Marty Plissner | CBS political chief, 87
Marty Plissner, 87, the longtime political director of CBS News, died Thursday of lung cancer.
Mr. Plissner is credited with coining the phrase "too close to call" a half-century ago, heard often ever since during tight vote counts. He was known for his extensive political knowledge and his range of political contacts, establishing himself by one appraisal as the gold standard for several generations of political journalists.
He was a pioneer of exit polls and was known to say that members of Congress who had pushed to limit them would nonetheless contact him on primary days seeking information on what they revealed.
Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Mr. Plissner attended Yale and served in the Navy during World War II. After stints at ABC and NBC, he joined CBS News in 1964. He participated in covering the 1964 presidential race as well as the next eight. He retired in 1997 as senior political director.
Mr. Plissner's coinage of "too close to call" was noted in 1996 by New York Times language columnist William Safire. He quoted Mr. Plissner as explaining that the situation occurred in vote-sampling techniques that predated exit polling, "when we had a situation in which all the votes were reported but there was no clear winner."
He wrote about that era in his 1999 book, The Control Room: How Television Calls the Shots in Presidential Elections. The three TV networks around in 1964 created the modern New Hampshire primary and went "overboard" in their coverage, he wrote. - AP