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 Magazine Watch

Wednesday November 30, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 47)

Harris’s Anti-Climax; Seething David Dukes; Chronicling the Khaki Riots

1. Katherine Harris’s certification may have officially sealed the presidency for George W. Bush, but the magazines downplayed its importance. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: "Katherine Harris's anticlimactic certification settles nothing."

2. The Florida Supreme Court drew no magazine brickbats, but Florida’s Republican legislative leaders are a bunch of seething hardliners with a distaste for yoga. One was even characterized as the "David Duke of Florida politics."

3. Thirty or forty Republicans in khakis were transformed into the purveyors of a "mob scene," a "melee," and a "riot," preceded by James Baker’s "midnight bombing assault."

4. Dick Cheney’s minor heart attack was either an occasion for ridicule (in Newsweek and Time), or proof that Cheney’s truthfulness is an issue (Time). But in ‘96, Time claimed Dole requests for Clinton’s medical records served a "dubious purpose" and were "not a winning issue."

5. Death update: Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen called for Timothy McVeigh’s commutation, and liberals are never liberals in the obituaries.

For the covers of the December 4 editions, the news magazine editors hemmed and hawed away from any notion of finality after Katherine Harris certified Bush as the winner. Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz talked to the editors about their decisions. U.S. News & World Report Editor Stephen Smith said he toyed with "It’s Bush (Maybe)," but "it just seemed way too uncertain to put a single face on it." They went with "Final Arguments." Newsweek’s cover read "537*," with the asterisk explained as "After a Disputed Recount It’s Back to the Courts." Managing Editor Ann McDaniel claimed "We understood the certification was an important development, but at the same time, we had no illusions that this is over yet." Time read like a newspaper: "537 Votes: Bush’s New Margin." As in: it won’t last. Top Time editor James Kelly told Kurtz they rejected adding an exclamation point to emphasize the close result, since "we were concerned an exclamation point would send a different message – he’s got it!"


Katherine Harris’s certification may have officially sealed the presidency for George W. Bush, but the magazines downplayed its importance. Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman acknowledged that Harris "uttered the words that Goerge W. Bush had yearned to hear since election night – and Al Gore and his allies immediately insisted means absolutely nothing." (This would explain Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, once again singing from the Gore sheet music: "Katherine Harris's anticlimactic certification settles nothing.") Fineman listed Gore complaints, and then declared "And so, despite Bush's insistence to the contrary, it seemed clear that the Overtime Election of 2000 wasn't quite over." In Time’s lead article, "Bush’s Contested Lead," Nancy Gibbs insisted, "The Sunday deadline had lost some of its magic power to conjure a President, because by that time, both sides had loosed upon the world armies that were hard to call back." The magic power belongs to the media, apparently.

In U.S. News, NPR refugee Chitra Ragavan at least allowed Bush aides to make their case, but she also downplayed the certification: "But as it came and went, there was about the moment something disturbingly insubstantial, something unfinished." Bush was the "putative winner in Florida, tipping the race for the presidency, for the moment, narrowly in his favor...But even before the official certification., the focus had shifted....the story had moved on."

Ragavan also left an obvious contrast in impressions of each side’s lawyers: "For Gore: David Boies, brilliant, famously rumpled, the dragon slayer in the Justice Department's massive antitrust case against Microsoft. For Bush: Michael Carvin, a conservative activist who worked in the Reagan-era Justice Department and has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of highly contentious cases." Brilliant Rumpled White Knight vs. Contentious Conservative Activist: doesn’t that imply the usual media contrast that liberalism doesn’t need to be identified as activism, but merely as sophistication and good intentions incarnate?


The Florida Supreme Court drew no magazine brickbats, but Florida’s Republican legislative leaders are a bunch of seething hardliners with a distaste for yoga. One was even "the David Duke of Florida politics."

Newsweek's Matt Bai and Michael Isikoff introduced Florida House speaker Tom Feeney this way: "Feeney introduced a CHOOSE LIFE license plate for those who weren't satisfied with the usual SUNSHINE STATE, and he once proposed that Florida secede from the union if the national debt topped $6 trillion." Later, they added "Feeney sponsored a bill to ban relaxation techniques like yoga in public schools, saying parents should know before their kids are ‘hypnotized.'" In the other house, "His Republican colleague Senate Majority Leader John McKay is best known for having resigned from a key committee after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist was exposed." But that’s apparently okay: "‘If every legislator in the same circumstance stepped aside,' wrote Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times, ‘we'd have trouble finding people to run the place.’" Having set up these less-than-likable "hardliners," they warn: "These are the lawmakers who still could decide the presidential election."

