Election 2000: Media Continue to Downplay FL's Military Ballots Controversy

Pretty Dern Selective

On Sunday, NewsBusters' Brent Baker noted how unhappy actress Laura Dern is with the 2000 presidential election ("Dern 'Devastated' by Florida 'Because There Were Uncounted Votes'"). Dern plays then-Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in HBO's "Recount," which first aired on Sunday.

Dern's displeasure has an apparently limited focus.

A review of the CNN program transcript (the interview with "Reliable Sources" host Howard Kurtz, Dern, and "Recount" director Jay Roach begins about 80% of the way through) confirms Dern's selectivity. "Somehow," the "devastated" Dern and the other interview participants never got around to talking about other votes that Democratic operatives throughout the Sunshine State worked feverishly to disqualify.

The Military Ballots

That CNN interview did not deal with matters that Big Media, which put thousands of hours of time and lots of money into recounting ballots -- only to find that George W. Bush really did win Florida -- has not investigated:

  • First, there may have been a preemptive attempt before the election to prevent members of the US military stationed overseas from voting, along with possible delays in getting completed ballots delivered properly.
  • Then, after the election, there was an undeniably systematic attempt by Gore operatives in every Florida county to disqualify those whose ballots did arrive.

Botched Ballot Deliveries

Let's start with the logistical ballot snafus, as recorded at the time by Jamie Dettmer of Insight Magazine (bolds are mine):

AWOL Military Ballots Cause Controversy

In Florida, the Democrats are bewailing spoiled ballots and demanding that such votes should count. But in farflung regions of the world, as well as on the high seas, the lament of military personnel is about missing ballots -- ballots completed and others that were never received although they were requested.

After at first pooh-poohing a WorldNetDaily (WND) report that hundreds of overseas military ballots hadn't been delivered, the U.S. Navy did an about-face on Nov. 14 and confirmed that bundles of completed ballots had been left behind to languish on three ships in the Persian Gulf.

On November 4, 2000, three days before the election, WND previewed the troubles that were to come by reporting that service members requesting ballots weren't getting them, and that some would, as a result, not get to vote at all:

Members of the military who are currently stationed overseas have complained that the Pentagon has not yet sent out absentee ballots this year, meaning they will not get to vote for a new commander in chief on Tuesday.

Specifically, members of U.S. Navy aboard ships supporting the USS Cole -- the destroyer recently attacked by terrorists while it was undergoing refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen -- have either not received ballots or won't get them in time because of current deployment circumstances, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

..... A Maine resident -- who asked not to be identified -- said her Navy daughter who is stationed in Tokyo has received her absentee ballot for every election except this one.

"No one at the base will be voting because all the absentee ballots are missing," she told WorldNetDaily.

Navy officials were also contacted but did not return phone calls.

Critics have suggested that the Clinton administration may have purposely delayed sending absentee ballots to military personnel overseas because most, according to recent surveys, will vote Republican. The White House has denied those charges.

Three days after the election, WND noted that then Congressman Joe Scarborough had requested an investigation into why so many had not received absentee ballots. I do not believe that any such investigation ever took place. On November 14, WND's Jon Dougherty traced a large portion of the problem to absentee ballots being mailed out fourth-class (bulk) instead of first-class.

Though it could be the case that the Clinton administration dallied in addressing a problem it might have become aware of, problems with getting ballots to military members overseas are not unprecedented. Jeff Babbin, in a 2004 National Review column, noted that "About 200,000 military personnel who tried to vote in 1988 didn't because they didn't get their absentee ballots at all, or got them too late to send them back in." That said, 12 years of improvements in delivery technology should have made such a snafu less likely.

"Count All the Votes" -- But Kick Out the Soldiers'

Whether or not the ballot delivery problems were planned or accidental, what is not in dispute is that Democrats on the ground in all of Florida's counties were under post-election instructions to challenge any military ballot they could. These orders were embodied in the infamous Mark Herron memo. At the time, Matt Drudge described it at his Drudge Report as a "5-Page Memo on How to Steal an Election." One element of the strategy, which involved questioning origin and destination postmarks, was particularly hypocritical, given the party's current and past hostility to voter-ID laws, one of which was deemed constitutional last month.

The Herron Memo exposed Team Gore's obviously concerted effort at disqualifying real, clear-intent votes, especially from those risking their lives and safety for their country, and was a major factor in turning the public-relations tide against Gore. It was especially offensive to many because at the same time, Gore operatives were insisting that targeted Democratic-heavy county boards of elections divine the supposed intent of voters who submitted clearly inconclusive ballots.

In July 2001, the New York Times attempted to pin the blame for the military ballot-related backlash that had developed squarely on Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The Times claimed that on November 19, 2000, when Lieberman "said that election officials should give the 'benefit of the doubt' to military voters," he was somehow off-message, or free-lancing.

That rendition does not stand up to scrutiny. Look at what Lieberman told NBC's "Meet the Press" that day:

The vice president and I would never authorize and would not tolerate a campaign that was aimed specifically at invalidating ballots from members of our armed services, and I've been assured that there were more absentee ballots from non-military voters that were ultimately disqualified.

Lieberman was clearly delivering a pre-planned statement. At best, it can be seen as an attempt to say "we're sticklers on ALL absentees, not just the military (who, it "just so happens," probably favor Bush by a 2-1 margin)." It wasn't Lieberman's fault that the statement came off as a "never mind," and lame at the same time. Also note that the Times's story makes no mention of the fact that the Connecticut senator invoked Gore in his statement.

"Dramatization," or More Lazy History?

At the end of the CNN interview referred to earlier, Director Roach seemed to launch a preemptive strike in an attempt to inoculate himself against those who he expects will criticize the historical accuracy of "Recount":

..... we watched a lot of docudramas when we started this film, and I remembered when I was studying "All the President's Men," how "Follow the money" became the catch phrase in a way for that movie. And it's true that just like a lot of things in our film, that line didn't actually happen. It wasn't spoken by Deep Throat at the time, and yet it stood for a complicated process of, you know, tracking the financial transactions. But the sort of pure essence of the line captured people's imaginations and is an example of how dramatization should work.

It wasn't 100 percent accurate, but it was very true to what went on. And I hope people will watch the film, our film, that way. We feel like we were trying to tell the story of this national nightmare and get all the big ideas right.

Rough translation: One lousy hatchet job justifies another.

I would suggest that if, as I believe is the case, "Recount" pays little heed to the military ballot-related matters described here, it's not a "dramatization," but rather yet another tired piece of history-ignoring propaganda -- which would make it consistent with what Big Media has been feeding us since the real Bush-Gore drama ended.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.