Making politicians and media accountable to ordinary citizens since 2000.

Home | Unconservative Listening | Links | Contribute | About

Join the Mailing List | Contact Caro

Series Page



By David Podvin and Carolyn Kay

The Consortium of media organizations that has delayed announcing the results of the Florida presidential election ballot study contends that it had absolutely no idea who was going to win that recount. The Consortium further contends that the ballots have not yet been tabulated, making it impossible for anyone to know the outcome. It also states that the results of the ballot study would have been released to the American people if not for the terrorist attack on September 11.

The Consortium is engaging in sophistry. It is deliberately seeking to deceive the public with incomplete and misleading information. This dishonesty is entirely consistent with the mainstream media’s pattern of lying that recurred throughout the presidential campaign.

Part two in this series deals with the Consortium’s lack of candor as it has sought to advance its own financial interests by concealing Al Gore’s clear victory in Florida and refusing to acknowledge that he was the rightful winner in the 2000 presidential election.

It is important to emphasize that we do not allege the conglomerates that control the American mainstream media have engaged in a conspiracy, only that they have damaged American democracy by conducting themselves with unpatriotic self interest and all consuming greed.

On January 9, 2001, eight media organizations announced their intention to form the Consortium that would examine and classify the votes in the Florida presidential election. The eight news organizations were The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones and Company (The Wall Street Journal), the Associated Press, The Tribune Company (The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, among others), The Palm Beach Post, The St. Petersburg Times, and CNN (which later dropped out).

The Consortium sought to gain credibility for the integrity of its recount by hiring the not-for-profit National Opinion Research Center to perform the actual ballot handling tasks and to compile the relevant information. NORC was assigned to provide the raw data to each of the members of the Consortium. It would then be up to the individual media outlets to decide how they would interpret and report the data to the American people.

All of this was to be completed by April, 2001.

At the time that the Consortium announced its plans to categorize the votes, some national public opinion polls showed that over a third of Americans considered George W. Bush to be an illegitimate president. Several prominent syndicated columnists had written that Gore was fortunate to “lose”, because the poisonous atmosphere in the aftermath of the controversial election guaranteed that the new president was destined to one term of bitterness and gridlock.

The perception of the mainstream political and media analysts was that there were only three possible outcomes of the ballot study:

Bush could win in a photo finish, as he had in each previous recount.
It could turn out to be a dead heat.
Gore could win in a photo finish.

Two thirds of Americans surveyed said that they were ready to move on. They believed that it was basically an even election; they might never be completely sure who actually won, but someone had to be president, and Bush won the recounts and the Supreme Court verdict. For most Americans, regardless of who literally won an election that was too close to call, it was time to get on with life.

Against this backdrop, any of the three results of the ballot study that were considered possible would not be harmful to Bush. If the ballot study showed he won, then that would confirm he was the legitimate president. If it were a tie, then he would be no worse off than before the study was released. If Gore won a squeaker, then the most diehard of the Democrats might challenge the legitimacy of a Bush administration, but the GOP had prepared for that possibility by assigning party activists to every Florida county for the specific purpose of screaming fraud. Another very close vote accompanied by frenzied controversy would make the Consortium ballot study just a tiresome repeat of the soap opera that most of election-weary America had already seen and turned off.

If the establishment deep thinkers were right, then the only possible results from the Consortium study could help legitimize Bush, but could not harm his legitimacy among those Americans who had “gotten over it”.

There was, however, a potential complication that had been discounted by the corporations that were financing this venture:

What would happen if the Consortium recount revealed that Gore had won decisively?

The NORC’s examination of the ballots began in February. MakeThemAccountable has spoken with several participants who were in the NORC coding rooms where the ballots of the Florida presidential election were reviewed. These people did not know each other and were in different counties within Florida. Each of them independently stated that, based on their personal observation, Al Gore was winning at least two thirds of those disputed ballots that NORC coders were recording. These were ballots that had not been included in previous recounts.

The Consortium has stated that it cannot possibly have known the outcome of the ballot coding because NORC did not generate a final tabulation. The Consortium even contends that, because the ballots were not delivered to the media organizations until mid-September, and because those organizations have been completely preoccupied with covering the war against terrorism, the result of the recount is still a complete mystery to them.

The Consortium is lying about this, as well as other things.

Our sources within the recount made a commitment of confidentiality to NORC, pledging that they would not go public with what they saw during the process. This pact was faithfully honored until after September 11, when some participants became alarmed that the Consortium was going to violate its commitment to inform the American public about the truth of the actual results.

The ballot examination process, or coding process, had teams consisting of an NORC employee supervising three coders.  It was the job of the coders to identify the characteristics of any expression of voter intent on the ballots.  Their observations were entered into a computer database so that the media organizations comprising the Consortium could later evaluate the data to determine the winner. The ballots showed only numbers and not the names of candidates, so NORC assumed that those who were evaluating the ballots did not know which candidate was getting which votes.  . The supervisors were responsible for comparing the pattern of vote tabulation by each coder, to further insure that bias would not enter the process.

