TVís Fright Night
The media love it.
Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 8, 2000 edition of National Review Online
By Tim Graham
Neither party really wants a nail-biting, carpet-fraying decision on Election Night when they could have a chest-bumping, high-fiving mandate. The only really happy people were the TV news divisions.
"I don't know about you, but I brought a toothbrush and a change of clothes," Tom Brokaw told Tim Russert on NBC. All their talk of a "tick-tight" race in the last few weeks may have seemed like pro-Gore happy talk, but the watch-us-tonight hype was correct. Russert had been talking for days about how the whole race would depend on Florida, and he was right. NBC was so proud of their Peacock pundit that they ran two-day-old footage of Russert repeating his mantra. He held up his little dime-store wipe-off board today with the words "Florida, Florida, Florida" on it.
What might be forgotten is that in the last decade, the races seem always to be closer than the media tracking polls suggest. In 1996, Dole was down by 15 or 16 points in the last media polls, but lost by eight. In 1992, the media spent the fall shaking their head at Bush's hopelessly desperate attempts to turn the impending Clinton victory around, but then the margin was only five points. Media people like to claim they want a close race, but in the last two elections, they didn't do throw many unfavorable stories in Clinton's way in the last few weeks, while Republicans suffered from last-minute Iran-Contra reindictments, Henry Gonzalez impeachment briefs, and DUI dirt jobs.
The roller-coaster ride began slightly before 8 o'clock last night, when CBS started breathing heavily about Al Gore taking the state of Florida. Republicans across the country started muttering to themselves over their Magic Marker maps as the anchors made weak jokes about Gov. Jeb Bush being chewed out by Mom and Dad for not delivering his state to his brother. But about two hours later, the networks retracted. Dan Rather apologized: "Clearly we were wrong to call it as early as we didÖ. To err is human but to really foul up requires a computer." Or a desire to call the race for Gore early and get the party started. CBS seemed the most biased, with Dan Rather noting at 12:30 a.m. that "strident" House Republicans like Tom DeLay and Dick Armey were missing from the national spotlight.
For hours after that, the numbers were nearly tied. MSNBC had an Electoral College estimate of 242 to 242 for much of the late-night coverage. But then states started to break ó Nevada for Bush, Iowa for Gore. At around 2:15, the networks declared that George W. Bush would be the next president. Again, CBS found a liberal spin. Lesley Stahl declared that Bush won on personality, not the issues, and noted that Bush won when it wasn't expected, like Ronald Reagan in 1980. Inside the networks' bubble, isn't every Republican win a surprise?
Then, about 80 minutes later, they retracted Florida again. People woke up to see "Too Close to Call" again on their TV screens. With the prospect of Bush eking out Florida, but Gore potentially winning the popular vote, the transparent media liberals began questioning this antiquated concept of an Electoral College. As an unintentional rebuttal, CNN ran footage of Gore from October 29 saying he would abide by the tradition of the Electoral College.
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