FOX News? A mistake? Never. But, alas, FOX News made a pretty big mistake during its election coverage Tuesday night. Vox reports FOX News prematurely revealed New Hampshire exit poll stats two hours before polls closed, which is still a major media no-no. According to Vox, while FOX didn't break any laws, media outlets avoid posting exit polls before polls close in order to avoid influencing voters before they get a chance to vote. For example, if a voter sees an exit poll weighing heavily in favor of one candidate before they go to vote, they may believe their vote won't count. This could discourage them from voting, which can actually slant an election in a major way.
As Vox's Dara Lind wrote:
In some countries, like the United Kingdom, it's actually illegal for any media outlet to report exit poll results before the polls close. In the US, it's not illegal, but there's a binding agreement among the media outlets that run the exit poll that none of them is allowed to leak any results before the polls have closed."
However, FOX is disputing the accusation, stating they don't believe they violated any rules. Executive Vice President of FOX, Michael Clemente, told POLITICO:
“According to the National Election Pool (NEP), we are permitted to report exit poll results as long as we don’t characterize the outcome of the race, which we did not do earlier this evening.”
The NEP hasn't given POLITICO a formal comment on the matter, but I'll say FOX's counterargument falls a little short. I know if I saw particularly slanted results before I went out to vote, I would feel pretty discouraged. The numbers themselves characterize the outcome of the election, no commentary required.
Whether it was intentional or not, we may never know, but FOX's general reputation for slanting the story makes things a little suspicious.