Editorial by John Ziegler

Random Thoughts on the Election Media Coverage

12/5/2000

In somewhat chronological order, here are my observations on the media coverage of this bizarre election result:

The outrages began early on Tuesday night when none of the TV networks called Ohio or Georgia for Bush despite large leads (7% and 13% respectively). Yet somehow, BEFORE the networks finally called Ohio and Georgia, they DID call Florida and Pennsylvania (correctly) for Gore despite the fact that Bush LEAD by 5% with 61% of the actual vote counted in Florida and by 7% early on in Pennsylvania.

Despite what those who believe me to be "partisan" may think, I DO NOT believe that this outrageous discrepancy is do to some sort of liberal media conspiracy, but rather because the proper and normal standards of "calling" an election were reduced significantly in the CLOSELY watched states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania) in the name of overzealous competition among the networks. One of the MOST absurd notions that have been floated by the TV networks in their feeble defense of their egregious recklessness is that they don't consider what their competitors are doing when they decide to "call" a state. If that is supposedly so, are we really to believe that it is mere coincidence that EVERY Network called Florida for Gore within 12 minutes of each other, took it back with 10 minutes of each other, gave it to Bush with 3 minutes of each other and then took it back within 8 minutes of each other?!! I guess that we are also supposed to believe that Al Gore and his family just casually decided to play touch football in a public park on Friday and arbitrarily determined to go (with the Lieberman's) to see the movie "Men of Honor," on Saturday.

While the early projections were NOT, in my opinion, as a result of the news media's liberal bias, there WERE certainly numerous examples of statements that were made on the TV networks that were absolutely unconscionable and should warrant some sort of repercussion (but won't). To me, the greatest (or worst) source of outrageous comments was, without a doubt, former Clinton advisor, and current MSNBC host, Paul Begala. When asked why white males in the south vote so predominately Republican, Begala actually had the gall to respond that they are racist and homophobic cretins who turned Republican after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This charge was not only obscene on its face, but also flat wrong since it was (little known fact) largely Republicans who passed the Civil Rights Act over the objections of, among others, AL GORE'S FATHER!!

Begala wasn't done there, however. After Bush gave a hasty "press conference" to say that Florida should not have been called yet (which I and others thought was VERY impressive), Begala virtually slandered Bush by referring to him as a "self indulgent whiner that thinks that he is somehow entitled to the job of President." While life-long Democrat Chris Matthews literally laughed at Begala for this (and he later revealed himself to be the REAL whiner when it looked like Bush had won), it did not stop Begala from implying on the air (with ZERO evidence) that Jeb Bush would be making sure the votes would be counted his brother's way in Florida (which he later claimed was just a "joke"). If a conservative had ever said ANY of this he would never have been allowed on the network again, even as a guest. Begala kept his job and, apparently, has suffered no consequences for his actions.

Other examples of blatant liberal bias in the election coverage include:

-- Brain Williams saying, after New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani missed a scheduled live interview when it looked like Bush had lost, "Mayor Guiliani has BAGGED us."

-- Katie Couric (who showed herself to be in WAY over her head and absolutely ignorant to the basics of our electoral process) arbitrarily dismissing the notion that the Republicans would be well within their legal rights to challenge the highly suspect (because of both the nature of the vote and the Constitution) appointment of Mel Carnahan's widow as the next Senator from Missouri, saying that the widow's status should not be questioned because she lost both her husband and her son.

-- Tom Brokaw unilaterally declaring (in a bit of a temper tantrum) that he was sure that the Electoral College will be and should be dead, apparently because it had conspired to embarrass him that night. Two days later Hillary Clinton, in a grossly inappropriate statement considering the state of the Presidential race, followed suit by calling for the end of the Electoral College with virtual no media backlash.

-- The networks asking silly and biased polling questions including (as I previously predicted), "Do you think that the Electoral College should be abolished?" (BTW, I was wrong. I predicted 80% would say yes, apparently "only" 63% agree). Another network asked, "Would you support a revote of Palm Beach, the State of Florida, or the Nation as a whole," which only serves to provide credibility to a notion that has no Constitutional basis whatsoever. They might as well have asked, "Should the Washington Redskins result in their last home game before the election, which has been determinative in the last 15 elections, decide who is the next President?" (BTW, if it does, that would be Bush).

-- NBC's Jonathan Alter breaking the story of, giving credibility to and blatantly misrepresenting the Palm Beach ballot controversy. Alter, an admitted liberal, was used by Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Palm Beach to get the story out there quickly so that it would become part of the public's consciousness and would be the first place the media went to provide them with a way to fill hours of programming time over the next couple of days. Alter implied (I think he "said," but I am not sure) that there was a MECHCANICAL error in the Palm Beach ballot that resulted in Gore votes going to Buchanan, which WOULD have been a BIG deal and VERY legitimate. By the time the media realized that it was just a situation where SOME voters had been too stupid to figure out the ballot, it was too late and the nuts in Palm Beach were too good a story and were not going to give up their chance at 15 minutes of fame.

