Television network admits Florida was called wrongly by George W's cousin

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The Independent US

In an election full of mind-boggling coincidences, surely none is more mind-boggling than this. The network television consultant who triggered the mistaken call of Florida in the small hours of last Wednesday, which for a few minutes gave George W Bush the White House, was none other than one of Mr Bush's close cousins.

In an election full of mind-boggling coincidences, surely none is more mind-boggling than this. The network television consultant who triggered the mistaken call of Florida in the small hours of last Wednesday, which for a few minutes gave George W Bush the White House, was none other than one of Mr Bush's close cousins.

John Ellis, whose mother, Nancy, is the sister of the former president George Bush, father of today's Republican candidate, had been hired by Fox News to run its election night "decision desk". At 2.16am on 8 November he made the fateful decision to award Florida and its 25 electoral votes to Mr Bush, putting him "over the top" in the quest for the 270 electoral college majority needed to win.

Desperate not to be scooped, the other networks followed suit within minutes, prompting the Vice-President, Al Gore, to phone Mr Bush and concede victory. Soon, however, the race had tightened again, forcing a recount in Florida and obliging Fox, part of the Murdoch empire, and the other networks to make their second Florida retraction of the night, while Mr Gore withdrew his earlier concession.

But what has really caused a stir are allegations that Mr Ellis called both George W and his brother, Jeb, that night, informing them of confidential internal data collected by the Voter News Service research organisation, jointly owned by the networks that award states to one or other candidate on the basis of VNS exit polls.

John Moody, the Fox executive in charge of news, said yesterday: "Did we know he was on the phone to his cousin? No.Just as we would not have expected him to tell us the details of a family dinner, so we wouldn't have expected him to provide information to one of the candidates." Mr Ellis himself described questions about his personal integrity as "absolutely unconscionable", and insisted that although he spoke to his cousin twice on election night, he revealed nothing.

Although several workers on the special election desk were Democrats, suspicion has further fallen on Fox because of its reputation as a more conservative news outlet, which has been at pains to counter the claimed liberal bias of the national news media. The chairman of Fox News is none other than Roger Ailes, a top adviser to George Bush Snr during the 1988 and 1992 presidential election campaigns.

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