Back on Bended Knee
                                 By Robert Parry
                                 April 17, 2001

                                The national news media can’t make up its mind if
                                George W. Bush is Gary Cooper, John Wayne or a
                                reincarnation of John F. Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis.

                                With the end of the standoff with China -- over U.S. military
                                personnel whose plane collided with a Chinese military jet
                                and made an emergency landing on a Chinese island --
                                Bush has been getting rave reviews.

                                Typical of the oohing and aahing, The Washington Post ran
                                a page-one headline calling Bush’s role in the crisis “vigorous.”
                                The story reported that Bush “peppered” an
                                Army general with questions about the condition of the crew.
                                Bush then lectured Secretary of State Colin Powell that
                                “we don’t need to be pointing fingers.”

                                Not finished, Bush “grilled” national security adviser
                                Condoleeza Rice about the precise wording of a letter
                                expressing regret, while making “sure it didn’t go outside
                                the ‘red lines’ he set for negotiators.” [WP, April 12, 2001]

                                Two days later, the Post marveled again in a front-page
                                headline about how “leading actor Bush avoids center stage.”

                                “If public emoting and volubility were signatures of the last
                                president, a certain taciturnity in the face of major news
                                stories is becoming a signature of this one,” the Post
                                reported on April 14. “The more reserved approach, White
                                House officials say, is … an expression of this president’s
                                personal values” -- not apparently his inability to string
                                together a coherent sentence on his own.

                                So Bush, whose rash initial comments against China
                                arguably worsened an already tense situation, turns out to
                                be both an energetic leader – giving pointers to the likes of
                                Colin Powell – and a humble fellow whose “values” prevent
                                him from grandstanding, the way President Clinton would have.

                                After resolving this China crisis with what Bush might call his
                                “mis-underestimated” diplomatic touch, Bush headed off into the
                                Western sunset to spend Easter weekend at his ranch in Texas.

                                Bended Knee

                                For some of us in the Washington news media who lived
                                through the Reagan-Bush era, it was déjà vu all over again.
                                The Reagan-Bush rules were back, with patriotic journalists
                                credulously extolling the skills, the acumen and high-moral
                                character of national leaders, whatever the reality.

                                In the apt description by author Mark Hertsgaard,
                                Washington journalists were “on bended knee” before
                                Ronald Reagan -- and pretty much stayed there under
                                George H.W. Bush. Now, the journalists are back on their
                                knees before Bush's son.

                                During the eight years of Bill Clinton, of course, opposite
                                rules applied. It was the media’s duty to expose every
                                conceivable flaw in that president’s Arkansas business
                                dealings and in his personal life.

                                The same relentless negativity applied to Al Gore, who was
                                labeled “delusional” and suffering from other psychiatric
                                illnesses after the media sifted through his public
                                statements and claimed to find slight exaggerations, many
                                of which actually resulted from shoddy reporting about what
                                Gore actually said.

                                In its renewed gullibility, the Washington press corps now
                                promotes an image of Bush as a leader who is forceful yet
                                humble, principled yet compassionate.

                                But what the press didn’t want to advertise was that these
                                so-called “tick tocks” – the minute-by-minute,
                                behind-the-scenes accounts of the China standoff – were
                                manufactured by Bush’s image-handlers who controlled all
                                access to this supposed inside-story.

                                At major newsmagazines, such as Time and Newsweek,
                                tick-tocks have long been vital for the novelistic style of
                                writing. But today, that taste for the inside scoop is
                                important to pundits and other reporters as well, allowing
                                clever press spokesmen to spoon feed favored journalists
                                with these precious details – often exaggerations or
                                borderline fiction – to manipulate the media’s presentation
                                of the stories to the public.

                                Bored About Florida

                                How uncritically the national news media is doing its job is
                                highlighted, too, by its disinterest in new disclosures about
                                wrongdoing in the Florida election.

                                Eager to accept the legitimacy of the Bush White House,
                                the national press corps either has turned a blind eye to
                                growing evidence of a rigged election or has manipulated
                                the results of unofficial statewide recounts to bolster the
                                impression of Bush as the rightful winner.

