Ties That Bind,
excerpted from the book
Secrecy & Privilege
Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq
by Robert Parry
The Media Consortium Inc., 2004,
[George H W Bush] understood how to exploit the best connections,
how to pull the right strings - and how to make sure the public
didn't see too much. There was a calculated ruthlessness behind
the fractured syntax.
Spencer Oliver, the Democrat staffer whose phone was bugged in
Watergate and who later became chief counsel of the House International
Affairs Committee, came to believe that former CIA Director Bush
and CIA veterans attached to the White House were the hidden hands
behind all facets of the Iran-Contra scandal: the Nicaraguan contra
operation, the Iranian arms initiative and the propaganda-driven
"Project Democracy." The key players, Oliver believed,
were not the government officials who became household names during
the scandal - Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter,
etc. - but the ex-CIA men, the likes of Donald Gregg and Walter
Raymond, who coalesced around Vice President Bush's office and
mostly stayed out of the spotlight.
"The biggest weapon in American politics is money because
you can use money to influence people, to influence the media,
to influence campaigns, to influence individuals, to bribe people."
Oliver said. So, the conservatives, who were emerging as the dominant
force in the Republican Party, tapped resources wherever they
could - from William Simon's coalition of like-minded foundations
to Sun Myung Moon's mysterious rivers of cash - to build their
Richard Nixon's Watergate operations marked
another historic change with the entry of CIA veterans directly
into the U.S. political process, Oliver said. "The first
hint that I remember of the CIA being involved in domestic politics
would have been '72 when they tried to use the CIA to cover up
Watergate, say it was a CIA operation," Oliver said. "Howard
Hunt, Jim McCord, these were ex-CIA guys, and the Cubans were
guys who had worked for the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. You train
these people to do things. Then after you finish using them, they've
still got the skills you gave them."
Oliver's observation also applied to other
CIA intelligence officers, such as Donald Gregg and Walter Raymond.
They didn't suddenly lose their intelligence skills when they
went to work at the White House in the 1980s. /Neither did George
The pattern of Republican campaigns in modern times has been to
destroy your opponent by finding some flaw or some weakness or
some position that they've taken that you can exploit," Oliver
said. "Negative research was at its height during that time
. ... They had all these guys down in Arkansas . ... They apparently
had a line of attack that was going to be Whitewater, Gennifer
Flowers and what turned out to be Passportgate, to question his
patriotism and to make it appear as though that in the anti-war
days he had done some terrible things that were unpatriotic. They
were going to unleash these things: Whitewater, Passport, Gennifer
Flowers and women stuff.
In the weeks after Bush's defeat, Republicans undertook a series
of actions to ensure that the investigations of the Reagan-Bush
era - from its 1980 origins in the murky October Surprise case
through the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate cases - did not outlive George
H.W. Bush's Presidency.
The issue had gained new urgency when
Bush's White House counsel belatedly informed Walsh about the
existence of a Bush diary that was covered by earlier document
production demands and should have been turned over years before.
These notes from 1986 and 1987 were not delivered until December
11, 1992. Privately, Walsh was considering a possible indictment
of the ex-President for a crime similar to the one allegedly committed
Already the Republicans were stepping
up their counterattack against Walsh. Rehnquist had ousted Walsh's
principal supporter on the three-judge panel that oversaw special
prosecutors, by replacing George MacKinnon with David Sentelle.
Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas had fired off a letter
on November 9 demanding that Walsh fire James Brosnahan, a San
Francisco lawyer who had been brought in to try the Weinberger
case. Dole attacked Brosnahan's past involvement in Democratic
On November 11, four GOP senators demanded
a special prosecutor to investigate Walsh, particularly over whether
the Weinberger indictment had been timed for political reasons,
though there was no evidence that was the case. "It is time
for Mr. Walsh and his staff to plead guilty to playing politics
for their taxpayer-funded inquisitions," Dole said. By December,
Dole was demanding a list of all Walsh's employees so the Republicans
could conduct personal investigations of each "employee's
objectivity and impartiality." Dole also obtained information
about the staff's pay levels. "With the election over, maybe
the Walsh political operatives will decide to pack it in,"
Dole said. "The only mischief left for them is more humiliating
Facing a suddenly expanding Iran-Contra
probe that had broken through a six-year cover-up, Bush resorted
to the ultimate weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992,
Bush dealt the Iran-Contra investigation a fatal blow by pardoning
Weinberger and five other Iran-Contra defendants, including CIA
men Duane Clarridge, Clair George and Alan Fiers. It ranked as
possibly the first time in U.S. history that a President had granted
pardons in a case where he himself was a possible defendant.
A furious Walsh said Bush's action "demonstrates
that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes
in high office - deliberately abusing the public trust - without
consequence." However, the Washington press corps mostly
greeted the pardons warmly. It was a sign that in the 20 years
since Watergate, the national press corps had been housebroken.
... There would be one final chapter to
the Iran-Contra Affair, however. After Bush left office in 1993,
the ex-President reneged on an understanding that he would submit
to a full-scale interview with Walsh about Bush's real involvement
in the scandal. Walsh had postponed the questioning until after
the presidential election to spare Bush the distraction. But once
out of office, Bush refused to cooperate. Signaling the widespread
disdain for Walsh's long Iran-Contra probe, the nation's news
media barely mentioned Bush's non-testimony.
"My immediate instinct was to use
the grand jury and subpoena Bush," Walsh wrote in his memoirs
Firewall. "In this I was alone. The staff unanimously opposed
the use of the grand jury, arguing that to do so would exaggerate
public expectations and would appear retaliatory."
Walsh's staff, unlike their octogenarian
boss, had futures to worry about. The Republicans had already
made clear that they were prepared to conduct individual investigations
of each member of the prosecution team. That could have meant
career ruin for ambitious lawyers, just as it had for journalists
who were too persistent. Walsh saw no choice but to fold his tent.
"I gave up," Walsh said. "We then turned our full
attention to our final report."
With President Clinton in office, interest
in pursuing evidence of historic Republican crimes almost vanished.
Clinton wrote in his 2004 memoirs, My Life, that he "disagreed
with the [Iran-Contra] pardons and could have made more of them
but didn't." Clinton cited several reasons for giving his
predecessor a pass. "I wanted the country to be more united,
not more divided, even if that split would be to my political
advantage," Clinton wrote. "Finally, President Bush
had given decades of service to our country, and I thought we
should allow him to retire in peace, leaving the matter between
him and his conscience."
Spencer Oliver, who was at the nexus of
several investigations into Reagan-Bush wrongdoing, urged the
incoming Clinton administration to choose the harder path of truth
and justice over the sentimentality of letting George H.W. Bush
carry his secrets off into the sunset. Unlike Clinton and many
of his newcomers, Oliver had stood at the front lines facing the
Republican abuses of power for years.
"They were naïve," Oliver
said of the Clinton crowd. "There was nobody in the upper
echelons of the Clinton campaign who had ever been involved in
any of the investigations - the oversight [committees], IranContra
or Watergate or anything like that. Clinton didn't know anything
about that. He just assumed all that stuff was just politics .
... He was not going to get down in the gutter like they did.
Clinton wanted to be magnanimous in victory. They just got taken
When Oliver protested Clinton plans to
put a neoconservative Democrat into a key transition slot, Clinton
aide Samuel Berger defended the choice because the fellow had
helped deliver some hard-line "Scoop Jackson Democrats."
Oliver said Berger's position was that "we don't want to
hold any grudges. We won. We need to be gracious and magnanimous."
Oliver disagreed: "I said, 'That's very naïve, Sandy.
Those of us, who have been sitting up here on the Hill in the
trenches for the last ten years on the receiving end of this stuff,
know a lot better what these guys are all about, and if you're
not careful, you'll end up with a one-term administration."
