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Domestic Propaganda and the News Media

2000 Elections

Project: Domestic Propaganda and the News Media
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John Prescott Ellis.John Prescott Ellis. [Source: Bush-Clinton Fraud (.com)]Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), chooses an unlikely reporter to anchor Fox’s election night coverage: John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political adviser and the first cousin of George W. Bush (R-TX), the Republican presidential candidate. (Ellis is the son of George Herbert Walker Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis.) Ellis was originally hired to cover the party primaries. A later study of voting patterns by the University of California will determine that in areas where voters have access to Fox News, the network’s relentless pro-Bush coverage shifts some 200,000 votes from Democrat Al Gore (D-TN) to Bush, but Ailes wants to make sure his network’s coverage is favorable to Bush, and has always had Ellis in mind for the election night anchor position, for which he specifically gives Ellis a 30-day contract. Ellis is very close to Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida (“Jeb” is an acronym for his full name, John Ellis Bush). Ellis recused himself from campaign coverage in a June 1999 Boston Globe column, defending George W. Bush from allegations of cocaine use, calling the Clinton-Gore administration “morally berserk,” and telling his readers, “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.” Instead of this posing an ethical dilemma or being seen as a conflict of interest at Fox, Ellis is Ailes’s first and only choice to anchor the network’s election coverage. (Ailes will later tell a February 2001 House committee hearing, “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections”—see February 14, 2001.) [Washington Post, 11/14/2000; Salon, 11/15/2000; Observer, 11/19/2000; Associated Press, 12/11/2000; Buffalo Beat, 12/14/2000; Nation, 11/6/2006; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011] Ellis will pre-emptively call the election for Bush, sparking the Florida recount controversy and helping propel his cousin into the White House (see November 7-8, 2000). In a response to testimony in the same February 2001 House committee hearing, Joan Konner, a journalism professor who will lead a CNN-commissioned independent study of the problems in that network’s election night coverage, will call Ellis’s hiring a substantial breach of journalistic ethics and standards. “If John Ellis had, indeed, made comments stating that his loyalties to the Bush family superceded any commitment he has to his profession or his employer, then I would judge that to be not only a perceived conflict-of-interest but a real conflict-of-interest for a journalist,” she will write in a letter to Representative John Dingell (D-MI). “While that does not disqualify an individual from any position as a journalist, it would, in my judgement, disqualify that person for any decision-making role involving reporting on his relatives during an election. Often friends and relatives are hired by journalism organizations because of their connections to the newsmakers. Their access to sources makes them valuable to the organization. However, the news organization should take every precaution against placing such an individual in an assignment that could result in bias in reporting.” [House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2/14/2001]

Entity Tags: John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Fox News, Boston Globe, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., George W. Bush, John Dingell, Roger Ailes, Nancy Ellis, Joan Konner, John Prescott Ellis

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News, 2000 Elections

New York Daily News columnist Mike Barnicle, considered by many to be a liberal, tells MSNBC viewers that Democratic presidential contender Al Gore should concede the election. Barnicle says, referring to Gore’s father, former Democratic Senator Albert Gore Sr.: “This could be Al Gore’s moment. It could be the moment where he finally gets the chance to live up to his great father’s ideals and have the courage to step aside.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000; NewsBusters, 2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Barnicle, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Sr., Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: Media Opposition, Media Complicity, 2000 Elections, Liberal Media Pundits

A screenshot from NBC News’s November 19, 2000 ‘Meet the Press’ broadcast, featuring Tim Russert using a whiteboard to illustrate electoral vote tallies.A screenshot from NBC News’s November 19, 2000 ‘Meet the Press’ broadcast, featuring Tim Russert using a whiteboard to illustrate electoral vote tallies. [Source: NBC / Infoimagination (.org)]NBC political commentator Tim Russert recommends that Democratic presidential contender Al Gore either concede the election or wrap up his challege to the reported election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) to avoid being called “a whiner.” Russert says that the election recounts are a “crisis” that must be resolved as quickly as possible. Gore “can’t extend it to too long, nor can he become a whiner about Florida at some point,” he says, and adds: “If they continue then to file lawsuits and begin to contest various areas of the state, then people will begin to suggest: ‘uh-oh, this is not magnanimous. This is being a sore loser.’ I think the vice president understands that as well.… If it starts dragging into petty politics and we get to Thanksgiving and we still don’t know who our president is, I think the public will not have much patience with the candidate they believe is dragging it out.” The progressive media watchdog Web site Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note that polls show strong majorities of Americans favor continuing the recount process if it will ensure the accuracy of the voting results, even weeks into the recount process. FAIR will write, “[M]ost public opinion polls suggest that citizens are taking a much more reasonable approach to the situation than some of the elite media, supporting a process that emphasizes fairness rather than speed.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Tim Russert, NBC News, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Opposition, 2000 Elections

