The Opinionator
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Doing the Charlie-Charlie
In the commotion at ABC News on the last day of the presidential primaries, it's hard to hear the data singing. Langer is coming off a late night spent crafting an analysis of what the campaign so far might signify for the months to come. He knows that what's happening in South Dakota and Montana on this June day will be just a sidebar to the big question: Will Barack Obama lock up the Democratic delegate count? The morning moves quickly from polishing the analysis to promoting it--first making sure it's linked to the ABC News homepage and then making sure everyone he encounters has seen it.

It's important to keep the polling unit's work out front, Langer says, to help everyone distinguish small from large, the campaign from the election. A campaign focuses narrowly on one thing: victory. When people grouse that journalists overemphasize the "horse race," they're complaining about campaign coverage. To Langer, an election is something much broader and more profound. "It's the people of this country evaluating where we're at, where we want to go, how we want to get there, and what's informing all of those."

He's happy to spread this gospel by any means necessary--including, on this day, summarizing his campaign analysis for ABC Radio. That means condensing 1,600 written words to 20 seconds, a task he chips away at, between phone calls, on one of the numerous windows open on his two computer screens. In another window he's assembling a response to correspondent Jake Tapper, who has asked whether Langer has numbers on "angry Clinton supporters" who might not switch to Obama. Anger is not what he's seeing in polls, Langer thinks, so he's trying to refocus the question while gathering relevant data. "Jake will be on 'World News' tonight and 'Good Morning America' tomorrow, and today he's blogging," Langer says. "If we don't address this now, we have the opportunity to misinform several million people."

TWENTY SECONDS: Gary Langer '80 records a spot for ABC Radio, above, and commutes to work on a scooter, left.

After quick staff meetings, Langer returns to the radio piece. Recording these spots is known around the building as "doing the Charlie-Charlie" because the first and last words spoken in the 20 seconds are anchor Gibson's first name. "Charlie," Langer begins in an introductory tone, leaning toward the microphone. Then again at the end, in a back-to-you voice, "Charlie?"

Downstairs in his office, Charlie himself sings Langer's praises. "It's tremendously valuable that his origin is in reporting; he's not a data-head," Gibson says. Not long ago, an Obama campaign pollster said to Gibson, "Why are you asking about my polls? ABC's polls are the gold standard." As the epitome of the unit's efforts, Gibson points to the three polls ABC has conducted in Afghanistan and the five in Iraq.

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