Within Washington's mainstream political
culture, the Iran-Contra investigation was set aside as a trivial
matter, with special prosecutor Walsh judged a kind of strange
obsessive. Washington Post writer Marjorie Williams delivered
that judgment in a Washington Post Sunday magazine article, which
read: "In the utilitarian political universe of Washington,
consistency like Walsh's is distinctly suspect. It began to seem
... rigid of him to care so much. So un-Washington. Hence the
gathering critique of his efforts as vindictive, extreme. Ideological.
... But the truth is that when Walsh finally goes home, he will
leave a perceived loser."
On the historical question of secret Reagan-Bush military support
for Iraq, the Clinton administration again took a dive.
In January 1995, Clinton's Justice Department
issued a report clearing the Reagan-Bush administration of all
suspicion of wrongdoing. The Clinton investigators, led by John
M. Hogan, an assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno, expressed
confidence in their conclusion that they "did not find evidence
that U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq." But
the review noted, curiously, that the CIA had withheld an unknown
number of documents that were contained in "sensitive compartments"
that were denied to the investigators.
Two weeks later, Hogan and his team looked
gullible when former Reagan-Bush national security official Howard
Teicher submitted a sworn affidavit in federal court in Miami,
confirming many of the Iraqgate allegations of secret arms sales.
The Teicher affidavit was the first public account by a Reagan
insider that the covert U.S.-Iraq relationship had included arranging
third-country shipments of weapons to Saddam Hussein's regime.
Teicher, who had been on Reagan's National
Security Council staff, traced the U.S. tilt to Iraq to a turning
point in the Iran-Iraq War in 1982 when Iran gained the upper
hand and fears swept through the U.S. government that Iran's army
might slice through Iraq to the oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi
"In the Spring of 1982, Iraq teetered
on the brink of losing its war with Iran," Teicher wrote.
"The Iranians discovered a gap in the Iraqi defenses along
the Iran-Iraq border between Baghdad to the north and Basra to
the south. Iran positioned a massive invasion force directly across
from the gap in the Iraqi defenses. An Iranian breakthrough at
the spot would have cutoff Baghdad from Basra and would have resulted
in Iraq's defeat . ... In June 1982, President Reagan decided
that the United States could not afford to allow Iraq to lose
the war to Iran."
Teicher wrote that he helped draft a secret
national security decision directive that Reagan signed to authorize
covert U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein's military. "The
NSDD, including even its identifying number, is classified,"
The effort to arm the Iraqis was "spearheaded"
by CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert
Gates, according to Teicher's affidavit. "The CIA, including
both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved
of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons,
ammunition and vehicles to Iraq," Teicher wrote.
Teicher said he also went to Iraq with
Rumsfeld in 1984 to convey a secret Israeli offer to assist Iraq
after Israel had concluded that Iran was becoming a greater danger.
"I traveled with Rumsfeld to Baghdad and was present at the
meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz
about Israel's offer of assistance," Teicher wrote. "Aziz
refused even to accept the Israelis' letter to Hussein offering
assistance because Aziz told us that he would be executed on the
spot by Hussein if he did so."
Another key player in Reagan's Iraq tilt
was then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, according to Teicher's
affidavit. "In 1986, President Reagan sent a secret message
to Saddam Hussein telling him that Iraq should step up its air
war and bombing of Iran," Teicher wrote. "This message
was delivered by Vice President Bush who communicated it to Egyptian
President Mubarak, who in turn passed the message to Saddam Hussein.
"Similar strategic operational military
advice was passed to Saddam Hussein through various meetings with
European and Middle Eastern heads of state. I authored Bush's
talking points for the 1986 meeting with Mubarak and personally
attended numerous meetings with European and Middle East heads
of state where the strategic operational advice was communicated."
