CyberAlert -- 12/10/2000 -- Florida Over U.S. Supremes
Florida Over U.S. Supremes; 4 to 3 Not "Sharply Divided"?; Florida Justices Not Called Liberal But U.S. Supremes Labeled Conservative
1) All four reporters on Inside Washington and Capital Gang favored the Florida over the U.S. Supreme Court. Evan Thomas: "I think that the Florida Supreme Court did do the right thing here." Al Hunt impugned the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming "the fix is in" and the stay order is "a disingenuous cover for the real agenda which is desperately to prevent any count."
2) To CBS News, a 4 to 3 decision by the Florida Supreme Court was just a 4 to 3 decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court's 5 to 4 stay order reflected "a sharply divided Supreme Court" which "jumped into the battle for the White House."
3) Friday night the networks didn't apply a liberal label to the Florida justices, but on Saturday they made sure viewers realized "conservatives" were behind the stay order. CBS tagged Antonin Scalia as "the most conservative" justices. ABC's Stephanopoulos predicted Democrats will blame a loss on how "we had appointees of Nixon, Reagan and Bush handing the election to Bush's son."
No split decision amongst reporters on the weekend talk shows: They all favored the Florida Supreme Court ordering of statewide hand counts and were upset by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to stay the order.
"There is something unseemly about the desire not to have a statewide recount," argued NPR's Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington while on the same show Newsweek's Evan Thomas called the U.S. Supreme Court order "arbitrary" and conceded: "I think that the Florida Supreme Court did do the right thing here." Time's Margaret Carlson offered similar approval on CNN's Capital Gang as she insisted: "What the Florida Supreme Court did was to cure the mistakes" the U.S. Supreme Court said it made but now that court has prevented us from learning who really won. "For the Supreme Court....to argue that a mere count or recount would do irreparable harm," Al Hunt contended, is "a disingenuous cover for the real agenda which is desperately to prevent any count."
The McLaughlin Group was taped before the Saturday afternoon stay order from the U.S. Supreme Court, but both CNN's special hour-long Capital Gang at 7pm ET and the syndicated Inside Washington run at the same time on Washington, DC's WUSA-TV, addressed the late breaking development.
Here are quotes from the four reporters on the two December 9 shows:
-- Inside Washington:
The election will be tainted if there's no statewide recount, maintained NPR and ABC News reporter Nina Totenberg: "We all agree that no matter what the counting has not been and would not be perfect. There is something unseemly about the desire not to have a statewide recount. That was true a month ago when Gore made, I thought, a reasonable offer to have everything recounted statewide and it's probably true now. And I think it will taint whoever ends up as President if there is not something on the order of a statewide recount."
Evan Thomas, Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek, took on the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court: "It seems to me arbitrarily, talk about arbitrary, just stopping the count when you have a lot of uncounted and undercounted votes is pretty darn arbitrary too. So we're struggling for the least bad solution here and it seems the least bad solution is I think what would have been a good faith effort, not uniform, but good faith effort to count votes in many, if not all, of these counties."
He added later: "I think that the Florida Supreme Court did do the right thing here, but the four justices who voted to have the recounts are screaming liberals..."
If he thinks "screaming liberals" did "the right thing," what does that make him?
-- CNN's Capital Gang:
Al Hunt, Executive Washington Editor of the Wall Street Journal, denounced the stay order: "If the High Court had decided to review the deeply divided Florida Supreme Court decision after the recount was finished that would be understandable. Indeed, it would be necessary. But for the Supreme Court, the five person majority, to argue that a mere count or recount would do irreparable harm is simply a cover, if you will, a disingenuous cover for the real agenda which is desperately to prevent any count."
Asked who or what will decide who wins, Hunt impugned the U.S. Supreme Court: "The fix is in. The Supreme Court is going to go for Bush."
Time reporter and columnist Margaret Carlson seemed heartbroken that the counting was stopped: "What the Florida Supreme Court did was to cure the mistakes, the mistake that the United States Supreme Court said it made in the decision it issued yesterday. And it referred to Section 168, which is the contest phase, and it gave the standard for recounts which is, 'the right to a correct count of the ballots in an election is a substantial right, in every case where there has been a failure to make a proper count, call, tally or return of the votes as required by law.' You don't need broken machines. All you need is a failure to count some votes and that's where we are here. And what the Supreme Court seemed to say, and you know people were watching this, and they saw that, hey you could count these votes in a day. It looked fairly orderly, they were going to get done. It was judges, it was on videotape -- was that they stopped the count right in front of us. Anything not to know who won."
