NEW YORK–Three hours after placing Al Gore in the "dead" column, NBC News retracted its projection Tuesday, changing the vice-president's status to "too close to call."
"I'm sorry, but it now appears that we reported Mr. Gore's death prematurely," NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw announced on air at approximately 2:15 a.m. EST. "The latest readings show his red-blood count down to 3.1. At this point, it could go either way."
Gore, shot Monday by a Republican sniper during a foray into the Bush-controlled territory of New Hampshire, has been clinging to life in a hospital just across the Vermont border.
According to NBC News correspondent Tim Russert, nurses and anesthesiologists leaving the operating room at various points during a 14-hour operation on Gore were exit-polled regarding his chances of survival.
"When several sources reported a direct hit to the spinal cord, everyone thought it was all over," Russert said. "It turns out that report was erroneous. The shot missed the spinal cord by a hair's width."
Early in the evening, NBC's on-screen outline of Gore was colored blue, signifying life. At 11:17 p.m. EST, it turned red, indicating death. When word arrived that Gore had a pulse but no signs of brain activity, the outline reverted to its original uncolored state, meaning "unconfirmed."
In the hours following the erroneous report, NBC was more cautious about making projections, posting the latest readings from Gore's blood-pressure monitor but refraining from speculating about his overall status.
Democratic Party chairman Ed Rendell expressed anger over what he called NBC's "shoddy, irresponsible journalism."
"Who knows how this could affect how Gore is perceived when he attempts to gather military support in disputed states?" Rendell said. "NBC should know better than to call the outcome of an operation before the body is even closed."
NBC was not alone in prematurely calling Gore's death. CBS, ABC, and CNN all made the same mistake.
"In our efforts to bring Americans the most up-to-the-minute news on the war for the White House, we made some hasty decisions," CBS anchor Dan Rather said. "I'd like to apologize to all of our viewers, as well as to the entire Gore junta."