Jewish World Review Nov. 28, 2001/ 13 Kislev, 5762


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Consumer Reports

Tell me when it's over -- I'VE LARGELY ignored the muddled $1 million Florida recount by a media consortium that included The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. As Jack Shafer pointed out in a Nov. 13 Slate dispatch (in contrast to his colleague Jacob Weisberg's same-day essay "Gore Wins After All"), the University of Chicago's Kirk Wolter, who was "the point person in assembling the data for the project," said, "One could never know from this study alone who won the election."

Scores of Democrats have complained that this waste of media resources-at a time when virtually every newspaper and tv network is laying off employees-was largely ignored because of the war, not to mention President Bush's current popularity. Too bad that's not true.

Here's a sampling of disgruntled journalists trying to rewrite history.

The Nation's Eric Alterman (Dec. 10): "Now that we know that Al Gore not only beat George Bush by roughly 537,000 votes nationally, but also handily defeated him among legally cast votes in Florida, I suppose we can expect accelerated efforts on the part of the President to try to counter his proven political illegitimacy." I'm sure Bush has fitful nights of sleep these days, but Alterman's paint-by-numbers propaganda isn't likely to disturb him one whit.

John Nichols, also of The Nation, wrote this silly bit on Nov. 12, even while admitting that the laborious report was "inconclusive": "But that did not prevent some of the consortium partners from issuing headlines that declared a victor in the unsettled contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore." Unsettled? That's news to anyone who lives in the United States and either approves or disapproves of the Bush administration.

Newsday's Robert Reno (Nov. 22) nods his head at The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne's conclusion: "The media consortium confirmed beyond any doubt that a substantial plurality of Florida's voters intended (emphasis mine) to vote for Gore. This plurality was foiled by flawed voting machinery [hardly unique to Florida], poor ballot design [the handiwork of a Democrat] and faulty instructions given by election officials [again, the rule rather than the exception in the country's fraud-laden Election Day apparatus]."

Reno, brother of Florida gubernatorial candidate Janet (though he never admits that in his column), throws in for good measure: "Bush has no reason to apologize for being anointed president by five of nine aging justices. This means we are stuck with two presidents-the one that should have been and the one that is, the one who got the most votes and the one who didn't. I can't imagine why this should make us uncomfortable. If Bush had collapsed in a heap after Sept. 11, if his speechwriters hadn't written all the right things, if he'd fallen off the wagon and gone into a Muslim-bashing tirade, well, I suppose we'd have a right to be disappointed in him. But he didn't and lucky for us."

And if Robert Reno were eaten by a bear next week, no one would notice, and lucky for us.


But no pundit is as stuck in a fourth-dimension funhouse as Joe Conason, the Bill Clinton apologist who writes for The New York Observer and Salon. (By the way, as to the latter, I wonder when Jake Tapper will jump ship. Ever since the website started charging for content and his CNN show Take 5 was put on hiatus, the once-ubiquitous and often enterprising Tapper has been effectively silenced.)

Conason writes: "On the day before Thanksgiving 2000, the event described approvingly by the gentleman who now oversees the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as a 'bourgeois riot' stopped the recount of disputed ballots in Florida's biggest county." The editor smeared by Conason has a name, Paul Gigot, and unlike the Clinton/Carville puppet whose career has stalled, Gigot's one of the most respected (even by liberals) journalists in the country. Also, as I recall that column, Gigot was expressing his surprise at the unexpected fortitude of the GOP, that they'd actually imitate the Democrats in street tactics on behalf of their candidate.

Conason also describes former Secretary of State James Baker, who spearheaded Bush's recount effort, as a man with a "reputation for dirty tricks [that] dates back to the Nixon era." Not that he provides any proof of such "dirty tricks": one can only guess if they were on the scale of the NAACP's commercials last fall that insinuated Bush was to blame for James Byrd's death in Texas; or Clinton's '98 race-baiting radio commercials that claimed more black churches would burn if Republicans were elected.

And there was the obligatory attack on Katherine Harris and her staff. "Seizing upon their home-court advantage [uh, except Florida's Democratic Supreme Court], the Republicans controlling the process in the Sunshine State cheated and lied." If indeed Harris "cheated and lied," why wasn't she prosecuted? There were certainly enough Gore attorneys in Tallahassee last December.


