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Media cautious till final call

Los Angeles, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Determined to avoid a rush to judgment that backfired four years ago, US television cautiously reported the trickle of election night 2004 results, but two networks broke ranks early today to project President George W. Bush the winner in the key state of Ohio.

By calling the presidential race in Ohio for Bush, which would virtually assure him election to a second term, Fox News Channel and NBC put themselves at odds with the campaign of Democratic challenger John Kerry, who had held out hope of eking out a razor-thin victory in Ohio once provisional votes and absentee ballots were counted.

'NBC has called Ohio for Bush, and the Kerry camp strongly disagrees,' NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said after Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, made a TV appearance to declare that the Democrats were not yet ready to throw in the towel.

Brokaw insisted that nothing NBC did could have altered the outcome of the race, since its Ohio projection came long after all the polls had closed. Fox News, likewise, said it was standing by its projection that Bush would emerge the winner in Ohio.

ABC, CBS and CNN declined to call Ohio as the race entered the wee hours of the morning, deciding that the margin was too close and that too many outstanding ballots remained to be counted.

Coverage of the 2004 race was far more deliberate ' replete with caution and caveats from the networks as they carefully sifted and measured every nuance of the election.

'We're not going to rush to judgment. We're going to do it the old fashioned way: Wait until 100 per cent of the precincts are in,' CNN's Wolf Blitzer told viewers.

Some networks sought to make up for the lack of decisive projections early in the evening with a burst of Election Night pageantry, especially at NBC. It presented coverage from specially built glass studios overlooking Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, where the outdoor skating rink was turned into a giant US map filled in with red and blue pieces as states were declared for either Bush or Kerry.

Several blocks away in Times Square, CNN carried its broadcast from the site of the Nasdaq market set, projecting its data onto a bank of 96 screens, each 14 feet high and 60 feet wide.

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