In an interview with MakeThemAccountable, NORC Public Information Officer Julie Antelman confirmed that, if someone knew which number applied to which candidate, then they could tell if there was a trend.

To those who were carefully observing the coding, and who had enough knowledge of Florida county ballot configurations and precinct voting patterns to figure out which number represented Bush and which represented Gore, it was clear exactly how the vote categorization was going. Specifically, they saw the inclusion of many disputed ballots that had been successfully excluded from previous recounts because of pressure tactics by the Bush campaign. In the objective, professional setting of the NORC coding process, the winner of the overwhelming number of previously disputed ballots was Al Gore.

From the first day of the NORC process, there was a visible presence of pro-Bush demonstrators outside the coding rooms. What has not been widely reported is that there was also a constant Bush presence inside the coding rooms. The NORC had a policy that allowed for a representative of either party to observe the process. In counties like Hernando, observers could pay in order to actually sit at the coding tables. The observer was not allowed to comment, intrude, or interact with the coders, or in any way seek to influence the ballot study.

There is no evidence that the partisan observers corrupted the process of coding ballots, but their presence certainly destroys the myth of an “unknowable” result. Inside the rooms of the NORC coding process, politically experienced G.O.P. operatives carefully watched for trends.

They saw bad news for Bush. For example, in Republican Lake County, election officials had disqualified six hundred ballots because voters put a pencil mark in the circle by a candidate's name and also wrote the same candidate's name on another part of the ballot. According to the G.O.P., this made it impossible to discern the voters’ intent.

The coders perceived that someone who checked a candidate’s name and also wrote in the same candidate’s name probably meant to vote for that candidate.

The Republicans screamed that no one could possibly know for certain which candidate the voter meant to choose in these instances “unless they were psychic”. They decried the NORC’s “pathetic attempts at mind reading”.

The G.O.P.’s high decibel cries of persecution had successfully intimidated officials at the previous Florida recounts, but the rules of the NORC coding session prohibited observers from emoting inside the rooms. The indignant Republicans had to go outside to vent. The net result was a gain of one hundred thirty votes for Gore using previously uncounted ballots in just one Republican county.

George W. Bush had a widespread presence of people actively looking after his interests. There were Republican protesters outside the coding rooms and Republican observers inside the coding rooms in every county.

The Gore organization had already disbanded.

As during the election and the recounts, the Republicans were fighting as hard as they could no holds barred while the Democrats defaulted.

Even so, during the Consortium ballot study the coders just found too many Gore votes for the G.O.P. to be able to “win” again by invoking invisible crimes and decrying nonexistent conspiracies.

It is simply false for the Consortium to claim people were unaware that the results were developing in a way that would be highly embarrassing, at best, for George W. Bush. The Republican observers saw the strong pro-Gore trend and responded with typical aplomb. A G.O.P. activist accused one NORC coder of being drunk on the job, a lie that was later disproven. Even so, Republican operatives reportedly pressured another coder to confirm the phony allegation. The Republicans yelled about the quality of the coders, screamed about the treachery of the process, and threw temper tantrums about the unfairness of it all. Of course, they offered no proof of their slanderous charges. Though the G.O.P. observers were publicly panicking as the trend continued strongly against them, the Consortium observers in the very same rooms claim to be completely unaware of who was winning. 

The members of the Consortium have a sufficient interest in this matter that they collectively have paid millions of dollars to subsidize the ballot study. The media organizations that comprise the Consortium employ hundreds of experienced journalists who possess expertise in gathering information. A number of their most able journalists were eyewitnesses to what was happening in the coding rooms. And yet, the Consortium pleads total ignorance of who was gaining votes during the NORC coding process.

Dan Keating was the Washington Post on-site editor for the ballot study. In an interview with MakeThemAccountable, he said, “We intentionally blinded ourselves to the information.”

Some coders knew enough about Florida county ballot configuration to be able to tell which numerical code represented Bush and which identified Gore. The same was true of supervisors, private citizens who viewed the study, and the increasingly hysterical Republican observers. Non-Consortium journalists were not exactly clueless, either:

The media are finding more ballots meant for Gore. In election-speak: Even though final statewide results aren't in, early returns favor Gore.
Palm Beach Post

The outrageous contention by the Consortium that they “could not possibly have known the outcome” of the ballot study is just one of the blatant lies they have told in their continuing effort to finesse a pro-Gore result that they didn’t anticipate, that runs counter to their financial interests, and that they had apparently chosen to “indefinitely” delay even before the terrorist attack on September 11.

Next – Part Three: More Consortium Dishonesty, which will be followed by an examination of the mainstream media’s financial motivations in lying for Bush. We will look at the concerns of some that the current delay in releasing the results foreshadows another convoluted attempt by the mainstream media to award Bush the victory that was denied him by the voters. We will also reveal which famed captain of industry mobilized the media elite to rally behind Bush in 2000.

Series Page

Last changed: December 13, 2009