Observer/Salon hack Conason then proceeds to advertise Jeffrey Toobin's book about the recount, Too Close to Call, as a work "that deserves study by anyone who professes to care about American democracy." It's no surprise that Conason chooses this writer's volume on the 2000 election: as a liberal staff writer at The New Yorker and author of the pro-Clinton book A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, Toobin's conclusion is, "[T]he fact remains: The wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, and this is no small thing in our nation's history. The bell of this election can never be unrung, and the sound will haunt us for some time."


Despite Toobin's bias in favor of Gore, his book isn't complimentary to the former vice president or his plodding legal/public relations team in Florida. In fact, Baker comes off as the most astute player in the whole saga. Toobin writes about the day after the election, when Baker was enlisted in the Bush effort: "Joe Allbaugh, the Bush campaign manager, secured a private plane and flew to Houston later on that Wednesday to pick Baker up for the trip to Florida. Shortly after the plane took off, Allbaugh asked Baker how he thought the controversy would end. 'It's going to be decided by the Supreme Court,' Baker said."

He's also critical of Gore's desire to please the elite media, and contrasts him to Bush: "The differences between the two men reflected temperament more than technology. Bush made decisions; Gore studied problems. Bush cared about results; Gore relished process. Each man created a recount effort in his own image."

Think for a minute about that paragraph. Who would you rather have conducting the war against terrorism today-a president who cares about "results" and makes "decisions" or one given to methodical debate? It's all hypothetical, but it's not hard to imagine Gore, with the aid of focus groups and polling, attempting to understand the motives of terrorists instead of trying to kill them.

Toobin also writes about Clinton's disgust with the way Gore conducted the 36-day marathon, saying that the politically savvy president, unlike his understudy, wanted lots of demonstrators on the streets. He says: "Gore believed in muting racial animosities about the election; Clinton thought that Democrats should have been screaming about the treatment of black voters. Gore believed in offering concessions, making gestures of good faith; Clinton thought the Republicans should be given nothing at all but should rather be fought for every single vote." In addition, as Toobin reports, Clinton told John Podesta, his chief of staff, "The Supreme Court... Gore ought to attack those bastards."

Despite Toobin's partisan take, I rather enjoyed Too Close to Call, as it's filled with fascinating anecdotes about the frenzied 36-day battle. (However, it was unseemly that Toobin wrote an op-ed column for the Times on Oct. 28, ostensibly about the Democrats' current paralysis, but in reality a thinly veiled pitch to buy his book, which unfortunately for him was released on the eve of Sept. 11.)

It's another account of the 2000 election, Bill Sammon's At Any Cost, that ought to be read, in Conason's words, "by anyone who professes to care about American democracy." Sammon, a Washington Times reporter, has a different slant from Toobin's, as is amply demonstrated by his book's subtitle: "How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election."

One of Sammon's most devastating passages is about the major tv networks' cheerleading for Gore as the election results trickled in. The anchors were quick to call states for the Vice President-just minutes after the polls had closed-while sitting on equally evident wins for Bush, thus depressing voter turnout on the West Coast for the Texas governor.

Sammon writes: "Michigan and Ohio were both important battleground states that held large numbers of electoral votes. Both were won by four percentage points. Although all polls closed in Ohio at 7:30 p.m., the networks waited an hour and forty-five minutes to declare Bush the winner. Yet they raced to call Michigan for Gore the instant the first polls there closed-even though voters west of the time line had another hour in which to cast their ballots.

"The lopsided calls in Gore's favor continued all night. The clarity of the double standard is downright jarring when one examines the calls made by CNN, which was typical of the networks:

"Gore won Illinois by 12 points and CNN crowned him the winner in one minute. Bush won Georgia by 12 points and CNN waited thirty-three minutes.

"Gore won New Jersey by 15 points and CNN announced it in one minute.

Bush won Alabama by 15 points and CNN waited twenty-six minutes.

"Gore won Delaware by 13 points and CNN waited just three minutes. Bush won North Carolina by 13 points and CNN waited thirty-four minutes.

"Gore won Minnesota by 2 points and CNN waited thirty-seven minutes. Bush won Tennessee by 3 points and CNN waited twice as long-an hour and sixteen minutes.

"Withholding Tennessee from Bush was especially mendacious because news of the vice president's failure to carry his home state would have sent a powerful political message to the rest of the nation. If Gore couldn't carry Tennessee, how could he be expected to win the presidency?"

But I doubt Conason finds any validity in Sammon's take on the election. After all, the latter works for the biased Washington Times as opposed to the objective New York Times, Time, Washington Post, Newsweek or Salon.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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