All 3 major networks cited sources saying resignation was imminent
Amid all the questions about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's plans Thursday, the three major cable networks cited sources who agreed on one thing: He would step down.
It provided more fodder for critics who cite example after example — Dewey defeating Truman, Gore winning Florida — of reporters assuming too much.
Networks aren't responsible for everything their sources say, of course. And like almost everyone, they had no way of knowing what Egypt's leader of 30 years would do. He may even have changed his plans at the last minute. CIA Director Leon Panetta was confident enough of a change to say in a televised Congressional hearing that there was "a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening."
Still, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all cited sources Thursday morning who said, wrongly, that Mubarak's resignation was imminent. They turned again and again to wide shots of chanting protestors, many of whom clearly believed Mubarak's resignation was close.
But as the hours dragged on without him taking to the airwaves, reporters and commentators added a note of skepticism to resignation talk.
At around 1 p.m. ET, hours before Mubarak finally spoke, CNN reported that Egypt's information minister said Mubarak would not step down. CNN's Wolf Blitzer followed that report by saying Mubarak "may or may not announce" his resignation, adding, "I guess we're just going to have to wait and see."
At about the same time, Fox News' Megyn Kelly said the "the opposition forces pushing for democracy appear about to prevail."
Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews, meanwhile, compared the events to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reporter Richard Engel, reporting from Cairo, referred to "the initial shock that Mubarak is stepping down" and talked about whether his vice president would be a strong replacement.
Throughout the day, guests and commentators focused on questions like how Mubarak would appear — from the presidential palace or elsewhere? Live or on-tape? Would he cede power to the vice president or the military? But only Mubarak knew the answers.
Ultimately, he appeared from the palace — and made a series of rambling promises to avenge people injured in demonstrations, and to protect Egypt. He agreed to transfer much of his power to Vice President Omar Suleiman.
But he didn't resign.
It turns out no one can predict the future — especially when it depends on a strong-armed ruler of three decades.