To CBS News, a 4 to 3 decision by the Florida Supreme Court was just a 4 to 3 decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court's 5 to 4 stay order vote reflected "a sharply divided Supreme Court." Compare and contrast the openings of the Friday and Saturday editions of the CBS Evening News:
Anchor Dan Rather, Friday night: "Good evening. The battle took a dramatic and historic turn today and the country could be headed into new and uncertain constitutional debate. Florida's highest court has ruled for Vice President Gore's appeal, requiring additional votes be counted. Here's the latest: Ruling 4 to 3, the Florida Supreme Court significantly revived Gore's chances of overtaking Texas Governor Bush..."
Anchor Thalia Assuras, Saturday night: "Good evening. The United States Supreme Court jumped into the battle for the White House today, ordering an abrupt halt to a hand recounting of thousands of ballots in Florida. Here's the latest: Granting George W. Bush's request, a sharply divided Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to stay the hand count and scheduled oral arguments for Monday..."
Notice how the Florida Supreme Court setting into motion a chaotic rushed counting process did not constitute jumping into the election but the U.S. Supreme Court halting the counting meant they had "jumped into the battle for the White House." How about this for news copy that I'd write: "The U.S. Supreme Court today restored order and adherence to the law in the battle for the White House"?
Judicial ideology suddenly became an issue for the networks on Saturday night when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush's request to stay the Florida Supreme Court's activist decision ordering a new selective hand count of so-called "under-votes." As detailed in the December 9 CyberAlert, ABC, CBS and NBC on Friday night didn't once mention the ideology of the four justices in the majority whom even Newsweek's Evan Thomas, as quoted in item #1 above, described as "screaming liberals."
But on Saturday night network reporters made sure viewers were aware of the "conservative/liberal split" on the U.S. Supreme Court and realized "conservatives" were behind the stay order. CBS's Jim Stewart tagged Antonin Scalia as "the most conservative of all justices." Friday night ABC skipped how all of the Florida justices were appointed by Democratic Governors, but on Saturday night George Stephanopoulos anticipated that if Bush wins before the U.S. Supreme Court, "you can bet you're going to hear Democrats saying, 'Listen, we had appointees of Nixon, Reagan and Bush handing the election to Bush's son.'"
Here are the details from Saturday night, December 9:
-- CBS Evening News. Jim Stewart provided this
description of the justices on each side as he introduced brief quotes from
comments issued separately by Justices Scalia and Stevens:
-- NBC Nightly News. Pete Williams asserted: "The vote, 5 to 4 to stop the counting. The court also announces it will hear an appeal of the Florida court's decision. The court's conservative justices -- Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas -- voting to stop the counting with the four liberals -- Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer -- dissenting."
-- ABC's World News Tonight, back from its three month break for college football. Jackie Judd avoided applying ideological tags when she listed which justices were on each side, but she highlighted how "critics of the decision claim the 5-4 split reveals political bias against Gore." Viewers then heard this charge from Professor David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center: "And that raises very serious questions about the objectivity and fairness of this court in resolving this dispute."
Several minutes later George Stephanopoulos told anchor Aaron Brown: "Whichever side loses is going to feel like they were robbed by a partisan court. Look at what happened yesterday. After the Florida Supreme Court ruling you had prominent Republicans here in Washington, Tom DeLay the House Majority Leader talking about, saying this act of judicial aggression will not stand. You just saw Jack Kemp. Yesterday he called the Florida Supreme Court ruling a judicial coup d'etat. So far Democrats are being a little bit more circumspect about the United States Supreme Court ruling today, but if they end up ruling for Bush and ending the hand counts and ending this election you can bet you're going to hear Democrats saying, 'Listen, we had appointees of Nixon, Reagan and Bush handing the election to Bush's son.'"
In that case Democrats will be mimicking their allies in the media. -- Brent Baker
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