                                The Miami Herald and USA Today conducted a review of
                                the state’s undervotes and found that by applying a
                                clear-intent-of-the-voter standard – partially
                                punched-through ballots and others where indentations
                                occurred in multiple races, indicating a malfunctioning
                                voting machine – Al Gore won the state by 299 votes. Only if
                                all indentations are ignored could Bush have prevailed.

                                But instead of highlighting these facts, the two newspapers
                                chose to delete Gore’s gains in three-plus counties and thus
                                assert that Bush was the real winner.

                                The newspapers’ rationale for subtracting Gore’s gains was
                                an interpretation of the last-minute Florida Supreme Court
                                ruling on Dec. 8 that had tried to achieve a common
                                statewide solution to the recount. The newspapers read that
                                ruling as not requiring a review of disputed ballots in the
                                three-plus counties where recounts had already occurred.

                                Whether those disputed ballots might or might not have
                                undergone judicial examination along with the state’s other
                                disputed ballots remains unclear because the process was
                                never completed. The statewide recount was aborted the
                                next day at Bush’s request by five Republican justices on
                                the U.S. Supreme Court.

                                Yet, instead of blaming Bush for first delaying and then
                                blocking a full and fair recount -- urged by Gore as early as
                                Nov. 15 -- the newspapers rewarded the Republican by
                                deducting the additional undervotes that would have shown
                                Gore to be the winner.

                                The Bush-as-winner lead was picked up uncritically by every
                                major national news organization.

                                The Black Purge

                                The national media also has displayed virtually no interest in
                                the growing evidence that Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration
                                conducted so-called “ballot security” which systematically
                                reduced the black vote and likely took thousands of other
                                votes away from Gore who was favored by
                                African-Americans by 9-to-1.

                                Following on the groundbreaking work of BBC reporter
                                Greg Palast, investigative reporter John Lantigua dissected
                                how Jeb Bush’s administration “gamed the system in
                                Florida,” according to an article in The Nation [April 30, 2001]

                                A key to holding down the black vote was an extraordinary
                                effort to remove thousands of black voters from the rolls
                                under the guise of purging felons who had completed their
                                jail time and returned to society. Florida is one of 14 states
                                that doesn’t automatically restore people’s civil rights when
                                they complete their sentences.

                                The Jeb Bush administration, however, went further,
                                applying loose standards that swept up non-felons who
                                simply had a name, birth date or Social Security number
                                similar to a felon’s. Working with a private contractor,
                                Database Technologies (DBT) of Boca Raton, Fla., state
                                officials ordered that approximate matches, known as “false
                                positives,” be put on the lists that were then sent to local
                                canvassing boards to remove the voters from the rolls.

                                As this process advanced in 1999, Jeb Bush’s point man
                                on the project, Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell IV, told local voting
                                supervisors not to double-check the lists by phone, only by
                                mail, Lantigua reported. Many would-be voters later
                                complained that they received no notification and learned of
                                their purged status only when they showed up to vote and
                                were turned away .

                                In an interview for The Nation article, Mitchell justified the
                                loose standards for purging voters by arguing that the errors
                                balanced out in the long run. “Just as some people might
                                have been removed from the list who shouldn’t have been,
                                some voted who shouldn’t have,” Mitchell said.

                                Such a comment with its racist undertone – it's okay that
                                some innocent black citizens were barred from voting
                                because some black felons might have slipped through the
                                process – would have made for big headlines with a
                                different sort of national press corps.

                                But these days, the press corps seems too caught up in its
                                discovery of the near-mythical powers of the new president
                                to notice some of the realities behind his ascension to
                                power, as the first popular vote loser in more than a century
                                to claim the White House and the only one to effectively be
                                appointed by five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

                                Mixed Motives

                                Also receiving little attention was the disclosure that other
                                secondary figures in the Florida recount might have had
                                hidden partisan agendas that the national news media had missed.

                                Florida Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, who delayed
                                prompt action on Gore’s recount appeal in early December
                                and then sided with the Bush team on all counts, reportedly
                                has agreed to accept an award from, an
                                ultra-right Clinton-hating group.

                                The so-called Freepers are to politics what rabid XFL fans
                                are to sports. FreeRepublic distributed the
                                "Sore-Loserman” T-shirts ridiculing Gore and his running
                                mate, Joe Lieberman, for challenging the Florida vote.

