It’s now been 15 years since a fiercely partisan Supreme Court handed the keys to the kingdom to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (not necessarily in that order). A hotly contested battle at the time, the clash between the Bush camp and the Gore camp has faded into a paragraph in the annals of history; most people seem to assume that the matter was settled long ago and everyone has moved on. Anyone who suggests otherwise is likely to be dismissed as a mere librul being a sore loser. Just recently, I saw yet another indignant editorial denouncing the insidious “liberal lie” that Bush stole the election.
But as we detailed in a four-part series on its tenth anniversary, there are many reasons why this travesty never should be forgotten. It amounted to a bloodless coup, brought about by a multi-pronged apparatus of nepotism and election tampering. And it probably would not have happened without the complicity of a grotesquely lopsided media.
The media ignored and even actively refused to examine a massive, irregular, highly suspicious pre-election drive by Florida’s governor (who just happened to be Bush’s younger brother) and secretary of state (who just happened to be co-chair of the Bush campaign in that state) to unlawfully purge the voter rolls of tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters under a false pretext. Disenfranchising thousands of perfectly qualified Democratic voters? That doesn’t count as election theft, does it?
During the campaign, the media took up the drumbeat of the Karl Rove character assassination against Al Gore, thoroughly branding him as a pathological liar — without producing even one actual lie he’d told — and trying to manufacture whoppers out of the most trivial things he did say. Meanwhile, the media ignored bona fide lies that Bush told about important policy matters and his actions in office while he was governor of Texas. It also ignored his long track record of consistent failure and his gross ignorance about the federal government he was positioning himself to lead. His almost daily verbal gaffes were shrugged off, scrubbed, or spun as part of a folksy charm he supposedly inherited by being a Texan (though he was actually from Maine).
The media ignored or glossed over the fact that 80 percent of the ballots nationwide were counted by electronic voting machines supplied by 3 companies — all of which were owned by persons with strong ties to the Republican Party; and that Republicans did extremely well in places where these machines were used. In fact of the many highly suspicious glitches and irregularities that these beasts coughed up, virtually all benefited GOP candidates. Screwy voting machines owned by Republicans that disproportionately generate errors helping Republicans win? Why should anyone care about that?
On election night, it was the standard bearer of American media, Fox “News” that proclaimed Bush the winner, with the other networks sheepishly following suit, thereby immediately and permanently casting Gore in the role of challenger. That premature election night call was made by a Fox talking head who just happened to be Bush’s cousin.
During the legal battle, the media ignored the fact that the Supreme Court (which happened to include two justices appointed by Bush’s father, one of whose wife was involved in promoting a Bush presidency) did an abrupt about-face from its usual states’ rights stances in halting the Florida recount, generating a legal argument so egregious that the justices inserted a decree that no future court should follow it in any other case. And that the Court imposed arbitrary deadlines and restrictions, and offered unjustified reasons for stopping the recount. And that one of those reasons was that Bush would probably win his suit — a preliminary ruling the justices delivered without even reading the brief! And that the court openly admitted its main interest was in preserving Bush’s claim to victory — as opposed to determining the actual winner. Blatantly interested Supreme Court justices ruling in favor of their boy? Nothing suspicious about that, is there?
But perhaps the biggest slap in the face of all to the American public came a year after the election. The Supreme Court fiat did not satisfy the curiosity about who would have won had the recount proceeded. To quote myself from an earlier article:
So, with the supposed objective of setting the matter straight, a consortium of eight news organizations sponsored a painstaking review of the ballots that were rejected. (At least all they had available. Thousands of them, mostly from heavily Democratic precincts, were mysteriously MIA.) Conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center and closely monitored by representatives of both political camps, the review tallied the likely outcomes under several different counting standards.
And what was the result? Somewhat mixed, with Bush winning under some counting scenarios and Gore under others. But Gore won under more scenarios than Bush — including any and all that involved a statewide recount. This, bear in mind, was even after all the shenanigans the pachyderms pulled off.
Strangely enough, this fact was dutifully noted by The Drudge Report — a very unusual degree of honesty for Drudge or any other right-wing source. In an article titled “Gore Beat Bush in Florida, Says New Recount” Drudge led off with what it must have found a very disturbing conclusion:
A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election commissioned by the nation’s main media outlets shows Al Gore edged ahead of George W. Bush “under all the scenarios for counting all undervotes and overvotes statewide,” the Drudge Report has learned. [Newspapers] will splash in Monday editions an election review which will ignite total controversy during a time of war…
But of course no such splash was splashed, and no such firestorm erupted. National unity was preserved in time of a contrived war, praise the lord and pass the ammunition. Because the rest of the media did not follow Drudge’s surprise lead. Instead, most major media outlets buried the results of their own investigation under the unequivocal narrative that the right man ended up in the White House. Their headlines screamed “Bush Would Have Won a Recount”, while the truth, if it was reported at all, was mentioned in passing somewhere on the back page.
The New York Times (an ultra-librul rag, don’t you know) ran a piece under the unwieldy heading
EXAMINING THE VOTE: THE OVERVIEW; Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote
Except that farther down the page, the Times fleetingly mentions bits and pieces of the evidence that actually, the justices sort of did. And the editors also managed to let this slip through the filters:
Another complicating factor in the effort to untangle the result is the overseas absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. A New York Times investigation earlier this year showed that 680 of the late-arriving ballots did not meet Florida’s standards yet were still counted. The vast majority of those flawed ballots were accepted in counties that favored Mr. Bush, after an aggressive effort by Bush strategists to pressure officials to accept them.
A statistical analysis conducted for The Times determined that if all counties had followed state law in reviewing the absentee ballots, Mr. Gore would have picked up as many as 290 additional votes, enough to tip the election in Mr. Gore’s favor in some of the situations studied in the statewide ballot review.
Counting illegal Republican ballots because the Bushites demanded it? What’s complicating about that? (See the late great Gore Vidal’s eloquent dissection of the Times article in The Nation.)
Anything approximating journalistic integrity and impartiality would require reaching and publicizing the conclusion that the results of the Florida review made Bush’s “victory” questionable to say the least. But that’s not what the mainstream media said then. And that’s not what it’s saying now. And that’s why it’s so important to preserve and present the facts.
There is a scene In Tony Kushner’s play Angels In America, in which one character asks what history will say about something, and another replies that history will lie as usual. Yes, history does lie — sometimes through many generations of schoolchildren who are force-fed inaccurate information, creating a warped sensibility that is often very difficult to rectify, and shapes the kind of world those children live in when they become adults. Let’s try to make certain that history doesn’t take as long to speak the truth about George W. Bush as it did about Christopher Columbus.