CyberAlert -- 11/14/2000 -- Tainted Harris v. Independent Judge

Tainted Harris v. Independent Judge; Homeless Votes Bought; Non-Voters Back Gore; Dan Rather's Unmet Promise -- Extra Edition

1) ABC and CBS focused on the partisan GOP political activities of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, but neither uttered a word about how the federal judge who turned down the request to halt the hand-counts donated to the Clinton-Gore campaign. NBC detailed the judge's politics, but promised that he's "really known as an independent-minded thinker."

2) Tom Brokaw denounced a Democratic operative as "nasty,' but avoided telling viewers his name in relaying how a Gore staffer claimed Katherine Harris was "acting in the finest tradition of a Soviet commissar."

3) ABC gave some extended broadcast network air time to the charges that Gore-Lieberman operatives got homeless men in Milwaukee to vote by promising them cigarettes. ABC's Brian Ross tracked down in New York City the wealthy Democrat who financed the operation.

4) ABC, CBS and NBC post-election day polls found people are not overly worried and want both candidates to stay out of the court. CBS learned those who didn't vote would have overwhelming gone for Gore if they had voted.

5) Dan Rather signed-off Monday by rhyming and then promising "CBS's traditional, fact-driven, play no favorites, pull-no- punches coverage."

>>> Now online, a new Media Reality Check in which Rich Noyes gathered onto one page five quotes from pundits uttered over the weekend. It's titled, "Media Talking Heads' Pro-Gore Weekend Line; Liberal Pundits: Gore Won Florida; Republicans Who Complain Are Hypocrites; Karl Rove Is a Liar." To see it online as fax recipients got it, go to the Adobe Acrobat PDF file: <<<


"Everybody's getting a party label whether they deserve it or not," Peter Jennings promised during an ABC News special Monday night in reference to players in the Florida political and judicial process. His assurance came after ABC failed to identify the Democratic ties of federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who turned down the GOP request to halt hand-counts, and just as Jennings was leading into a look at the Bush connections of Secretary of State Katherine Harris who affirmed 5pm Tuesday as the deadline for counties to file their results.

ABC's Linda Douglass described Harris as "politically ambitious" and concluded that "Democrats say if she does stop the vote count tomorrow, the country will always wonder about her motives." CBS didn't saying anything about the federal judge's donations to the Clinton-Gore campaigns, but Byron Pitts called Harris "a GOP loyalist" who "was a delegate for Bush at this year's Republican National Convention."

NBC spent the most time on Gore team complaints about Harris, although Dan Abrams uniquely noted that Judge Middlebrooks was appointed by President Clinton and "donated $1,500 to the Clinton-Gore campaign in '92 and '96." But unlike with Harris, NBC explained away any significance of Middlebrooks' politics as Abrams insisted those who know him said "they thought he would decide this case on the law, not on politics" since he is "really known as an independent-minded thinker."

-- ABC. On World News Tonight Erin Hayes avoided describing Harris's political motivations but did describe her order as "terse." Hayes reported: "The re-count of those votes, a bumpy, shifting process all weekend was pushed into overdrive today in two counties: Volusia and Broward which scrambled to finish after Florida's Secretary of State issued her terse, printed statement. Florida statute, she said, leaves no exceptions. The deadline for the re-count votes: 5pm tomorrow. Re-count votes that miss the deadline would not be counted. Democrats insisted the Secretary has the discretion to extend the deadline in circumstances like natural disasters. This, they say, warrants an extension too."

Later in the evening, ABC aired a special before Monday Night Football in the East and afterwards in the West, anchored by Peter Jennings and titled, A Nation Waits. Jennings delivered an overview of the developments during the day and then interviewed ABC News legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks deciding to reject the Bush team's request to have the hand-counts stopped, but neither segment included any mention of Middlebrooks's political affiliations.

Immediately after talking with Toobin, Jennings cautioned: "One admonition. If you listen to the political debate and the legal debate today you'll know that everybody is getting a label, everybody's getting a party label whether they deserve it or not. Now the woman at the center of this particular issue is Katherine Harris. She is Florida's Secretary of State and her decision, she says based in law, that the re-count must end at 5 o'clock tomorrow, is of course, a major threat to the Gore strategy. And all day there have been questions from Gore partisans about her motives."