The same script came slightly altered from Andrew Goldstein in Time: "With the seething contempt of a football coach behind at halftime, Feeney tore into the [first Florida Supreme Court] ruling...And with that, American reached DefCon 1, with Feeney's finger just above the glowing red button." The Florida Supreme Court couldn’t possibly be described as nuking the election. Only conservatives can be crazy enough? Goldstein predicted a special session choosing electors would be "legally suspect and potentially disastrous politically." But then, the media said the same thing about impeachment. Later, Goldstein underlined Feeney's ideology: "With a 100% rating from the Florida Conservative Union and regular accolades from the Christian Coalition, Feeney is a true-blooded conservative." This means, by the liberal math, he's unpopular. "In fact, it was his hard-line views that helped cost Jeb Bush the governorship when the two shared the ticket in 1994." In U.S. News, Jeff Glasser dug the lowest: "If the nation was flummoxed before, get a load of this scenario: A conservative once dubbed ‘the David Duke of Florida politics' could hold the presidency in the balance. Sound far-fetched? Not in this anything-goes environment. Here's how: If the election becomes hopelessly entangled in the courts, Florida's bulldog speaker of the House, Tom Feeney – Gov. Jeb Bush's former running mate – could call for a special session of the GOP-controlled legislature to choose the state's 25 electors by the December 12 deadline." Glasser at least noted the charming Duke reference came from the late Governor Lawton Chiles, who was not described as a "bulldog."

In case the local right-wingers aren't frightening enough, on the next page, under the headline "A truly scary scenario," Terence Samuel imagines how Congress will take up the case: "Some GOP leaders have made it clear that they do not intend to accept a Gore victory under the current circumstances, and even before the Florida morass, Senate Democrats were unsheathing the daggers. They have promised to bottle up the Senate if they are not treated fairly. With things dead even, it could be a fight to the death." Get this writer a cold drink. Will Lott and Daschle shoot each other at twenty paces?

Alas, Samuel sticks to the gunfight metaphors, noting that the last time the Senate was evenly split was in 1881, when James Garfield won the presidency narrowly, and nothing got done. "There is a lot of hope, on both sides of the aisle, that the 107th Congress will not mimic the 47th that convened in 1881. But the signs may point to a more ominous episode from the period. Three days before a special session of the Senate adjourned on Oct. 29, 1881, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and his brothers faced off against Ike Clanton and his "cowboys" and wrote themselves into national lore at the OK Corral. that may be the history that is set to repeat itself on Capitol Hill next year."


Thirty or forty Republicans in khakis were transformed into the purveyors of a "mob scene," a "melee," and a "riot," preceded by James Baker’s "midnight bombing assault."

Newsweek carried the most temperate coverage. Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff explained how an unmarked Winnebago unloaded "about a hundred Republican volunteers from across the country, neatly dressed in suits or khakis and oxford shirts, some carrying walkie-talkies, began milling about, yelling slogans and waving signs." They also noted the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board aroused suspicions by deciding to examine just 10,750 "undercounted" ballots, and "They decided to do the counting in a small, glass-enclosed office on the 19th floor."

Thomas and Isikoff reported on what happened next: ""Pushing and shoving, waving arms and pumping fists, about 30 or 40 clean-cut looking young Republicans poured into the 19th floor reception area. Shouting ‘Let us in! Stop the count! Stop the fraud!' they banged on the double doors of the ballot-counting room." Miami-Dade Democratic chairman Joe Geller charged the group "It was classic Brownshirt tactics." They noted liberal Rep. Jerrold Nadler's remark about a "whiff of fascism, but they found it "a little overwrought." A little?

Time reporter Tim Padgett’s article was headlined "Mob Scene in Miami." Padgett found a undemocratic nightmare: "Just two hours after a near riot outside the counting room, the Miami-Dade canvassing board voted to shut down the count. Yet the way the Republicans went after it, by intimidating the three-member board or by providing the excuse it was looking for, gave Americans the first TV view of strong-arm tactics in what was supposed to be a showcase of democracy in action. If Jesse Jackson can do it, the Republicans argued, so can we. But the GOP's march turned into a mob. The screaming, the pounding on doors, the alleged physical assaults on Democrats suddenly made a bemused public queasy."

Padgett didn’t just find a mob, either: "What the world watched was a GOP melee." He carried two claims from Democratic activists, adding that real evidence wasn’t as important as scary TV pictures: "Republicans dispute the charges, but video cameras caught scenes of activism that had morphed into menace." Padgett concluded: ""Democrats are asking what the board said – and with whom they met – while holed up in the Clark Center waiting out the riot." Just in case you’d hadn’t heard this was a "riot," Time’s table of contents read: "Who led the riot?"

Nancy Gibbs also hit the spin line in her cover story: "But nothing made Gore and his allies dig in as much as the roving ‘rent-a-rioters,' some of them Bush campaign operatives, who were controlled by radio from a mobile home....Miami-Dade officials ultimately insisted that the rioters had not scared them into calling off the recount."

