The American Conservative lays out the media duplicity of Election Night, 7 November 2000:
To hear the mainstream news media, retell the story of the contentious 2000 presidential election, one would think that it all boils down to Bush v. Gore. The Supreme Court decision created huge controversy and poisons public life to this day. But this focus on the decision serves to obscure an act of great duplicity on the part of the media that dwarfs the impact of that case: namely, that if it hadn’t been for actions they took on television on Election Night, November 7, 2000, there never would have been a Bush v. Gore or a Florida recount in the first place.
It is a story of voter suppression. As it turns out, most of what we think was important about that election—hanging chads, butterfly ballots, 36 days of legal jousting—is unimportant. And by 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Election Night, a cover-up had already begun.
The ultimate result of the media’s actions that night was that George W. Bush ascended to the presidency with something to prove. It didn’t matter that, early in 2001, statewide recounts undertaken by the New York Times and the Miami Herald confirmed him as the winner in Florida. His presidency was significantly delegitimized before it even began. In his recent history of the Bush 43 presidency, Peter Baker acknowledges this, writing that, following the Republican victories in the 2002 midterm elections, “it seemed to some advisers that this finally provided him a measure of validation, even legitimacy, after the much-disputed outcome in 2000.”
Later, writing about the 2004 election, Baker adds that Karl Rove and Bush 43 “wanted to show they did not need the Supreme Court to win an election.”
Furthermore, the chaos in Florida in 2000 prevented a normal transition, which went forward during the recount with little of Bush 43’s attention. The consequences of these events for America’s foreign policy have been detailed in these pages by John Hay’s essay “The Deciders.” At 7:08 p.m. Eastern on Election Night, Dan Rather was right when he said, “What happens tonight will set the nation’s next agenda for the 21st century. There are many who believe that this election is not just about the next four years, but it may well decide the direction of our country for the next generation.”
In light of their actions on November 7, 2000, and the cover-up efforts that have followed, the notion of “trust, but verify” with respect to the news media is insufficient. As the next election approaches, voters would do well to be skeptical: distrust, until a story is verified.
C. Boyden Gray served as White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush and as U.S. ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush. Elise Passamani earned her doctorate in French literature from the University of Oxford in 2015.
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