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CyberAlert -- 11/14/2000 -- Harangue Over Harris's Politics

Harangue Over Harris's Politics; NBC Called It a "Smear" as They Publicized the Democratic Character Attack -- Back to today's CyberAlert

1) ABC and NBC were obsessed Tuesday morning with the political background of Katherine Harris, but not state judge Terry Lewis who is a Democrat. Lewis's affiliation came up on ABC, but only because Bob Dole pointed it out as an example of media bias.

2) NBC's Matt Lauer asked Bill Daley about the Harris decision: "Do you think...that her decision does not pass the smell test?" But Lauer also suggested she's the victim of a Democratic "smear." Katie Couric pounded away at another guest to justify the Harris deadline.

3) Bryant Gumbel: "If Governor Bush prevails as a result of the imposition of today's 5pm deadline, would you think his presidency legitimately gained?"


1

The network obsession with the partisan political background of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, fueled by Democratic operatives feeding nuggets to receptive reporters, continued Tuesday morning. Though Florida state judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, was scheduled to rule in just a few hours on Harris's affirmation that the law requires a 5pm Tuesday deadline for counties to file vote tabulations, his possible political bias was not the focus of morning show discussion or interviews.

It did come up, however, on ABC's Good Morning America -- when guest Bob Dole pointed it out. But GMA's Diane Sawyer quickly moved on, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed. And GMA dedicated a whole story to outlining all of the Democratic talking points against Harris.

Sawyer asked Dole: "Let me ask you about your team, the Bush team going into federal court to try to get the federal court to halt all the manual recounts."
Dole picked up on the media's bias: "Before a Democratic judge, which I don't hear mentioned very often."
Sawyer: "Well, again-"
Dole: "They always mention the Republican Secretary of State, but today their fate's being handled by a state Democratic judge, yesterday by a federal Democratic judge. So I don't know where you're going to put all these people, I guess, on the Supreme Court."

A frustrated Sawyer switched topics: "Well, in any case, this federal court judge, what his politics are and are not, has said that he does not think he should intervene, that as a federal court, it should not intervene in the state process and he implies that he thinks it is a neutral enough process. This is my question to you. Given the Bush campaign's objection to being in court at all in this wrangling, should they appeal or should they let it drop?"
Dole answered: "...I mean, this whole thing just looks too pat for the Democrats, and everywhere they go, they're outnumbered by Democrats. There's no neutral place to go in this argument and so Gore continues to prevail."
Sawyer countered with the Gore team fueled character attack: "But that's what you say, but here's what the Gore campaign says. They say that the opposite is true. That you have a Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who is a Republican, and who is now making the central decision to cut this off at 5pm this afternoon and that on its face looks unfair."

Sawyer soon pleaded: "Alright, you've mentioned a hurricane. By the way, one of the Gore attorneys said this is not only a hurricane, this is a bark-splitting, North Florida cyclone with a hurricane tailing on the end of it. This is a hurricane."

