How CNN Calls An Election: Anchor Don Lemon Breaks It Down

Don Lemon

With reporting by Sway Calloway

Don’t expect the major news networks to call tonight’s election too early. They’ve been burned in the past, like in 2004, when early exit-poll numbers leaked, showing eventual loser Senator John Kerry leading eventual winner President George Bush.

That’s why, more than three hours before any polls closed, CNN anchor Don Lemon told MTV News that his network is very cautious when it comes to calling an election. In a word: “Accuracy,” Lemon said. “We want to make sure that we know absolutely sure before we call anything. And we try not to use that [phrase], ‘call anything.’ Most of the time, we project. We all learned our lessons from 2000 and 2004. We have to be absolutely sure.”

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(More about how CNN calls an election, after the jump!)

Shockingly, in the cutthroat world of big-time news gathering, Lemon said it’s not as imperative to be first as it is to be accurate: “For the next four years at least, we know who the president’s going to be, so one hour or one day really doesn’t make a difference as far as calling an election.”

Lemon said those projections are based on what percentage of the poll results are in for any given state. Asked about reports that one network might call the election just hours after the first polls close if Senator Barack Obama wins the key state of Virginia, Lemon said, “I don’t want to get into what other networks say, but we know that the critical state in all this is Pennsylvania for John McCain. So if John McCain doesn’t do well or doesn’t win in Pennsylvania, his chances of winning — if you look at the electoral map — his chances of winning are pretty slim to none. If he doesn’t win Pennsylvania and then wins everything else … [just] keep your eye on Pennsylvania.”

Looking over his shoulder for a second opinion from political reporter Jessica Yellin, Lemon asked, “Is that right?”

“Yes, watch Pennsylvania for McCain,” Yellin nodded.