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Fox Executive Spoke Five Times With Cousin Bush On Election Night

NEW YORK (AP) - The head of Fox's projection team said he spoke five times with his cousin, George W. Bush, on election night but insists he did not give out confidential exit poll information. Bush got that information elsewhere, he said.

John Ellis, an election night consultant for Fox, was hired by Inside.com to write an account of what happened that night; it was posted on the Web site Monday. Ellis is becoming a regular columnist for the online publication's new magazine, Inside.

Publicity about his relationship to Bush has proved an embarrassment to Fox, whose executives were angry with him Monday for writing about it. The network is still investigating whether Ellis, who was working on a temporary contract, provided the Bush campaign with insider data.

Fox was criticized for having a Bush cousin as director of its team responsible for projecting the presidential race. The network, and Ellis, said an executive above Ellis had the final say on whether a state was called.

In their final conversation on election night, Bush told Ellis that Al Gore had taken back his concession of the race. "I hope you're taking all this down, Ellis," Bush reportedly said. "This is good stuff for a book."

Ellis did not discuss the spate of stories that questioned the ethics of a Bush relative working as part of the team that projected election night winners and losers.

But he did note that the three other members of Fox's decision desk team included two Democrats and a third person with Democratic ties.

Bush first called Ellis after 2 p.m. on Election Day when the first wave of exit poll information came in from Voter News Service, a consortium consisting of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and The Associated Press.

"Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position," Ellis wrote. "He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me."

Bush asked him, "Looks tight, huh?"

Bush already had the second wave of exit poll information when Ellis spoke to him about 5:30 p.m., according to Ellis "Is it really this close?" Bush asked.

Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, called Ellis after Fox mistakenly projected Florida for Gore at 7:52 p.m. Ellis told him he was looking at a computer "screenful of Gore."

Much later in the evening, Fox was the first network to call Florida for Bush, again mistakenly, at 2:16 a.m. Other networks quickly followed suit, although the AP was the one VNS member not to call Florida for Bush. Ellis said Fox and the other networks probably would have made that call more quickly if they weren't afraid of blowing the same state twice - which they wound up doing anyway.

"Anchors and show producers and analysts and commentators all hate reversals with a white-hot passion because it makes them look stupid instead of omniscient," Ellis wrote.

Fox had no comment on Ellis' article other than to say its investigation is continuing. Ellis also said he had no comment.

"Whatever I have to say I said in the article," he said.

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