Linda Douglass contributed a profile of Harris and, similar to the one run on ABC's Monday night prime time special, it stressed Democratic talking points:
"She's only held statewide office for two years and the voters have indeed voted to phase out her job in the next couple of years. She makes about $106,000 a year as the Secretary of State, but she comes from a very wealthy, very prominent Florida political family. As Secretary of State, she's generated a lot of controversy because she's traveled the world as Secretary of State of Florida, trying to talk about world trade. She's spent more money on foreign travel than anybody else in the state cabinet here, and the Democrats -- oh, by the way, with all that foreign travel, there's been some speculation in the newspapers that perhaps she'd like a job as an ambassador in a future Bush administration.
"Now the Democrats, of course, are saying because she's a Republican, perhaps she's not neutral in making this decision to cut off the voting today at 5 o'clock, and they are saying that not only does she want to help George W. Bush become President, but perhaps she's trying to help her friend and colleague Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida, with whom she works here in the state capitol. The office of Secretary of State Katherine Harris is only steps away from Governor Jeb Bush's. Earlier this year, Harris described herself as thrilled when she was named co-chair of George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida. Yesterday, after a short, tense meeting in her office, Al Gore's team began raising questions about her intentions....Gore advisor Warren Christopher insisted he was not trying to impugn Harris's motives, but at a second news conference, he again raised questions.... Harris stayed out of sight as Democrats pointed to her actions over the last year. For example, non-partisan public interest groups criticized her when she ran a state-sponsored ad campaign encouraging citizens to vote, featuring a Bush spokesman, General Norman Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf, in ad: "Right here in Florida, your right to vote."
Harris, in ad: "Because when you vote, you have the incredible ability to improve your future."
Douglass: "During the presidential primary, Harris flew to New Hampshire to campaign for George W. Bush."
Mark Silva, Miami Herald: "She has campaigned actively for George Bush. She went to New Hampshire. She delivered baskets of strawberries and bags of oranges door to door with Jeb Bush when he was campaigning in New Hampshire for his brother."
Douglass: "Democrats insist she is a close ally of Jeb Bush, but reporters who cover the State House point out that Bush backed Harris's opponent in the primary. They say she is not under the thumb of the Governor."
Silva: "They work hand-in-hand on a lot of government activities, but she's not necessarily his agent."
Douglass: "And Harris's aides argue that she is just following the law by certifying the election today. They point out that she has consistently said she would do so, even before the hand recounting controversy erupted....Now every statement that Katherine Harris has made and every step that she's taken in any past political campaign is being scrutinized, as you can imagine, as the hours go on. And if she does succeed in stopping the voting today, and if that does appear to hand the presidency to George W. Bush, well, she's going to have a place in the history books, whether she wants one or not."

2

Over on NBC's Today, Matt Lauer raised the Democratic talking points about Katherine Harris with Democrat Bill Daley, not to challenge him but to let him elaborate: "Secretary of State Katherine Harris in Florida. As you know she's a Republican, a Bush supporter. Warren Christopher said yesterday that her, her decision on this five o'clock deadline has the look of trying to produce a certain result in the election. Do you think, and to use a rather crude term, that her decision does not pass the smell test?"

Lauer did at least acknowledge the source of his information and, as MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, asked Daley if Harris is a victim of a Democratic smear: "Some people in the Democratic party started releasing information about Bob Crawford and Katherine Harris. Negative information that, although, part of the public record for several years certainly doesn't do them any good. For example information that Ms. Harris failed to meet a deadline for filing financial information in 1997, information that her campaign faced fundraising scandals in 1994. If this is coming from the Democrats is this not the equivalent to a smear campaign?"

If it's a "smear" why are the networks, and Lauer in particular, giving it publicity and credibility?

Minutes after conceding the attacks could be a smear, Lauer posed the same "smell test" question to Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: Do the action of Katherine Harris pass the smell test?" Alter revealed he was convinced by the Democratic arguments:: "I don't think so Matt," arguing the present situation is at least as important as a hurricane delaying results.

Katie Couric also brought up Harris's politics with Tim Russert: "Well let's go back a little bit and talk about Secretary of State Katherine Harris's decision. She is a Republican a supporter of George W. Bush. What do you think about Warren Christopher's allegation, this smacks of partisanship?"

At another point on the show Couric pounded away at Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, who sits on the state canvassing board, to justify the deadline Harris said the law forced her to enforce:
-- "But why not let these counties, if the overseas absentee ballots have until Friday, why not let the counties that have deemed it necessary to do a manual recount finish their business?"
-- "We are talking about the presidency of the United States, Mr. Crawford. I mean you do make exceptions for hurricanes why not make an exception in this very delicate situation where the Presidency hangs in the balance?"
-- "So if a judge extends the deadline this morning you'll continue to fight that?"
-- "Now you are a Democrat but you support George W. Bush. Katherine Harris is, is a Republican and she also supports George W. Bush. I understand she's a Jeb Bush appointee. Doesn't this smack of....Well she is a friend, she's a friend of Jeb Bush's, is that accurate?"
-- "What about the appearance of partisanship as Warren Christopher has charged?"
-- "I guess Commissioner Crawford that begs the question if you want to get it right and you want to make sure the votes are counted accurately why not allow the counties to do just that?"

3

Bryant Gumbel to Warren Christopher on CBS's The Early Show: "If Governor Bush prevails as a result of the imposition of today's 5pm deadline, would you think his presidency legitimately gained?"

The question is, will the media let it be? -- Brent Baker


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