Teicher's affidavit represented a major
break in the historical mystery of U.S. aid to Iraq. But it complicated
a criminal arms-trafficking case that Clinton's Justice Department
was prosecuting against Teledyne Industries and a salesman named
Ed Johnson. They had allegedly sold explosive pellets to Chilean
arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen, who used them to manufacture
cluster bombs for Iraq. The prosecutors took their fury out on
Teicher, insisting that his affidavit was unreliable and threatening
him with dire consequences for coming forward. Yet, while deeming
Teicher's affidavit false, the Clinton administration also declared
the document a state secret, classifying it and putting it under
court seal. A few copies, however, had been distributed outside
the court and the text was soon posted on the Internet.
After officially suppressing the Teicher
affidavit, the Justice Department prosecutors persuaded the judge
presiding in the Teledyne-Johnson case to rule testimony about
the Reagan-Bush policies to be irrelevant. Unable to mount its
planned defense, Teledyne agreed to plead guilty and accept a
$13 million fine. Johnson, the salesman who had earned a modest
salary in the mid-$30,000 range, was convicted of illegal arms
trafficking and given a prison term.
While the Clinton administration protected
the Reagan-Bush legacy, that generosity did Clinton little good
when it came to the possibility of a reciprocal bipartisanship.
From Clinton's first days, the Republicans and their conservative
allies did whatever they could to destroy his Presidency while
humiliating him and his wife, Hillary Clinton. Again, the conservative
news media played a key part, switching almost overnight from
an aggressive defense to an equally aggressive offense.
Spencer Oliver watched with amazement
as the new Clinton team didn't even staff key offices with loyalists.
"They left a lot of people in place in the government who
were hardcore Republican operatives," Oliver said. "Their
loyalties were not to Clinton at all . ... The whole first three
years of the Clinton administration, everything they did wrong
was leaked, everything, every peccadillo, every mistake, whether
it was the White House Travel Office, Hillary's (health care)
task force, whatever it was. They never really took control of
Ties That Bind
In fall 1996, one of Sun Myung Moon's forays into the high-priced
world of media and politics was in trouble. South American journalists
were writing scathingly about Moon's plan to open a regional newspaper
that the 77-year-old founder of the Korean-based Unification Church
hoped would give him the same influence in Latin America that
The Washington Times had in the United States.
As publication day ticked closer for Moon's
Tiempos del Mundo, leading South American newspapers recounted
unsavory chapters of Moon's history, including his links with
South Korea's fearsome intelligence service and with violent anticommunist
organizations. In the early 1980s, Moon had used friendships with
the military dictators in Argentina and Uruguay to invest in those
two countries. Moon was such a pal that Argentine generals gave
him an honorary award for siding with Argentina's junta when it
invaded the Falklands Islands. 7 Moon also bought large tracts
of agricultural lands in Paraguay. La Nacion reported that Moon
had discussed these business ventures with Paraguay's ex-dictator
Moon's disciples fumed about these critical
stories and accused the Argentine news media of trying to sabotage
Moon's plans for an inaugural gala in Buenos Aires on November
23. "The local press was trying to undermine the event,"
complained the Unification News.
Given the controversy, Argentina's elected
president, Carlos Menem, decided to reject Moon's invitation.
But Moon had a trump card to play in his bid for South American
respectability: the endorsement of an ex-President of the United
States, George H.W. Bush. Agreeing to speak at the newspaper's
launch, Bush flew aboard a private plane, arriving in Buenos Aires
on November 22. Bush stayed at Menem's official residence, the
Olivos, though Bush's presence didn't change Menem's mind about
attending the gala.
Still, as the biggest VIP at the inaugural
celebration, Bush saved the day, Moon's followers gushed. "Mr.
Bush's presence as keynote speaker gave the event invaluable prestige,"
wrote the Unification News. "Father [Moon] and Mother [Mrs.
Moon] sat with several of the True Children [Moon's offspring]
just a few feet from the podium" where Bush spoke. Before
about 900 Moon guests at the Sheraton Hotel, Bush lavished praise
"I want to salute Reverend Moon,
who is the founder of The Washington Times and also of Tiempos
del Mundo," Bush declared. "A lot of my friends in South
America don't know about The Washington Times, but it is an independent
voice. The editors of The Washington Times tell me that never
once has the man with the vision interfered with the running of
the paper, a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington,
D.C. I am convinced that Tiempos del Mundo is going to do the
same thing" in Latin America.
