The Wall Street Journal didn't rob Oscar of its soul by polling a sampling of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters for their choices for the 2000 Academy Awards.
If anything, the survey helped stir interest in the four-hour-plus Oscar telecast, which attracted some 78 million viewers to at least some of awards program, according to Nielsen Media Research. The ratings were slightly down from a year ago. What's more, the poll was remarkably accurate, flubbing only the pick for Best Actor, with the newspaper giving the nod to Denzel Washington. The Oscar went to Kevin Spacey, the leading man in "American Beauty."We know something about the subject of polling the people who vote for awards. The Deseret News scooped the world by announcing, weeks ahead of the official word, that Karl Malone had won the NBA's most valuable player award, both times. That's simply good journalism.
Despite Academy officials' protestations that the poll was an "assault" on their privacy and that the Wall Street Journal had done a "geeky thing" by conducting the poll, it shouldn't come as a surprise that at least 6 percent of Academy voters were willing up to give up the goods on the supposedly secret ballot. Americans routinely answer exit polls outside the voting booth, which is also supposed to be a private exercise. While it may be profoundly irritating to learn the outcome of a national election before voters in the West have had an opportunity to cast a ballot, polling is a fact of life.
Media are in intense competition to be first. Media consumers have come to demand information immediately. If they can't get what they want from traditional mediums, the Internet has opened a host of possibilities. The information business is more competitive now than it ever has been.
For devoted Academy Award viewers and other media critical of the Wall Street Journal, don't be. The Journal demonstrated considerable enterprise in calling the Academy voters. If individual voters truly valued the secrecy of the balloting, they could have refused to cooperate. In fact, the Academy urged them to do just that and they elected, instead, to participate.
The truth of the matter is, a good many human beings just can't keep a secret. And they can't stand it if someone knows something they don't -- witness the people who can't keep their mitts off their Christmas presents and expectant parents who insist on knowing the gender of their children before they're born.
It would be disingenuous of Americans to purport that the Wall Street Journal ruined their Oscar surprise. The only surprise is that it took until the Academy Awards' 72nd year for someone to think of polling the voters.