On the day those stories were published -- as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and other outlets touted Bush's supposed victory in Florida -- I took the trouble to actually read the statistics of the study. The numbers made clear that Gore was the real winner if all legal ballots were counted.
I then wrote a story entitled "Gore's Victory" and posted it at Consortiumnews.com. In the story, I suggested that some U.S. news outlets were letting their "patriotism" win out over their journalistic duty to give the American people the facts. That was clearly the case, with the editors fearing the consequences of undercutting Bush's "legitimacy" at a moment of crisis.
But I soon received an irate phone call from the New York Times' media writer Felicity Barringer whose "interview" with me amounted to her accusing me of unfairly questioning the integrity of the Times' then-executive editor Howell Raines. I was to blame for noticing the truth, while "responsible" people looked away.
Yet, by shirking their journalistic duty to tell the American people the truth -- that the wrong guy was in the White House -- the news organizations contributed to a false notion that Bush was the properly elected president. The news outlets also ignored or played down later revelations that further exposed the "Bush Won" stories as false. [See Consortiumnews.com's "So Bush Did Steal the White House" or Neck Deep.]
This journalistic malfeasance by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and others also may have contributed to Bush's subsequent hubris in rolling over the major news outlets in 2002 and 2003 with his false WMD case for war with Iraq.
In other historical cases, I have encountered this same benighted notion among Washington insiders that they are somehow doing what's "good for the country" by hiding important facts from the American people.
For instance, in early November 1968, after President Lyndon Johnson discovered that Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon was sabotaging the Vietnam War peace talks as a way to assure his electoral victory, Johnson consulted his top aides on whether he should go public with what Johnson called Nixon's "treason."
Johnson's national security adviser Walt Rostow, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford all counseled Johnson to stay silent out of concern that Nixon might win anyway and that the disclosure would undermine his legitimacy.
"Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected," Clifford said in a Nov. 4 conference call. "It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country's interests."
So, Johnson kept quiet; Nixon eked out a narrow victory; Johnson's last-minute peace talks collapsed; Nixon continued the war for another four years at the cost of more than 20,000 American lives and possibly a million more Vietnamese dead, not to mention the deep animosities that divided the United States then and have never entirely left.
In May 1973, after Johnson's death and as the Watergate scandal was unfolding, Walt Rostow wrote a personal memo wondering if the failure to expose Nixon's peace-talk sabotage had contributed to the arrogance behind his political espionage operations that had surfaced in Watergate.
"I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972," Rostow wrote. He noted, first, that Nixon's operatives may have judged that their "enterprise with the South Vietnamese" -- in frustrating Johnson's peace talks -- had secured Nixon his narrow margin of victory over Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
"Second, they got away with it," Rostow wrote. "Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully. Thus, as the same men faced the election in 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off, and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit -- and beyond." [To read Rostow's memo, click here, here and here.]
Nevertheless, Rostow decided -- a month later -- to continue keeping the documents about Nixon's peace-talk sabotage secret. He put them in what he labeled "The "X' Envelope" and suggested that they be kept hidden for at least 50 years. (The envelope, however, was opened by officials of the LBJ Library two decades later.) [For the full story, see Consortiumnews.com's "LBJ's "X' File on Nixon's "Treason.'"]
Since then, this pattern has repeated in other national security scandals. In the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s, Democrats shied away from a thorough investigation of the scandal's origins and the full scope of the corruption out of concern that it might lead to "another Watergate" and an impeachment fight over another Republican president, Ronald Reagan.