ABC News’s Nightline broadcasts an hour-long analysis of the Florida election recount situation (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). However, host Ted Koppel interviews three representatives from the Bush presidential campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and none from the Gore campaign, leading to what the progressive media watchdog Web site Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will later call a slanted report. All three Bush aides call the recount situation a “crisis” that must be resolved immediately (see Evening, November 8, 2000), deride reports of voter manipulation and minority voters denied their right to vote (see November 7, 2000), and accuse the Gore campaign of attempting to steal the election through legal maneuvering. “Koppel did not subject his guests to tough questioning,” FAIR will note. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Media Complicity, Fox News

In an editorial, the Washington Post castigates the Gore campaign for continuing to press for recounts in Florida. After acknowledging that George W. Bush’s lead in that state “appear[s] to have melted to fewer than 300 votes” as the recounts continue (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000), and noting that for Gore to “call for as careful a count as possible in an election as close as this, with so much a stake, seems unobjectionable to us; it can only help to ensure legitimacy,” it then slams Gore campaign manager William Daley for his suggestion that Gore may file lawsuits to ask for manual recounts. Daley said, referring to the widely held belief in the Gore camp that if the votes are tallied completely, Gore would have significantly more votes than Bush, “If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.” The Post calls Daley’s remark “poisonous,” saying that Daley is attempting to imply that the Bush camp is trying to steal the election, and demands that Gore “disown” it immediately. The Post also chides Gore officials for implying, somehow, that “Gore’s narrow lead in the popular vote somehow gives him superior status—if not quite a partial claim to the office, then a greater right to contest the electoral outcome in Florida. But that’s false, and they know it. The electoral vote is what matters.” The editorial chides the Bush campaign for leaking its “transition plans” and trying to give “the impression of measuring for new curtains in the Oval Office,” as Bush has not been certified the winner of the race. “Florida hasn’t certified its results, and Mr. Bush has no more claim to the title of president-elect than the vice president. Both sides need to back off at this stage. They are risking a political war that could spread far beyond Florida, one that would be far harder to stop than to begin.” The Post concludes by advising the Gore campaign that calling for recounts is far different from filing lawsuits to force recounts; the first is acceptable, but the second “should be approached with enormous caution and restraint.” [Washington Post, 11/10/2000] In 2010, the Center for American Progress will note that Daley’s claim that Gore “should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president” was a claim Bush campaign lawyer James Baker “was saying pretty much every day on Bush’s behalf.” The Post does not have a similar reaction to Baker’s claims. [Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010] The same day the Post editorial is published, the New York Times publishes a piece by historian Richard Reeves that flatly falsifies presidential history in its call for Gore to abandon his post-election challenge (see November 10, 2000). The Post also publishes an editorial by former Republican Senator Bob Dole asking Gore to concede for the good of the nation (see November 11, 2000).

Entity Tags: New York Times, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Center for American Progress, James A. Baker, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Washington Post, George W. Bush, William Michael (“Bill”) Daley, Richard Reeves

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

In an editorial, the New York Times sounds a cautionary note about the Florida presidential election, warning both sides to avoid what it calls “scorched earth” solutions. It begins by accusing the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Al Gore, of “escalat[ing] the atmosphere of combat surrounding the presidential election results with his decision to go to court in Florida” (see November 10, 2000). The Times acknowledges that “Gore has a right as a private citizen to take his grievances to court. But he and Governor George W. Bush [the Republican candidate and apparent frontrunner] are also political figures seeking the world’s most important leadership position. Part of the test of presidential leadership, it seems to us, is finding a way to resolve electoral matters in the political arena.” The Times calls the Gore campaign’s discussion of potential lawsuits “worrying,” accuses it of a “rush to litigation,” and says the Gore campaign should not be using phrases like “constitutional crisis.” Nor should it talk about “efforts to block or cloud the vote of the Electoral College on December 18” (though Bush campaign advisors have threatened just such efforts—see November 1, 2000 and After). The Times says it agrees with CNN’s Bill Schneider that to challenge the machine tallies in Florida would be to choose a “treacherous path.” The Times acknowledges that reports of voting irregularities (see November 7, 2000, Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000, and November 9, 2000) “need to be taken seriously,” but not so much so as to question the results as already reported. To call for manual recounts or file legal challenges, the Times writes, would “paralyze… the succession process, undermine… the finality of presidential elections, and make… nervous a world that looks to the United States as a model of political stability. Neither the prospect of legal warfare nor Mr. Bush’s rush to put together a transition team is helpful at this point.” [New York Times, 11/10/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bill Schneider, US Electoral College, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, New York Times

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. [New York Times, 11/10/2000] However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. [Slate, 10/16/2000; Salon, 11/10/2000] Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Nyhan, David Greenberg, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., US Electoral College, Thruston Morton, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, New York Times, Republican National Committee, John F. Kennedy, Illinois Board of Elections, Republican Party, Richard Reeves