From Alter's biased report, which I honestly believe would NEVER have seen the light of day (certainly not so quickly) had the "wronged" party been Bush, the situation mushroomed out of control into the chaos and potential crisis we have today.

Other observations on the coverage of this election mess since Tuesday night include:

There has been a STAGGERING amount of misinformation that has been disseminated to the public and several myths that have been allowed to become "fact" over the last several days. Foremost among these myths is the idea that there are "19,000 disenfranchised souls" (as Paul Begala refers to them) in Palm Beach County who lost their right to vote because of a confusing ballot. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY FALSE! We have NO IDEA how many of those 19,000 discarded ballots (a number not THAT far outside the expected norm for Palm Beach County) belong to people who, well within their rights, asked for AND RECEIVED a new ballot and had their votes COUNTED. And yet, STILL whenever a "talking head" or a "man on the street" quotes this figure it is allowed to be further ingrained into the public's consciousness as if it is true.

Another myth that seems pervasive (especially, judging from TV interviews, in the black community) is that Jeb Bush is somehow cooking the books to help his brother get elected. Even though Jeb Bush has removed himself completely from the process and there is NOT ONE shred of evidence to suggest that he would, could, or has done anything unethical, the media has allowed the perception of impropriety to hang in the air like the stench of a moldy box of old Cooke County ballots. Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah has implied that Jeb Bush is affecting the outcome and has not been even mildly scolded in the media, and the TV show "EXTRA" interviewed several actors (mostly black) who were even more direct in their baseless charges of Jeb's role. Saturday Night Live got into the act last night during their news by "reporting" that after recusing himself Jeb said, "Hey, I have already intimidated Black and Hispanic voters, stuffed ballot boxes, and fixed the vote…. My work is done here!" The crowd cheered wildly. For some reason many people WANT to believe that Jeb Bush is somehow doing something to help his brother and the media is playing on this phenomenon. The REALITY of the situation is that having Jeb Bush as Governor of Florida has turned out to be a MAJOR handicap to the Bush team because they cannot afford to APPEAR to be doing ANYTHING too aggressive. For instance, Katherine Harris would not be NEARLY as vulnerable to attack if Jeb Bush was not Florida's Governor.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the media bias in this post election mess has not been mentioned at all. That is that the news media has a blatant and profound (non-political) conflict of interest with regard to how this story has developed. We are currently in a November "sweeps" ratings period. It is obviously in the TV network's financial interest to have this story be as prolonged as possible. Therefore the fact that ANYTHING that favors possible finality is seemingly being discarded, must be viewed with great suspicion. If the networks wanted this thing to be "over" (or closer to being over) they could have easily "awarded" Florida's electoral votes to Bush (like they did in New Mexico for Gore) after the second recount was concluded. But, since that would have put too much pressure on Gore to concede, that action (though perfectly reasonable) would have been against the both their financial AND political self-interest. It is not surprising that NBC/MSNBC has switched the name of its special reports from "Too Close to Call" to "Battle for the White House," which not only furthers the perception that there can not and should not be any end in sight, but which also happens to reinforce the incorrect notion that BOTH sides are "fighting" equally hard and dirty to win (which of course helps Democrats by bringing the Republicans down to their level in the eyes of the idiot masses). It is also interesting to note that news commentators have almost universally been praising the American people for their amble "patience" in this matter, which just happens to serve the interests of both the media and Al Gore. My guess is that if the TV ratings start to drop dramatically that they will suddenly and subjectively determine that this "patience" has evaporated.

BTW, since when have the TV network's possessed the power to "award" anything to anybody? Just because Tom, Dan, Peter, and Brain say something (especially after Tuesday's fiasco) DOES NOT make it so. How absurd were dramatic statements like that of Brian Williams', "We are taking back Florida!"? But sadly, the REAL power to finally declare this election for good looks to me as if, for all intents and purposes, it DOES rest with the news media. Until their maps and charts reflect that Florida has "gone" in one direction or another, NO ONE will be able to claim victory. This would be a ridiculous standard by which to determine the outcome of an election under ANY circumstances, but after what happened on Tuesday it seems to stretch even the worn out rubber band of absurdity in this country to new lengths. Ironically and maddeningly the news media has essentially been allowed to give itself vastly MORE power partially BECAUSE it screwed up in the first place.

Exactly what standard will the news media use to determine when it is okay for someone to claim to be President? I guess (and fear) is that Florida will only be "called" again if Gore takes a significant lead (2 votes?) or if George Bush decides to concede (gee, under that scenario I wonder who will be the next President?).

