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Times Cries Eke! Buries Al Gore | The Nation

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Times Cries Eke! Buries Al Gore

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As these paragraphs unfurl, the newspaper of cracked record begins to resemble one of Robert Benchley's hilarious movie shorts of yesteryear, The Treasurer's Report.

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Gore Vidal
Nation contributing editor Gore Vidal is a prolific novelist, playwright and essayist, and one of the great stylists...

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Paragraph seven: recklessly concedes that "the most thorough examination of Florida's uncounted ballots provides ammunition for both sides...but it also provides support for the result: a Bush victory by the tiniest of margins." No, Howell, it doesn't, as this fabulous story makes clear.

Paragraph eight: The Times starts to implode. First, a major concession. The consortium of eight news organizations, aided by professional statisticians, found that "under some methods [of recounting--which ones?] Mr. Gore would have emerged the winner; in others, Mr. Bush." Paragraph nine: The Times digs a trap and falls into it. Quotes from the Supreme Court's majority opinion denying Florida a full recount, as ordered by the Florida courts, on the ground that such a recount "using varying standards" (there are no standards other than varying in Florida) threatened "irreparable harm" to Mr. Bush. Yes. He would have been sent home to Crawford. With paragraph ten the Times rationale becomes surreal: "The consortium's study shows that Mr. Bush would have won even if the justices had not stepped in...." Too late, Howell. Too little. Schizophrenia now reigns in Times Square. Paragraphs eleven through thirteen quibble about voting machines. Fourteen repeats how Gore should have demanded a statewide count and how wise the Bushites were to resist. Paragraph fifteen: "In a finding rich with irony" (a vein of metal inaccessible to Times miners), "the results show that even if Mr. Gore succeeded in his effort to force recounts of undervotes in the four Democratic counties...he still would have lost.... a statewide recount could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his way" (a mere tilt? Well, that's one way of putting it) "no matter what standard was chosen to judge voter intent."

Finally, paragraph sixteen: "A New York Times investigation earlier this year showed that 680 of the late-arriving [overseas] ballots did not meet Florida's standards yet were still counted. The vast majority of those flawed ballots were accepted in counties that favored Mr. Bush after an aggressive effort by Bush strategists to pressure officials to accept them." I then got out this earlier story (July 15, 2001). It is somewhat less homogenized than the current account. "In an analysis of the 2,490 [overseas] ballots...the Times found 680 questionable votes," of which "four out of five were accepted in counties carried by Mr. Bush," making him victor by 537 votes. Yet on July 15 the Times felt "all [680 votes] would have been disqualified had the state's election laws been strictly enforced." I suggest that the editors, to show good faith, should have used paragraph sixteen as their lead paragraph: Start with the crime and then unravel it--or deep-six it if that's your plan. Putting it as the coda to a confusing story suggests a desire to obscure, not illuminate, what happened.

In the end, thanks to the acceptance of 680 illegal ballots, Bush "won" by 537 votes, since at least that number were counted, rightly or wrongly, for Bush, otherwise--brace yourselves--why should such obviously illegal ballots be counted at all by his partisans? Put another way, if other magical counters had counted these ballots for Gore that would have taken away 537 votes from Bush's tally and given them to Gore, who would then, despite the Supreme Court's ominous meddling, have become the 43rd President. The Times, having consulted the Delphic oracle and, presumably, a thorough examination of a mad cow's entrails, called in a Harvard "expert" who wisely opined--a word creeping into newspaper jargon on "eke's" shoulders--that there was no way to declare a winner with "mathematical certainty." That man was worth his fee.

November 12 was quite a day at the Times. After the Fessenden/Broder front-page story, there was the Richard Berke story headed "Who Won Florida? The Answer Emerges, but Surely Not the Final Word." I'll say. Where Fessenden/Broder begin with "A comprehensive review" of the ballots, Berke begins on a note of triumph. He changes the article "A" to "The comprehensive review of..." etc. This may be much the same story, but it still sounds a bit thin as it tries to convince us that all is well in a wonderful world because after "the drama of those 36 days last fall, most of the country moved on long ago," marching as to war, one might say. September 11 is referred to as the moment of truth for all patriots, and "many partisan Democrats are loath to question the legitimacy of a president in wartime." The writer mentions President Grover Cleveland's defeat in 1888--won popular vote, lost Electoral College, re-elected four years later. Case not applicable. Cleveland was not robbed of election like Gore. A closer analogy is with New York Governor Samuel Tilden--a Democrat--who won the election of 1876 with a plurality of a quarter-million votes and then was well and truly robbed of the election by the Republican Party, whose troops still occupied parts of the South.... etc. Since the Times refers to its victories, I shall draw the reader's attention to my novel 1876, in which I describe how the election of that year was hijacked and how Tilden went quietly, as did Gore. Tilden was never heard of again.

The most depressing aspect of this whole story is how little interest the people seem to have in the unconstitutional usurpation of a presidential election by a rogue Supreme Court majority. It is also striking how little moved they are by the rights we are so rapidly losing in the never-to-be-won war against never-to-be-defined "terrorism." The current confusions of the New York Times are not so much that paper's usual problems with honest reporting but what looks to be a perfect indifference to the welfare of this Republic, as opposed to corporate cheerleading for the new homeland that November 2000, not September 2001, made possible. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney, in his "undisclosed" bunker, is no doubt wondering whether or not to postpone the certain-to-be-divisive presidential election of 2004. After all, homeland security comes first.

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