November 12, a consortium of major US news organizations,
including the New York Times, Washington Post,
Wall Street Journal and CNN, released the results
of a 10-month investigation into disputed votes
cast in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.
The media report was calculated to boost the political
legitimacy of the Bush administration and obscure
the profoundly anti-democratic manner in which
Bush was installed in the White House.
media organizations, which also included the Associated
Press, the Tribune Co. (owner of the Los Angeles
Times, Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel),
the St. Petersburg Times and the Palm Beach Post,
based their findings on a review of 175,010 contested
ballots conducted by the National Opinion Research
Center (NORC), a nonprofit survey firm affiliated
with the University of Chicago, which the consortium
hired last January.
The media report presented as its central finding
the claim that Bush would have won the election
in Florida-by 493 votes-even if the US Supreme
Court had not intervened to stop the statewide
recount ordered by Florida high court. It further
asserted that Bush would have won by 225 votes
if recounts had been completed in the four Florida
counties where Gore was seeking them.
In reporting its findings, the consortium was
above all concerned with "proving" that last December's
US Supreme Court ruling halting the counting of
disputed ballots did not determine the outcome
of the presidential election. In addition to shoring
up the political legitimacy of the Bush administration,
the report sought to boost the US high court's
credibility, which was badly undermined by its
intervention on the side of the favored candidate
of the Republican right.
The New York Times headlined its report on the
recount "Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds
Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote," while
the Wall Street Journal in its news account declared,
"[T]he findings indicate that the Supreme Court
didn't steal the presidential election from Mr.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial pages, which
before September enthusiastically supported the
machinations of the Bush 11 campaign and the Supreme
Court a year ago, were predictably shameless in
exploiting the media report to whitewash the theft
of the election. A November 13 editorial entitled
"Vindicating the Court" featured a and the picture
of Justice Antonin Scalia over a caption of reading
"Supreme wisdom." Scalia is the ideological point
man for the extreme right-wing faction on the
Court. He led the drive on the Supreme Court to
override the ruling of the Florida high court
and halt the manual count of disputed ballots
in the state.
consortium's report could not come as a surprise
to anyone who has followed the response of the
media, including what passes for the liberal press,
to the unprecedented events of last year. Previous
surveys, including a Miami Herald / USA Today
study released last April, produced similar results.
during and after the 2000 election, the main preoccupation
of the media has been to insist on Bush's political
legitimacy and dismiss the election crisis as
little more than a partisan squabble. Just two
months ago, New York Times Washington bureau chief
Richard Berke wrote a column in which he said
the events of September 11 had rendered the consortium's
recount "utterly irrelevant."
Gore's response to the media report was no less
predictable, given the Democrats' halfhearted
efforts during the election crisis and the party's
abandonment of any pretense of opposition to the
Republican administration since the terror attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In
a written statement published November 12, Gore
declared, "As I said on December 13 of last year,
we are a nation of laws and the presidential election
of 2000 is over. And, of course, right now our
country faces a greater challenge as we seek to
successfully combat terrorism. I fully support
President Bush's efforts to achieve that goal."
Before proceeding with an overview of the media
report, it is necessary to establish two basic
First: the decisive issue is not whether, in the
end, Bush or Gore received more votes in Florida,
but the fact that the presidential election was
decided on an openly anti-democratic basis. For
the first time in US history, the result of a
national election was determined on the basis
of the suppression of votes. The Bush campaign,
the Republican Party and the right-wing Republican
majority on the US Supreme Court, with the complicity
of the mass media, contravened the will of the
electorate and installed in the White House the
candidate of the most reactionary sections of
the corporate and political elite.
doing so, the Supreme Court declared that the
people have no constitutional right to vote for
the president, and the Republican machine in Florida
disenfranchised thousands of working class voters.
Bush would have been elected even if this political
crime against the American people had not been
carried out-a highly dubious claim that is not
demonstrated by the media study-the crime was
nevertheless committed. It marked a fundamental
and irrevocable break with democratic norms and
a frontal attack on the most basic of democratic
rights, the right to vote.
Second: the intervention of the US Supreme Court
can be assessed only in its actual social and
historical context. It was a political act, whose
significance cannot be reduced to a matter of
was the political situation when the US high court
intervened to halt the counting of votes in Florida?
On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court ordered
a statewide recount of "undervotes," i.e., ballots
that failed to register a preference for president
in the machine tabulation. The Republicans, who
believed this would cost them the election, were
desperate to stop the recount, which began Saturday,
National and international attention was focused
on the recounts that were begun by local canvassing
boards throughout Florida. Cable networks were
carrying running tallies of Bush's declining lead
and broadcasting live coverage from county election
offices. Everyone knew that if and when Bush's
paper-thin lead turned into a deficit, the entire
political situation would radically shift to his
The entire strategy of the Bush camp had been
concentrated on doing whatever was necessary,
including organizing mob violence and making semi-insurrectionary
appeals to the military, to make sure that Gore
at no point gained a lead in the official vote
in Florida. Given the fact that Gore had won the
national popular vote, such a turn of events could
have undermined the Republican drive to brazen
itself into the White House. At the very least,
it would have made stealing the election a more
Then, on December 9, like the proverbial cavalry
to the rescue, the US Supreme Court issued an
extraordinary order to stop the recount. It did
so prior to even holding a hearing on the merits
of the suit filed by the Bush camp.
In issuing the order to halt the recounts, Justice
Scalia was fairly brazen, writing that the vote-counting
had to be halted because it might do "irreparable
harm" to Bush. In other words, Bush might lose.