Linda Douglass began her taped report with a clip of Warren Christopher accusing Harris of partisan politics. Douglass filled in viewers: "Katherine Harris is a Republican, elected to statewide office two years ago and described by reporters who cover the state house as politically ambitious. She co-chaired Governor Bush's Florida campaign and flew to New Hampshire during the Florida primary to help him....During the campaign Harris was criticized by non-partisan public interest groups when she ran a state-sponsored ad campaign to encourage voting, featuring a Bush spokesman, General Norman Schwarzkopf."

Douglass noted that though Democrats claim she's an ally of Jeb Bush he had backed another candidate in her primary and that her aides say she's just following the law. Douglass concluded: "Harris's aides insist she is calm and comfortable with her decision, but Democrats say if she does stop the vote count tomorrow, the country will always wonder about her motives."

-- CBS Evening News. Instead of portraying the Harris memo as simply affirming what state law says, Dan Rather applied some Gore team spin as he described how she "refuses to extend" the deadline: "The Bush campaign backs Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who refuses to extend tomorrow's 5pm deadline for all counties to report and have certified their official results. The Gore campaign called this quote 'arbitrary and unreasonable'..."

From Tallahassee, Byron Pitts relayed the Gore team's attack on Harris: "In his harshest criticism to date, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Gore's lean man in Florida, took dead aim at Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris."
Christopher: "Her plan I'm afraid has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in the election rather than to ensure that the voice of all the citizens of the state would be heard."
Pitts: "Harris, a GOP loyalist, was a delegate for Bush at this year's Republican National Convention. In a written statement she made it clear she will not accept or certify any statewide ballots after 5pm tomorrow. 'There are no exceptions,' she said, 'provided in the law.'"

-- NBC Nightly News. David Bloom offered the longest explanation of the law of the night on one of the broadcast networks, but began with Christopher's complaint, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Gore advisor Warren Christopher accusing Florida's Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, of just trying to ensure a Bush victory."
Christopher: "Her plan, I'm afraid, has the look of an effort to produce a particular result in the election rather than to ensure that the voice of all the citizens of the state would be heard."
Bloom quoted the law before relaying Democratic claims about her partisanship: "But in a written statement today Harris, Florida's top election official, says state law is unambiguous. She cites Section 102.111 of the Florida statute, which reads quote, 'If the county returns are not received by the Department by 5 p.m. on the seventh day following an election, all missing counties shall be ignored, and the results on file shall be certified.' As things now stand, that means Governor Bush would likely win a slim several hundred vote victory in Florida and win the presidency, which is why Democrats are so irate, accusing Harris of playing partisan politics, putting out that when Jeb Bush, Florida's Governor, campaigned for his brother in New Hampshire, it was Katherine Harris at his side, that Harris was the co-chair of George W. Bush's Florida campaign and a delegate to the Republican national convention."
Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler: "If you rush to judgement and you call the election before the votes are counted, we will not have a legitimate President."
Bloom: "But election law experts disagree about whether Harris had to impose tomorrow's deadline or whether she's merely doing the Republicans' bidding."
Trevor Potter, 2000 McCain Campaign: "I don't think the Secretary had a choice. The Florida statute is clear. She has to start from that premise."
Prof. Jamin Raskin, Constitutional Law Expert/'92 Clinton Gore campaign: "I think that they are seeing the decisions they have to make through a partisan lens."

Later in the newscast, Dan Abrams told Brokaw about the partisan ties of the federal judge who turned down the GOP request to have him halt the hand-counts: "Well, Tom, Judge Donald Middlebrooks has been on the bench about three and a half years, appointed by President Clinton, a long-time Democrat. In fact, he donated $1,500 to the Clinton-Gore campaign in '92 and '96. He'd worked for a Democratic Governor in the '70s, his father-in-law a Democratic Congressman. But I spoke with a lot of people, both Democrats and Republicans, who know him and all of them said that they thought he would decide this case on the law, not on politics, really known as an independent-minded thinker."

That may well be true, but couldn't it also be true with Harris?

On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, reporter William LaJeunesse offered a slightly different donation amount: "Bush supporters are quick to note that this judge was appointed by a Democratic President, he served under a Democratic Governor and he gave $1,250 to the Clinton-Gore campaign."


The unprecedented close election produced another unprecedented event Monday night: A network anchor denounced a Democratic operative as "nasty," though he avoided telling viewers the name of he offender. Tom Brokaw noted on the NBC Nightly News: "And this example tonight of just how nasty things are in Florida. The Gore campaign's press secretary used a bit of Cold War imagery to describe Florida's Secretary of State, saying her imposition of the 5pm deadline tomorrow was quote, 'acting in the finest tradition of a Soviet commissar.' Needless to say, that was not well received in Texas."

