emerita of the Columbia University
Graduate School of Journalism, James V. Risser, a two-
time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and Ben J.
Wattenberg, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute, are on the panel.
"Their recommendations will help us determine the
appropriate actions to take to ensure that the best
and most thoughtful safeguards are adopted by CNN
in the future," said CNN News Group Chairman and CEO