Bush then held up the colorful new newspaper
and complimented several articles, including one flattering piece
about his wife Barbara. Bush's speech was so effusive that it
surprised even Moon's followers. "Once again, heaven turned
a disappointment into a victory," the Unification News exulted.
"Everyone was delighted to hear his compliments. We knew
he would give an appropriate and 'nice' speech, but praise in
Father's presence was more than we expected . ... It was vindication.
We could just hear a sigh of relief from Heaven."
While Bush's assertion about Moon's newspaper
as a voice of "sanity" may be a matter of opinion, Bush's
vouching for The Washington Times' editorial independence simply
wasn't true. Almost since it opened in 1982, a string of senior
editors and correspondents have resigned, citing the manipulation
of the news by Moon and his subordinates. The first editor, James
Whelan, resigned in 1984, confessing that "I have blood on
my hands" for helping Moon's church achieve greater legitimacy.
But Bush's boosterism was just what Moon
needed in South America. "The day after," the Unification
News observed, "the press did a 180-degree about-turn once
they realized that the event had the support of a U.S. President."
With Bush's help, Moon had gained another beachhead for his worldwide
After the event, Menem told reporters
from La Nacion that Bush had claimed privately to be only a mercenary
who did not really know Moon. "Bush told me he came and charged
money to do it," Menem said.'° But Bush was not telling
Menem the whole story. By fall 1996, Bush and Moon had been working
in political tandem for at least a decade and a half. The exPresident
also had been earning huge speaking fees as a front man for Moon
for more than a year.
In September 1995, Bush and his wife,
Barbara, gave six speeches in Asia for the Women's Federation
for World Peace, a group led by Moon's wife, Hak Ja Han Moon.
In one speech on September 14 to 50,000 Moon supporters in Tokyo,
Bush insisted that "what really counts is faith, family and
friends." Mrs. Moon followed the ex-President to the podium
and announced that "it has to be Reverend Moon to save the
United States, which is in decline because of the destruction
of the family and moral decay."
In summer 1996, Bush was lending his prestige
to Moon again. Bush addressed the Moon-connected Family Federation
for World Peace in Washington, an event that gained notoriety
when comedian Bill Cosby tried to back out of his contract after
learning of Moon's connection. Bush had no such qualms.
Throughout these public appearances for
Moon, Bush's office refused to divulge how much Moon-affiliated
organizations have paid the exPresident. But estimates of Bush's
fee for the Buenos Aires appearance alone ran between $100,000
and $500,000. Sources close to the Unification Church have put
the total Bush-Moon package in the millions, with one source telling
me that Bush stood to make as much as $10 million total from Moon's
The senior George Bush may have had a
political motive as well. By 1996, sources close to Bush were
saying the ex-President was working hard to enlist well-to-do
conservatives and their money behind the presidential candidacy
of his son, George W. Bush. Moon was one of the deepest pockets
Mark Crispin Miller, The Bush Dyslexicon.
"... in the matter of his education,
this President despite his folksy pretense is something of an
anti-Lincoln - one who, instead of learning eagerly in humble
circumstances, learned almost nothing at the finest institutions
in the land..."
Al Gore ended up winning the  national popular vote by about
544,000 votes, a number that exceeded the victory margins of John
Kennedy in 1960 and Richard Nixon in 1968. Gore also appeared
to have been the choice of voters in the pivotal state of Florida,
which would have given him a clear majority in the Electoral College.
But thousands of votes in Democratic strongholds
were spoiled. Elderly Jewish voters were confused by a "butterfly"
ballot in West Palm Beach, causing them to vote accidentally for
right-wing candidate Pat Buchanan. Antiquated punch-card machines
functioned poorly in some low-income African-American precincts,
leaving many ballots unreadable by vote-counting machines. Later,
it was also discovered that thousands of predominantly African-American
voters had been falsely identified by the state as felons and
purged from the voting lists. Some were turned away from the polls
on Election Day.