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

Former US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) writes an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to abandon his attempts to win the presidential election and concede the election to Republican George W. Bush. “It was a close election, but it’s over,” Dole writes. Dole begins by recalling his own experience from 1976, where Republican President Gerald Ford, with Dole as his running mate, chose not to challenge a narrow election loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter. “It took a while, but I was proud of Gerald Ford when he did the right thing by not contesting the election,” Dole writes. Dole asserts that two separate recounts have taken place [in reality, only one, a machine recount, has occurred—see November 10, 2000] and both verify Bush as the winner of the Florida vote. Instead of gracefully conceding, Dole writes, the Gore campaign is “making every effort to keep the nation divided for weeks with recounts, lawsuits, and endless politicization of the election.” Dole urges Gore “to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.” The American people need closure after a long presidential campaign, Dole argues, and to drag out the process “is bad for the people.” Gore “risks alienating even more Americans” by continuing to press for manual recounts. “Participation in our democracy continues to decline. More and more people are turned off by politics and are tuning out of elections. It is precisely this type of politicization that continues to disenchant people. They want leadership, not lawsuits. They need someone committed to what is good for the country, not what is good for a post election campaign.” Asking for recounts “is bad for the country.” Bush needs time to plan and execute a smooth transition into the presidency, Dole writes, time that Gore is not giving him. Bush “must begin planning his administration. He must prepare a budget and begin selecting a cabinet. He must begin meeting with world leaders and a Congress already bitterly divided. A smooth transition will help to ensure a successful presidency and a more secure and prosperous nation for the next four years.” And finally, history will look askance at Gore for being “the first presidential candidate to challenge his election defeat in the courts. The presidency should be won through inspiration, not litigation.” [Washington Post, 11/11/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Washington Post, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

Richard Cohen.Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a self-described moderate liberal, says that although he voted for Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) in the presidential elections, he believes that for the good of the country, Gore should stop pushing for recounts in Florida and concede the election to George W. Bush (R-TX). “I now think that under current circumstances he would not be the right man for the presidency,” he writes. “If I could, I would withdraw my vote.” Cohen says his considered opinion is based in part on the recent mob riot in Miami, where Bush campaign operatives orchestrated a violent confrontation that forced Miami-Dade County election officials to prematurely shut down their attempts to recount that county’s votes (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). Cohen writes that in light of the Florida circumstances: “Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.” Cohen says that he believes Bush’s claims to be “a uniter, not a divider,” citing as proof Bush’s popularity among Republican governors, “each of whom probably thought the next president should be none other than himself.” Bush also has a reputation for affability from his days in private enterprise, Cohen writes: “I talked with one of them once, a Democrat who disagreed with Bush on many issues. Yet he, too, praised Bush’s leadership abilities, his talent for bringing order out of chaos and for reaching some sort of consensus. That man’s testimony impressed me. His disagreements with Bush were real, his admiration for him profound.” Gore is not a uniter, Cohen asserts. “His own party is sore at him for taking the one-two punch of peace and prosperity and running a race that is still not concluded. His performance was as erratic as his uniform-of-the-day: earth tones on Tuesday, business suit on Wednesday. The country sensed that either he did not know himself, or what he did know the country would not like.” Cohen calls Gore “stiff, robotic,” and appearing “insincere even when he is not… unable to mask his ambition.” Unlike Bush, he does not give the impression of being someone’s “good buddy.” Bush will rally the nation behind him, Cohen opines, where Gore is likely to further divide it. Besides, Cohen writes, having a Republican in the White House may work to “restrain… GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and J.C. Watts Jr. (R-OK),” who presumably would behave in an uncontrollable manner if a Republican is not in the White House to keep them in line. While Bush and Gore have profoundly different approaches to governance, Cohen says, “what matters at the moment is the moment itself—a mere tick of the historic clock that could, if things continue, just stop it dead where it is. History does not guarantee that things will be as they have been. The first and most daunting task of the next president is not a tax bill or a Social Security plan but—as it was when Jerry Ford succeeded Richard Nixon—the healing of the country. I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job. I can’t help thinking that he no longer is.” [Washington Post, 11/24/2000] The liberal news Web site Consortium News writes that Cohen’s column is “[t]ypical of th[e] Democratic desire to submit to angry Republicans.… Cohen reached his conclusion although Gore has been the one to temper his rhetoric while Bush and the Republicans have escalated their public denunciations of Gore and the Florida Supreme Court.” [Consortium News, 11/24/2000]

Entity Tags: J.C. Watts, Jr, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Consortium News, George W. Bush, Richard Cohen, Tom DeLay, County of Miami-Dade (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Liberal Media Pundits

The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. [House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2/14/2001]

Entity Tags: CBS News, Sherrod Brown, Bobby Lee Rush, Roger Ailes, Raymond Eugene (“Gene”) Green, Ted Savaglio, Tom Johnson, US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Voter News Service, ABC News, Andrew Heyward, Andrew Lack, Associated Press, W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin, Peter R. Deutsch, NBC News, Rupert Murdoch, Louis Boccardi, Fox News, Eliot L. Engel, David Westin, Clifford Bundy (“Cliff”) Stearns, CNN, Murray Edelman, George W. Bush, John Prescott Ellis, Jack Welch, Joan Konner, John Dingell, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Joseph Lieberman, James Risser, Henry A. Waxman, Bart Stupak

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Category Tags: 2000 Elections, Fox News

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