Ties That Bind,

Electoral Coup

excerpted from the book

Secrecy & Privilege

Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq

by Robert Parry

The Media Consortium Inc., 2004, paper


[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 Counter-Establishment.

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 H.W. Bush.

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 by Weinberger.

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 politics.

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 courtroom defeats."

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 in."

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 Arabia.

"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," Teicher wrote.

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 the government.


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 Alfredo Stroessner.

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 on Moon.

"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 business-religious-political-media empire.

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 organization.

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 right-wing circles.

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..."


Electoral Coup

Al Gore ended up winning the [2000] 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 voters wanted.

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 for President.

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 stability."

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 task.

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 Court.

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 phenomenon.

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 winner...

Secrecy & Privilege

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