Good Court, Bad Court

Like liberal judges, liberal journalists are profoundly results-oriented. When it comes to jurisprudence, it matters little (if at all) whether a ruling properly reflects legal precedent or procedure. The driving concern is political, as in: Did our side win yet?

When the Florida Supreme Court split 4 to 3 on Friday in demanding yet another hand recount, liberal justices put the state's election laws into a blender and hit "puree." In reporting the story, the networks had no taste for exploring the views of the dissenters, and zero interest in exploring the ideological agenda of the liberal Democrat majority. On Friday night, ABC, CBS and NBC did not once mention the ideology of these four judges.

But when the U.S. Supreme Court halted recounts with a stay the following afternoon, suddenly the same media found wild-eyed partisanship, deep division, and public-relations damage. Network reporters made sure viewers knew of the "conservative/liberal split" on the court and realized "conservatives" were behind the stay order. The Washington Post and The New York Times both made no mention of division in their Saturday Florida headlines, but both found a "split" or "divided" court in the Sunday headlines.

CBS was more outrageous. On Friday night, Dan Rather found "Florida's highest court has ruled for Vice President Gore's appeal, requiring additional votes be counted. Here's the latest: Ruling 4 to 3, the Florida Supreme Court significantly revived Gore's chances of overtaking Texas Governor Bush." But on Saturday night, anchor Thalia Assuras highlighted the "sharply divided" Supreme Court.

While CBS never mentioned the all-Democrat-appointee lineup of Florida's Supreme Court, Rather quickly warned of partisan nature of the enemy in Washington: "Bush will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a majority of Republican-appointed justices. The Republican-controlled Florida legislature is now almost certain to choose its own slate of Bush electors, setting up a possible constitutional and political showdown."

In case the viewers had missed Rather's relentless emphasis that five justices were about as Republican as Republican Katherine Harris, or Republican Kenneth Starr, Rather later added a question to law professor Jonathan Turley: "Since the U.S. Supreme Court has seven of nine justices appointed by Republican Presidents, why should one not believe that they're going to overturn this Florida state Supreme Court decision today and pretty quickly?" On Friday afternoon, in ABC's special report, Sam Donaldson even warned Republicans not to highlight the liberal Democrat judges in Florida: "If the Republicans complain that this was a Democratic court in Florida, that's a little dangerous ground because seven of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court were appointed by Republican Presidents." Sam suggested labeling is best left to the "objective" media, and dangerous business when done by Republicans.

But the Supreme Court stay was trashed for putting the "fix in" for their Republican patrons. On ABC, the oh-so-objective George Stephanopoulos decried how conservative and moderate justices "jumped right into the middle of a political dispute in a way that will hand the election to the party of the person that appointed them." On CNN, Steve Roberts asserted the court "appeared to be acting for partisan motives to protect George Bush from those votes being counted. I think they've done themselves a lot of damage."

By Sunday night, CBS anchor John Roberts was promoting the bitter angst of liberals in familiar media lingo, as just "some people," in a question to Jonathan Turley. "Some people have suggested that the court has shown itself to be nothing more than a political entity in its splitting along at least ideological if not partisan lines. Has the court's credibility been diminished at all here?" Turley agreed: "It looked like you had five justices that were rushing in to sort of muscle through a conclusion."

All this ridiculous analysis turning the courts upside down shows the media's tremendous indifference to the differences between the Supreme Court majority's defense of judicial restraint against the wildly inventive judicial activism emanating out of the penumbras of Tallahassee.

Throughout five weeks of this electoral mess, the networks have followed one unmistakeable pattern: every court, politician, or activist who supported Al Gore is not to be labeled a "liberal," or even a "Democrat." But conservatives and Republicans should be labeled early and often as partisan politicos. The people watching this spectacle should be forgiven for thinking that on one side sits the public interest, democracy, and nonpartisan intentions; and on the other side, the public was stuck with vicious, partisan, bullying hard-right ideologues. All these media champions of "fairness" for Al Gore are behaving like they don't know the meaning of the word.