Three days later, in a 5-4 decision, the right-wing
majority headed by Scalia declared that counting
all disputed votes was a violation of "equal protection
of the law," that in any event the US Constitution
did not give the people the right to vote for
president, and that there was not enough time
to set new criteria for a fair count of contested
ballots in Florida. On the basis of this thoroughly
cynical and unscrupulous legal concoction, the
Court majority handed the election to Bush.
The media report released last Monday was carefully
framed to obscure these political issues and manipulate
public opinion. The news organizations involved
knew that the vast majority of the people would
not read the details of their findings, but would
only hear the sound bites on the evening news
or see the newspaper headlines seeming to vindicate
Bush's installation in the White House.
In fact, the actual findings of the media consortium
contain information that is highly damaging to
Bush and the Supreme Court.
The study found that hundreds, if not thousands,
of legal votes for Gore had not been counted.
These fell into two categories. They included
undervotes that, upon examination, were found
to be valid under Florida law, i.e., the ballots
showed a "clear indication of the intent of the
voter." The other category was so-called "overvotes"-ballots
that were wrongly rejected because a voter punched
or marked a ballot for Gore and also wrote in
the Democratic candidate's name, circled it, or
made some other mark around or near the candidate's
name or party. According to state law these votes
were also legal and should have been counted.
The study acknowledged that if all of the undervotes
and overvotes in Florida had been examined fairly
and objectively and the legal ballots in these
categories had been added to the final tally,
Gore would have won the election. The Wall Street
Journal is forced to admit, for example, that
the study "provides strong evidence" that a "clear
plurality of voters went to the polls on Nov.
7, 2000, intending to vote for Mr. Gore." The
New York Times states that the study found "Mr.
Gore might have won if the courts had ordered
a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots."
the media had a different political agenda, the
news headlines last Monday might very well have
read: "Recount Casts New Doubt on Supreme Court
Role in 2000 Election," or "Florida Voters Preferred
present the radically different picture desired
by the news organizations, they were obliged to
proceed in a highly selective and tendentious
manner, choosing to emphasize certain facts and
partial truths from the ballot data and weave
them together to "prove" a conclusion that was
not warranted by the totality of circumstances.
In other words, the media report is a classic
whitewash. For example, to arrive at the scenario
where Bush won by 493 votes, the consortium had
first to limit itself to a review of the state's
60,000 undervotes, rather than the total of more
than 176,000 rejected ballots. It justified this
on the grounds that the Florida Supreme Court
had only ordered a hand count of undervotes. But
to get the desired result, the news organizations
had to go a step further. They chose to examine
many thousands of undervote ballots on the basis
of the highly restrictive criteria used by Republican
county officials-criteria that were guaranteed
to discount hundreds of ballots, most of them
for Gore, that met the legal standard set by state
law for a legitimate vote. Why didn't the media
apply a reasonable interpretation of Florida law
to make a genuinely independent tally?
By the consortium's own admission, Gore would
have picked up at least 885 votes if overvotes
had been examined, more than enough to overcome
Bush's final official lead of 537. In all of the
scenarios where these votes are examined, the
news organizations admit Gore would have won.
In fact, Gore would have won-by a margin of between
42 and 171 votes-in six of the nine scenarios
developed by the consortium.
critical issue generally ignored by the consortium
is the role of the Florida state apparatus, headed
by Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of the Republican
candidate, in suppressing pro-Gore votes. The
report does, however, note, although only in passing,
one damning fact-that Republican officials in
16 counties failed to carry out automatic machine
recounts on November 8, the day after the election.
This was a clear violation of state election laws,
which require such machine retabulations whenever
the initial vote count produces a margin of victory
of 0.5 percent or smaller.
The media study reports-without drawing any political
conclusions-that had these counties observed the
law and carried out machine recounts on November
8 and the valid votes were included, Gore would
have taken over the lead by 48 votes.
In Jeffrey Toobin's recent book, Too Close to
Call, the author, a legal analyst for ABC News,
says a total of 18 counties-accounting for 1.58
million votes, or more than a quarter of all votes
cast in Florida-did not carry out the legally
mandated machine recount. This was done, Toobin
writes, with the full knowledge of Secretary of
State Katherine Harris, an appointee of Jeb Bush
who also served as co-chair of Florida's George
W. Bush campaign committee.
This fact alone-buried in the media report-is
sufficient to prove that the Bush campaign and
the Republican Party used illegal means to steal
By November 9, as a result of the machine recounts
that were carried out, Bush's official lead had
fallen by 80 percent-from 1,784 votes to 327 votes.
Can there be any doubt that Republican officials,
fearing that Gore would take the lead, gave the
word to forego the required machine recounts in
a whole number of counties?
The consortium's study suggests further evidence
of election fraud, including the disappearance
of hundreds of contested ballots in the possession
of Republican county officials. On November 8,
Florida officials announced there were more than
176,000 rejected ballots. However, the National
Opinion Research Center was able to obtain only
175,010 uncounted ballots, 1,427 fewer overvoted
ballots than counties reported on November 8,
and nine fewer undervotes.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street
Journal and CNN all have a vested interest in
concealing the historic significance of the 2000
election because they were complicit in the assault
on democratic rights.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board was an
active participant in the Bush conspiracy and
an early supporter of Supreme Court intervention.
CNN, whose chief political analyst, Bill Schnieder,
is a member of the right-wing think tank, American
Enterprise Institute, showed a consistent bias
toward Bush. As for the Washington Post and New
York Times, throughout the course of the conflict
they wrung their hands and pleaded for a speedy
resolution. After the high court intervened, the
Times and the Post issued respectful and perfunctory
criticisms and began a concerted effort to put
the stamp of legitimacy on the stolen election.
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