LOS ANGELES -- In all due respect to our nation, and acknowledging the gravity of what's at stake for the Republic: Of course Americans are upset that the presidential election wasn't wrapped up a week ago, as previously scheduled.
You can blame some of that on TV.
Most voters are viewers, and you don't need a pollster to tell you that they don't like to be left hanging.
Television, still the most influential medium in this country and most of the civilized world, has created a mind-set and a culture in which real-life, high-stakes dramas are supposed to be wrapped up and paid off, as they say in Hollywood, like any other prime-time show.
No wonder CBS News anchor Dan Rather came unglued election night, verbally roughriding his way through the proceedings, stalling when the story ground to a halt, with his notoriously peculiar, Texas-style similes and metaphors. Texas Gov. George W. Bush's lead, he declared at one point, was "shakier than cafeteria Jell-O."
Even in an era in which so many are turned off by the political process, having tuned out long ago, television made the election results that much harder to take.
The medium, more than any other, has taught us to be instant-gratification junkies -- so much so that TV news finally got caught up in its rush to judgment, declaring both Vice President Al Gore and Bush a winner in Florida and, therefore, the nation, before all the facts were in.
Premature projections on television are nothing new. Their appropriateness, and now their accuracy, have been questioned and debated for years. This time, however, it became part of a convoluted and disorienting plot, a story that still does not have an ending.
And when the citizens of this country turn on their TV sets, they don't like to be kept waiting. As network executives, prime-time producers and advertisers know all too well, even the slightest delay can be deadly. Make them wait, and they're gone.
But the race for the presidency, which has turned into a passion play for power between the vice president's Democratic Party and the Texas governor's GOP, has gone on for what is certainly considered an eternity in television. The problem for the viewing public is that the show isn't over.
Even more maddening: the story has been dragging along at a snail's pace -- even by newspaper standards -- with no clear resolution in sight.
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