US media cautious on election gaffes
This has been the year of the big media gaffe in the US.
NBC News edited an emergency-call recording of neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a way that implied race as a factor in the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February.
CNN and Fox News falsely reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate at the heart of the Obama administration's health care overhaul.
ABC News wrongly suggested a link between a mass shooting in Colorado and the Tea Party.
Just last week during Hurricane Sandy, CNN repeated a false rumour about flooding at the New York Stock Exchange.
Now the media are gearing up for election night, the finale of the year's biggest story. It's a chance to regain some credibility - presuming, of course, that television networks and other news organisations get their state-by-state projections right.
They all say they will, still mindful of the mistakes made in 2000, when the networks prematurely called Florida for Al Gore and then George W Bush.
The same precautions that were put in place after 2000 will be in place again. At NBC, for instance, the statisticians at the "decision desk" that makes projections "are literally sealed off from the rest of us", said Mark Lukasiewicz, the senior vice president of specials for NBC News.
Different this time will be the level of noise on the web, where armchair and professional pundits alike will react to the election results in real time.
On election night in 2008, a few websites, including Slate and Time.com, stated the obvious - that Barack Obama was going to win the presidency - well before the TV networks and major newspapers said so. In large part that's because the networks and newspapers were waiting for the polls to close on the West Coast.
They will abide by the same principle again tomorrow night, ruling out any such pronouncement before 11pm eastern time. But more websites and individual users will most likely try to call the race early, creating a cacophony on social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter.
A memo on Saturday to employees of the Associated Press, the country's biggest news wire service, asked them to refrain from adding to the noise by posting to Twitter about other news outlets' calls.
"If AP has not called a particular state or race, it's because we have specifically decided not to, based on the expertise and data we have spent years developing," the memo read. In calling a state for Obama or Mitt Romney, news organisations will consider several data sources, including exit poll results and raw vote totals - "a brain trust of data", said Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, vice-president for news for CBS News.
Executives at the major networks said in interviews they don't expect to be able to project a winner at 11pm this year, given the closeness of the presidential race in several swing states.
"I'm not even going to guess what time it will be," said Marc Burstein, the senior executive producer for special events at ABC News. He predicted an abundance of caution this year because of the trend of early voting in many states.