In U.S. News, Roger Simon began: "About 11 pm, a beaming Gore took to the airwaves to assure the public that he would not invite electors pledged to Bush to vote for him instead. This was a ploy designed to get Bush to make a similar pledge. it not only failed, but in a midnight bombing assault, former Secretary of State James Baker, who is heading Bush's vote counting effort in Florida, delivered what amounted to a declaration of war." Midnight bombing assault? (Just as strangely, Time’s table of contents called Baker "The Knife of the Party.")

Simon reported Baker "did not say...that the Republicans were taking the fight underground with the purpose of stopping the recount by public demonstration." Simon claimed "A group of demonstrators, some of whom resorted to violence, descended on the government center. Shouting and kicking doors, they attempted to storm the counting room. The Chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party had to be rescued by police after the crowd chased him down a hallway. People were kicked, punched, and trampled before sheriff's deputies restored order."

Simon did include canvassing board chairman David Leahy, who said "These were people in ties and jackets. This was not a mob." Simon added Jerry Nadler's "A whiff of fascism is in the air," and for good measure, Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Fred P. Hochberg added: ‘My family came here from Nazi Germany. My uncle was thrown down a flight of stairs...because of who he was. To have it happen in America is just shocking."

In his commentary, U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman also attacked the "mob" action: "The protesters forcefully entered the building where ballots were being counted and provoked a mini-riot by yelling, screaming, and resorting to violence, including punching and kicking the Democratic chairperson.....As Joe Lieberman rightly put it, ‘This is not the rule of law. It is the rule of the mob.' Our democracy is too strong to yield to such extralegal pressures, and the fact that this action was organized, if not condoned, by a major party is not an acceptable form of political expression."


Dick Cheney’s minor heart attack was either an occasion for humor, or proof that Cheney’s truthfulness is an issue. Newsweek’s "Conventional Wisdom" box joked with a sideways arrow: "Coronary was small time, but he's had more heart attacks than Bush has trips overseas." Classy. Time had a bizarre painting by Hanock Piven with the caption: "HEARTSICK? After suffering a fourth heart attack, Dick Cheney brushed off concerns that he's not fit to serve as George W. Bush's Vice President. And now the Supreme Court has entered the fray. More stress tests ahead – big time." The yellow Cheney caricature came with cotton balls affixed to his chest and an oil derrick for a nose.

While Newsweek and U.S. News covered the Cheney episode with a modicum of sympathy and medical explanation, Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy found "Dick Cheney's sudden hospitalization raises questions about fitness and truthfulness." Duffy complained that "Cheney has repeatedly refused to allow reporters to interview him or his doctors about his health, to name the numerous medications had admits to taking or even to say where on his heart his bypasses are located....Cheney's closemouthed approach to his medical history has only encouraged more questions about it. His latest coronary episode, and the bumptious way the news went public, is likely to stir them up further."

Of course, in 1996, Time had a different feeling about medical records. In a September 23, 1996 story assisted by Duffy, Karen Tumulty tsk-tsked about who’s closer to death: "Then Dole called on the White House to release Clinton's medical records, which served the dubious purpose of forcing the White House spokesman to deny that the President has a sexually transmitted disease, and to produce a doctor's summary of his health condition. But the whole health issue is probably not a winning issue for a candidate who is 73 years old. Particularly one who talks a lot these days about what he'd like to see on his tombstone. And whose schedule last week included a stop at a cemetery where relatives are buried."


Death update: Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen called for Timothy McVeigh’s commutation, and liberals are never liberals in the obituaries. The deaths of Clinton impeachment lawyer Charles Ruff and hardcore liberal columnist Lars-Erik Nelson inspired praise-filled obituaries with no ideological labels. In U.S. News, Nelson "impressed readers of all political stripes with political commentary," and the Ruff obit was headlined "Clinton's canny defender. Newsweek called Ruff "Quiet Counselor," and Nelson "wrote with unfailing clarity about the messiest subject of all: politics." Time puffed Ruff by handing the eulogy to fellow Clinton lawyer Cheryl Mills: "That was Chuck – stranger or friend, if you needed help, he offered all he had." Nelson was an "audacious old-school journalist who never missed a deadline, but he had a fanciful streak – he taught himself to play guitar on a long flight back from Latin America with Henry Kissinger."

Anna felt that President Clinton could leave office with a big bang: "He should call for a moratorium on federal executions to study the obvious [racial] bias in the system, and commute the sentences of those now awaiting death to life in prison without parole. One of these men is Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; the outcry, surely, would be enormous. But the president need never run for office again, and so he can follow his considerable intellect and his legendary empathy to the inescapable conclusion that executions make murderers of us all."

Anna doesn’t find that her support of abortion on demand may also carry a racial bias in its commission, but certainly those unborn babies have a less of right to life than Timothy Mc Veigh.

Tim Graham




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