                                FreeRepublic announced that it will give Sauls its “Jurist of
                                the Year” award at the group’s conference on June 23 at
                                South Carolina’s Seabrook Island resort. FreeRepublic
                                official Julie Nicholson said Sauls has confirmed that he will
                                accept the award.

                                The news that a judge who played a key role in the Florida
                                recount battle was accepting an award from a fringe group
                                of Clinton-haters did not make it into the front section of The
                                Washington Post, however. The story was relegated to a
                                brief mention in the newspaper’s gossip column. [WP, April 13, 2001]

                                The national news media has given little attention, too, to
                                disclosures that Larry Klayman’s Judicial Watch was
                                swapping mailing lists with the National Republican
                                Congressional Committee in 1999 while Judicial Watch
                                was posing as an independent ethics watchdog seeking
                                criminal investigations of President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

                                The Hill newspaper reported that business documents from
                                National Response List Marketing Inc., a direct-mail
                                services company, revealed that it brokered list exchanges
                                between Judicial Watch and NRCC beginning in fall of
                                1999. The documents showed that Judicial Watch owed the
                                NRCC the names of 10,000 potential supporters as of
                                October 1999, a debt that grew to 100,000 names by
                                summer 2000, The Hill said. [April 11, 2001]

                                The dispute surfaced when Judicial Watch accused House
                                Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, of offering to trade
                                access to the Bush administration for campaign cash. The
                                House Republicans responded by suggesting that Judicial
                                Watch was retaliating for the business dispute that,
                                according to The Hill, led the NRCC to terminate the name
                                swaps as of last August.

                                Despite the documents, Klayman insisted that “we have no
                                knowledge of owing them anything, we haven’t authorized
                                any list going to the NRCC,” The Hill reported.

                                Again, an allegation that an organization, which made a
                                name for itself by waging lawsuit warfare against the
                                president of the United States, was secretly in league with
                                the other party might be expected to be big news. But in
                                today’s Washington, it barely registered a passing notice.

                                Illegal Votes?

                                Other lingering issues from the Florida election include an
                                allegation from reporter Jake Tapper that the
                                Bush presidential campaign discussed a plan for a
                                post-election get-out-the-vote drive with overseas soldiers
                                who had registered but had not sent in their absentee ballots.

                                Tapper, author of the new book, Down and Dirty: The Plot
                                to Steal the Presidency, cited “a knowledgeable
                                Republican operative” as his source about the alleged plot
                                to pad Bush’s lead with these illegal votes.

                                If this plan were carried out -- and at this point there is no
                                evidence that it was -- the Bush campaign would have
                                violated both state and federal laws. “To conspire with
                                another person to vote illegally” is a violation of the federal
                                Voting Rights Act. Similarly, “fraud in connection with
                                casting [a] vote” is a felony under Florida state law.

                                As improbable as Tapper’s report might seem – that
                                American soldiers would be encouraged to vote after
                                Election Day – the allegation easily could be checked.
                                Soldiers whose ballots didn’t arrive in Florida until after
                                Election Day could be questioned about whether they were
                                encouraged to vote after the election was over -- and if so,
                                by whom.

                                With the national press largely disinterested in the possible
                                theft of the White House, however, no official investigation
                                has been conducted into this alleged plot to stuff the Florida
                                ballot boxes after Election Day. The other irregularities,
                                including the purging of legal black voters from the rolls, also
                                have drawn little press coverage and no official
                                investigations, except for oversight hearings by the U.S.
                                Civil Rights Commission.

                                Rather than take up these tough stories, the national press
                                corps seems to have decided that the appearance of
                                normalcy and Bush’s fragile “legitimacy” must be protected
                                at all cost. As in the Reagan-Bush era, a wave of patriotism
                                is sweeping the Washington news media, which seems
                                determined to do what’s "good for the country."

                                After all, if the American people were given the full story, it
                                might shake their confidence in democracy.

                                        Robert Parry is an investigative reporter who broke many
                                           of the Iran-contra stories in the 1980s for The Associated
                                           Press and Newsweek.

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