Still, the preliminary counts of unspoiled
ballots in Florida showed George W. Bush clinging to a tiny lead
of less than 1,000 votes out of six million cast. If Bush could
hang on to that thin edge, he would defeat Gore in the Electoral
College by a narrow 271-to-266 margin, even while losing the national
popular vote. So, with Bush's younger brother Jeb the sitting
governor of Florida and Bush's state chairman, Katherine Harris,
the secretary of state in charge of certifying the results, the
Bush team moved quickly to prevent any thorough statewide recount.
Partial recounts in some counties chipped away at Bush's lead,
which dwindled to less than 600 votes.
... another recount in Broward County had whittled down Bush's
lead. Gore was gaining slowly in Palm Beach's recount, too, despite
constant challenges from Republican observers. To boost Bush's
margin back up, Republican Secretary of State Harris allowed Nassau
County to throw out its recounted figures that had helped Gore.
Then, excluding a partial recount in Palm Beach and with Miami
shut down, Harris certified Bush the winner by 537 votes.
Bush partisans cheered their victory and
began demanding that Bush be called the president-elect. Soon
afterwards, Bush appeared on national television to announce himself
the winner and to call on Gore to concede defeat. "Now,"
Bush said, "we must live up to our principles. We must show
our commitment to the common good, which is bigger than any person
or any party."
To many Gore supporters, the aborted recount
in Miami changed the course of the Florida events, preventing
Gore from narrowing Bush's small lead. The Miami assault also
represented an escalation of tactics, demonstrating the potential
for spiraling political violence if the recount battle dragged
on. The Republicans were putting down a marker that they were
prepared to do what was necessary to win, regardless of what the
The Washington Post's columnist Richard
Cohen spoke for many in the Washington Establishment when he argued
that the deepening national divisions could only be resolved if
Al Gore gave up. Cohen wrote: "Given the present bitterness,
given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps,
the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy
who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al
Gore. That man is George W. Bush."
Cohen's column fit with the pattern of
the mainstream media to condemn both sides equally for the acrimony
while placing the primary onus on Gore to resolve the impasse
by surrendering. Meanwhile, the conservative media heaped the
blame overwhelmingly on Gore, who supposedly was trying to "steal"
the election. The reality, which was documented later in political
filings with the Internal Revenue Service, was that Bush outspent
Gore four-to-one on the recount battle, including picking up the
expenses of Republican protesters who had rioted in Miami.
Despite the rioting, Gore continued to pursue his legal strategy,
seeking court-ordered recounts. After two more weeks of delays
and courtroom arguments, Gore's strategy finally appeared to have
paid off. On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court, on a split
vote, ordered a statewide recount to examine all ballots that
had been kicked out by machines for supposedly having no choice
The next day, facing a deadline of December
12 for certification of Florida's electors, vote counters across
the state began examining these so-called "under-votes."
Although not known at the time, canvassers also were told to collect
so-called "over-votes," ballots that had been rejected
because they had more than one name entered, which sometimes meant
that voters both checked the name of their preference and wrote
in his name. In such cases, Florida law allowed for counting "over-votes."
In the first few hours of the December
9 recount, the counters found scores of ballots with clear votes
for President that had been missed by the machines. Other ballots
were set aside for a judicial determination about whether a vote
was registered or not. With Bush's lead at less than 200 votes
and slipping, Bush played his trump card. He turned to his five
conservative allies on the U.S. Supreme Court.
