The TV pundits talked themselves hoarse into the wee hours of the morning playing Monday morning quarterback to see what variables might have altered the election results for each candidate. What if Bush had not wasted time and resources in California, but applied them to Florida instead? Should Gore have used Bill Clinton more, and what if he hadn't grunted throughout the first debate? What about the Nader factor?
With all that air time to fill, the network news experts could have held another fascinating discussion. What about the media factor? Let's rewind just through October, and ask how a less biased take on some stories might have changed the race. The following list of network misbehavior does not include the more balanced news coverage of the Fox News Channel.
1. On the crucial final weekend, Al Gore asked worshipers at a Memphis prayer breakfast to support him. "Good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome," he said, and "Tennessee and Memphis is going to lead the way." In Pittsburgh, he added, "When my opponent, Governor Bush, says he'll appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written - how some people (slaves) were considered three-fifths of a human being." The networks mentioned these remarks only sporadically. What would have been the impact had they highlighted this savage personal insult by Gore?
2. Speaking of "evil" Republicans, the NAACP ran an ad featuring dragging death victim James Byrd's daughter saying that Gov. Bush's failure to sign a liberal "hate crimes" bill was like "killing" her dad "all over again." Remember Willie Horton in '88? This time, no network put on its Horton hat to demand whether the NAACP was coordinating with the Gore campaign, or whether the Democrats were going to win this election by sowing division and suspicion between the races. No one even called the ad "harsh." They saved that term for Bush's last ad on Social Security.
3. The networks had an absolute frenzy over a 24-year-old story of Bush getting tagged with driving under the influence in Maine. Did this deserve an entire "Nightline," or much of three hours on "Today"? Yet throughout all that coverage, the media had little interest in connecting the dots of this leak to the Gore campaign, or telling viewers just how the primary leaker, Democratic delegate and candidate Tom Connolly, was trying to sabotage Bush. No one found it interesting that Gore friend John Warnecke said he was still sharing marijuana with Gore in 1976. What if they had?
4. As the elections drew close, the networks suddenly and overtly embraced the Gore mantra of A Vote for Nader Is A Vote for Bush. They made it sound like Nader had the gall to stay in the race. ABC's Dan Harris marveled that Nader was still campaigning "despite mounting criticism that he might cost Al Gore the election." All the networks broadcast the ad from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League pleading with liberals that a vote for Nader imperiled "a woman's right to choose." What if they hadn't?
5. The networks completely ignored a large study of Texas test scores by the Rand Corporation in July which heralded progress among Texas school children, especially minorities. Their education focus? A last-minute Rand addendum written by four Democrats claiming the Texas scores didn't mean much. Reporters wondered if the "Texas miracle" was a mirage, when the Bush people had never claimed a "miracle." No network questioned the partisan affiliations of the authors. What if they had?
6. The networks completely spiked stories in the New York Times and Washington Times noting that Vice President Gore had made a secret deal with the Russian prime minister to allow Russia to send weapons to Iran, which circumvented a law written by Gore and John McCain, the star of the spring primary season. Despite the star power and hypocrisy underlining this story, it was discarded. What if it wasn't?
7. The network morning and evening shows spiked the shocking story that vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, hailed by every network news anchor as a passionate Orthodox Jew, declared that he had "respect" for rabid anti-Semite leader Louis Farrakhan, who has called his faith a "gutter religion." Somehow, this wasn't an important story to share with the public. Why not?
Many questions are being raised about this election. When the press begins its quadrennial post-election ritual of navel contemplation, they ought to focus on these questions of a pro-Gore bias.