In short, both the networks and the Democrats want (for different reasons) as much confusion and conflict as possible during this period. If we learned anything from the O.J. Simpson trial and Impeachment it was that the more confusion and the perception of conflict there is, the LESS chance that the truth and those who display virtuous behavior have of coming out on top. Because the majority of Americans are either stupid, lazy, ignorant, or too busy to understand the details of a complex matter, they will assume whenever there is a fight that the "truth" is somewhere between what side A is saying and what side B is saying. Obviously, since the truth is static, the truth will ALWAYS lose under this assumption that is now pervasive in a world where word "partisan" has somehow become a synonym for "liar." The Democrats have been quite expert in getting all "partisans" to be painted with the same broad brush of cynicism so that NO ONE will be believed.

The news media, in an effort to be "fair" when they should be trying to be ACCURATE (there is a HUGE difference), does an inherent disservice to the truth. For instance, if the Democrats say 2+2 =100 and the Republicans say 2+2=6 (they don't always tell the whole truth either) the media will tend to report "reality" as being 2+2=53. The end result is that the liar will ALWAYS win and the truth teller will ALWAYS lose. This is one of the many reasons why I have predicted from the start that George W. Bush will be "forced" to concede this election. Once there is the perception of "partisan" conflict (just like in real war) the truth, along with those who tell it, are the first to die. If EVERYONE is perceived as "cheating" only the true cheaters will ever survive.

Most recently this apparent truth has been revealed by the Republicans somehow being criticized BOTH for bringing the first lawsuit (NOT TRUE) AND for being too SLOW to bring litigation to force a hand recount in Republican districts. Only Republicans could find a way to try to act in a responsible manner and STILL lose BOTH the public relations AND the legal battle!

This controversy over this court injunction is a perfect example of a subject that is WAY above the heads of the American people (and most members of the news media for that matter) where the truth can't win. The Republicans are attempting to make a possibly quite valid and important defense of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause which guarantee's (unlike the original Constitution where blacks were only considered 3/5 of a person for representation purposes) that each vote in a jurisdiction would have equal value. Quite simply, what has happened with the ballots in 4 Democratic counties being "hand counted" while the other 63 have not been, is that a different standard (much lower, not to mention somewhat arbitrary) of what constitutes a vote has been set in those 4 counties. This means that, by definition, the votes in those 4 counties have been amplified at the expense of the votes in the other 63. In other words, if it is accepted that hand counting will ALWAYS increase the number of votes recorded by 2-5% (which it does because of random machine error), then the votes in those 4 counties where hand counting has taken place are being given 2-5% more "value" than those that have not been. That may be a legitimate violation of the 14th amendment. However, to hear the news media simpletons tell it you would think that this injunction is simply a poorly planned strategic gambit that is contradicted by a law signed by Bush in Texas (where only 14 of almost 300 counties have the same punch card ballots in question) that prefers hand counting. Unfortunately, I doubt that the Clinton appointed judge assigned to the case will have the courage or the wisdom to see the potential validity of this argument.

Regardless of the important Constitutional issues at stake, does ANYBODY really believe that the media would have given NEARLY the credence and credibility to this concept of selected hand recounts if it was the Republicans who were trying to pull this off? Every once in awhile during this fiasco I sit back, look at the big picture, and think, "What the hell is going on here?! The Democrats are counting dimples in Democratic counties and NOT allowing clearly cast military ballots and getting away with it!!!" I honestly don't believe that the Republicans would have even CONSIDERED this possibility if the situation were reversed, mostly because they KNOW the media would never let them get away with it.

On a lighter note, I had to laugh as NBC has been furiously promoting its ratings and performance on election night (which, BTW, from a statistical/ graphics stand point WAS outstanding) with dramatic boasts. If Saturday Night Live was on another network perhaps it could spoof those promos by saying, "On election night, more Americans turned to NBC News for their misinformation than any other network…. NBC News, where more Americans were mislead and jerked around than anywhere else!"

In conclusion, I have never been more disappointed that I have apparently been correct in forecasting the future, and it is, in large part, the fault of the television news media. Ironically the usually far more liberal newspapers (like the Washington Post and The New York Times) have been surprisingly and refreshingly candid in their initial criticism of the Gore team's litigious stance (something that is seemingly ALREADY being forgotten by those trying to claim that it was the Republicans who somehow started the "war" that I had predicted). But unfortunately the nature of television and the previously mentioned circumstances have conspired to create an atmosphere where I honestly believe that it is more likely than not that Al Gore will be the next President of the United States. To me the only question is whether or not the media will somehow be able to not only enable him to take office, but also let him do so in a manner that maintains his viability as a candidate in 2004.

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