To put it more starkly, a recount conducted by a consortium of major media organizations had determined that George W. Bush, the guy in the White House, not only lost the national popular vote but should have lost the Electoral College, too. To be even blunter, a pivotal U.S. presidential election had been stolen.
But that wasn 't how the major newspapers and TV networks presented their findings. Instead, they bent over backwards to concoct hypothetical situations in which George W. Bush might still have won the presidency if the recount had been limited to only a few counties or if legal "overvotes, " where a voter both checks and writes in the name of the candidate, were cast aside.
Though the news media 's recount had started with the goal of assessing whether Florida voters favored Gore or Bush, that purpose was lost in a rush to shore up Bush 's fragile legitimacy in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The key discovery of Gore 's victory was buried deep in the stories or relegated to charts that accompanied the articles.
Any casual reader would have come away from reading the New York Times or the Washington Post with the conclusion that Bush really had won Florida and thus was the legitimate president after all.
The Post 's headline read, "Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush. " Referring to Bush 's success in getting five U.S. Supreme Court justices to stop the vote-counting, the Times ran the headline: "Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote. "
Some columnists, such as the Post 's media analyst Howard Kurtz, even launched preemptive strikes against anyone who would read the fine print and spot the hidden "lede " of Gore 's victory. Kurtz labeled such people "conspiracy theorists. " [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2001]
After reading these slanted "Bush Won " stories on the morning of Nov. 12, 2001, I wrote an article for Consortiumnews.com noting that the obvious "lede " should have been that the recount revealed that Gore had won. I suggested that the news judgments of senior editors might have been influenced by a desire to appear patriotic only two months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. [See Consortiumnews.com 's "Gore 's Victory. "]
My article had been on the Internet for only an hour or two when I received an irate phone call from New York Times media writer Felicity Barringer, who accused me of impugning the journalistic integrity of then-Times executive editor Howell Raines. I got the impression that Barringer had been on the look-out for some deviant story that didn 't accept the pro-Bush conventional wisdom.
[For more on Election 2000, see Consortiumnews.com 's "So Bush Did Steal the White House. " For a broader historical perspective, see Robert Parry 's Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Iraq War Prelude
This early example of the U.S. news media building a protective cocoon around George W. Bush 's presidency is relevant again today as many Americans try to understand how Bush was able to lead the nation so deeply into a disastrous war in Iraq and why the U.S. news media has performed its watchdog duties so miserably.
The history of the mis-reported Election 2000 recount also attracted the recent attention of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. After referencing Gore 's apparent Florida victory in one column, Krugman said he was inundated by an "outraged reaction " from readers who thought they knew the history but who really had learned only a false conventional wisdom about how the recount supposedly favored Bush.
In a second column entitled "Don 't Prettify Our History, " Krugman argues that "we aren 't doing the country a favor when we present recent history in a way that makes our system look better than it is. Sometimes the public needs to hear unpleasant truths, even if those truths make them feel worse about their country. ...