By a 5-4 majority, the court - for the
first time in U.S. history - stopped 1 the counting of votes cast
by American citizens for President. The majority consisted of
Justices William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor,
Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. In a written explanation,
Scalia made clear that the purpose of the extraordinary injunction
was to prevent Bush from losing his lead and having "a cloud"
cast over the "legitimacy" of his Presidency if the
court decided to throw out the new votes. Scalia maintained that
a count of Florida's votes that showed Bush to
be the loser - when the court might later
make him the winner - undermined the need for "democratic
Three days later, only two hours before
the December 12 deadline was to expire, the same five justices
issued a complex ruling that reversed the Florida Supreme Court's
recount order. The justices cited a hodgepodge of "constitutional"
issues, including complaints about the lack of consistent standards
in the Florida recount. After having delayed any remedy up to
the deadline, Bush's five allies then demanded that any revised
plan and recount be completed within two hours, a patently impossible
Given the lack of consistent standards throughout Florida and
the waiving of technical legal requirements in other cases, a
logical extension of the U.S. Supreme Court's logic would be that
the entire presidential election in the Florida should be thrown
out as unconstitutional. Or the U.S. Supreme Court would have
agreed that the best, though imperfect, remedy would have been
to conduct as full and fair a recount as possible. But Bush and
his advisers prevented the latter outcome, first by turning to
violent protests and then to political allies on the U.S. Supreme
In a dissenting opinion on December 12,
Justice John Paul Stevens, an appointee of President Gerald Ford,
said the majority's action in blocking the Florida recount "can
only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of
judges throughout the land." Justices Stephen Breyer and
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointees of President Bill Clinton, said
in another dissent, "Although we may never know with complete
certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential
election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is
the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian
of the rule of law."
It would be ten months after the Inauguration for a consortium
of major news organizations to finish their own unofficial recount
of the Florida ballots. The outcome was delayed by the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon. When editors could turn their attention to the recount
project again in November, they faced new pressures because of
the public's demand for even greater unity after the murders of
about 3,000 people. Polls showed a rally-'round-the-President
The news executives, therefore, faced
a dilemma. Their recount had discovered that if all legally cast
votes were counted, Gore would have won Florida, regardless of
what standard was used to judge the punch-card ballots, whether
dimpled, hanging or fully punched-through chads. The key was that
Gore gained a surprising number of votes from the so-called "overvotes"
where his name was both marked and written in. If the news stories
were written straight, they would have stated that a full recount
of legal Florida ballots would have made Al Gore the winner; that
George W. Bush not only lost the national popular vote but he
wasn't even the choice of Florida voters. In other words, the
wrong guy was in the White House. By any chad measure, Gore won.
But stories written that way would have
invited a furious reaction from Republicans against the "liberal"
news media. Other Americans would likely lash out at the press
for presenting news that would only divide the country at a moment
of deep national crisis. While facing a dangerous enemy, George
Bush would have his legitimacy as the leader of the Free World
called into question. And to what end? There was no way for the
events of December 2000 to be rewritten. What was done was done.
So, the major newspapers and news networks chose to write the
story as if George W. Bush really had won the Florida election.
The news organizations structured their stories on the ballot
review to support headlines such as "Florida Recounts Would
Have Favored Bush." Post media critic Howard Kurtz took the
spin one cycle further with a story headlined, "George W.
Bush, Now More Than Ever," in which Kurtz ridiculed as "conspiracy
theorists" those who thought Gore had won.
"The conspiracy theorists have been
out in force, convinced that the media were covering up the Florida
election results to protect President Bush," Kurtz wrote.
"That gets put to rest today, with the finding by eight news
organizations that Bush would have beaten Gore under both of the
recount plans being considered at the time."
Kurtz also mocked those who believed that
winning an election by getting the most votes was important in
a democracy. "Now the question is: How many people still
care about the election deadlock that last fall felt like the
story of the century - and now faintly echoes like some distant
Civil War battle?" he wrote. In other words, the elite media's
judgment was in: "Bush won, get over it." Only "Gore
partisans" - as both The Washington Post and The New York
Times called critics of the Florida election tallies - would insist
on looking at the fine print.
Buried deeper in the stories or referenced
in subheads was the fact that the actual results of the statewide
review of 175,010 disputed ballots determined that Gore was the