Fox's Ellis, A Little Too Close To the Story
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2000; Page C01

On the afternoon of Nov. 7, George W. Bush called his cousin John Ellis,
head of the decision desk at Fox News.

"Ellis, Bush here," he drawled. "Here we go again. . . . Looks tight, huh?"

"I wouldn't worry about your early numbers," Ellis said.
"Your dad had bad early numbers in '88 and he wound up
 winning by 7 [percentage points]. So who knows?"

"Okay, call me back when you can," Bush said.

Ellis has written his first account of that fateful day and submitted it to Inside magazine,
which tentatively plans to publish it next week. The new magazine, a joint venture
between and the Industry Standard, has offered Ellis a $15,000 fee, insiders say.

The piece is remarkable because it shows just how deeply involved the Fox analyst was
with both the Republican candidate and his other first cousin, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush,
while simultaneously working for a major news organization. Indeed, Ellis's 2:16 a.m.
projection that Bush had won Florida--and the presidency--kicked off the month-long
impasse that deepened considerably with Friday's Florida Supreme Court order of a
hand recount sought by Vice President Gore.

The network is investigating Ellis's conduct, and Fox News President Roger Ailes was
said to be angry when he learned of the Inside article. The expectation within Fox is that Ellis,
who already offered his resignation once, will be dropped.

Ellis doesn't defend himself in the first-person tale, except to say that the Texas governor
"knew I would be fried if I gave him anything that [Voter News Service] deemed confidential,
so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources
before talking to me."

At 5:30 p.m., with exit polls suggesting a Gore victory, Ellis writes, he stepped outside for
a cigarette and called Bush, their second chat of the day.

"Is it really this close?" Bush asked. "Yeah, it's really close," Ellis said.
"Well, what do you think?" Bush asked. "I have no idea," Ellis replied.
"Well, keep in touch. Let me know if you hear anything good."
 Ellis "promised him I would."

Soon after 7:52, when Fox became the fourth network to call Florida for the vice president,
Jeb Bush called Ellis. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"Jeb, I'm sorry. I'm looking at a screen full of Gore," Ellis said.
"But the polls haven't closed in the Panhandle," Bush said.
"It's not going to help. I'm sorry," said Ellis.
He adds: "I felt terribly for him."

Editor's Note: You see what the REAL data showed?

Later, "out of deference to Governor Jeb Bush," he checked the Florida numbers
one more time and soon was persuaded to retract the call, despite the
"near-total embarrassment and humiliation of screwing up in such spectacular fashion."

About 11 p.m., Ellis "reopened the line of communication" to George Bush at the governor's mansion.

"George W. had been talking to governors across the country. Jeb was wired into Florida.
Both gave us very useful information about what precincts in what counties had not yet reported."

At 1:50 a.m., confident that Gore could not win Florida,
"I called Governor Bush and asked him what he thought," adding: "I think you've got it."
Bush "was worried we might get beat on the call."

Ellis was nervous as he called Florida for Bush. A few minutes later, the phone rang.
"Gore called and conceded," Bush said. "He was good, very gracious."
Ellis congratulated his cousin and "breathed an enormous sigh of relief."

But then "the roof fell in," Florida shifted, and Fox, like the other networks,
was left with two blown calls. Bush called back.
"Gore unconceded," he said. "You've got to be kidding me," Ellis said.

Bush wasn't. "I hope you're taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book."

But not good stuff for a network analyst. Ellis, who had stopped writing about Bush as
a Boston Globe columnist because "I am loyal to my cousin," may well have committed
no violation of the exit-poll rules. But Fox executives recognize that the appearance
of their man working both sides of the street has damaged their credibility.

Of course, there's no violation of anything here,
because the staged win for Smirk didn't involve Clinton's cock.

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