Neither ABC's World News Tonight or the CBS Evening News mentioned the shot, but during his prime time special Peter Jennings asked Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford about it. Jennings did not characterize the comment, but did identify the perpetrator as Chris Lehane.


ABC finally gave some extended broadcast network air time Monday night to the charges that Gore-Lieberman operatives got homeless men in Milwaukee to vote by promising them cigarettes. ABC reporter Brian Ross picked up on the week-old WISN-TV story, but then advanced it by tracking down in New York City the wealthy Democrat who financed the operation. She insisted to Ross: "I am an ordinary Park Avenue matron."

(Last week both ABC and NBC offered brief mentions of the Milwaukee vote buying charge.)

World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings reviewed the close vote tallies in states other than Florida, including the Gore win by just 6,122 votes in Wisconsin where charges of irregularities have been made. Ross began his piece by reporting how Marquette University students boasted that they voted twice or even four times. The campus paper, he related, found 141 students who voted more than once and didn't think the felony was that big of a deal.

Ross moved on to the homeless maneuver: "Also under investigation, allegations that the Gore campaign used cigarettes to get residents of homeless shelters to vote."
Michael McCann, District Attorney: "That's a criminal act if it's proven. It's bribery."
Ross: "The ABC affiliate in Milwaukee caught Gore campaign workers handing out cigarettes to homeless residents after they had been brought to a polling place to vote."
Connie Milstein: "I'm here representing the Gore-Lieberman campaign. I'm chairman of the Major Supporters Committee."
Ross: "Connie Milstein, a major Gore supporter and the wife of a New York multimillionaire, told the station she had been asked by the Gore campaign to come to Milwaukee."
Milstein: "Wisconsin is a very key state for the Democratic Party."
Ross: "The district attorney says there is evidence that the Democratic group went to at least three homeless shelters where residents said cigarettes were used to get them to vote. Willie Jackson voted for the first time."
Jackson said something, but you'd need an ebonics translation to know what.
Ross caught Milstein in Manhattan: "Today outside her Park Avenue home in New York, Mrs. Milstein said she had done nothing wrong."
Milstein: "Brian, let me just say one thing. I am an ordinary Park Avenue matron."
Ross: "Why were you in Milwaukee?"
Milstein: "I was there as an ordinary campaign worker."
Ross concluded: "Mrs. Milstein would not say who sent her to Milwaukee, and the Democratic Party maintains she went to the homeless shelters on her own."


ABC, CBS and NBC on Monday night all offered the results of their first post-election day polls which basically found people are not overly worried and want both candidates to stay out of the courts. CBS learned those who didn't vote would have overwhelming gone for Gore if they had voted.

-- ABC outlined on World News Tonight the results of its ABC News/Washington Post poll. Only 19 percent are "very worried" about the situation, 52 percent are "not worried." To the vague question of whether the candidates should "accept the re-count," or go to court, 76 percent said accept, only 28 percent thought going to court was a good idea.

During ABC's prime time special, Peter Jennings reported the poll found the electorate still split at 45 percent for Bush, 44 percent fore Gore.

-- CBS. On the CBS Evening News Dan Rather ran through how a CBS News/New York Times poll found 62 percent said "uncertainty" is not a "big problem" while 35 percent think it is a problem. Of those who did not vote, 55 percent regret not doing so and of those, 53 percent would have voted for Gore, 33 percent for Bush.

-- NBC waited until the end of Dateline to relay numbers from a special Dateline poll. It determined 52 percent approved of Gore's call for a hand re-count while 45 percent disapproved. On Bush's court action to stop the hand-count, 62 percent disapproved, 34 percent approved. How long are they willing to wait for a final result: 37 percent until Friday, 14 percent until the Electoral College meets, 5 percent until Inauguration Day and 39 percent "as long as it takes."

And, "if Gore wins Florida, should Bush challenge in other states?" Yes: 43 percent, no 49 percent.


How Dan Rather signed-off Monday's CBS Evening News: "Around and around it goes, where it stops nobody knows. Part of our world tonight. When news breaks out, we'll break in with CBS's traditional, fact-driven, play no favorites, pull no punches coverage."

Now that would be a first. -- Brent Baker

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