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
3) Bryant Gumbel: "If Governor Bush prevails as a result
of the imposition of today's 5pm deadline, would you think his presidency
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
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
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?"
"...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
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
the presidential primary, Harris flew to New Hampshire to campaign for George
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
"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
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."
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
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
-- "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
-- "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?"
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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