Letter to Marty Merzer of the Miami
Herald: "Who Won," in Context --by Michael
Dear Mr. Merzer
I received from Josh, one of my group's members, the text of an e-mail
you sent him about the Herald's recount coverage, in particular the
article of April 4th (Ballot review shows Bush retaining lead). I told
him simply that he might want to refer you the Herald's own subsequent
articles, in which the Herald more or less recants and reframes this
declaration within the larger context of a "Full Report."
On the web version at least, the recount story is now broken into parts,
under the major rubric of "Full Report," with the artilcles
not listed in terms of finality, but strictly in chronological order
in terms of the release dates of the individual articles (see Figure
1, below). The layout here is indicative of the fact that the "Ballot
review shows Bush retaining lead" is not the final word, but merely
*ONE* report of several of that day, which day is now merely one of
several days of recount reporting.
This layout appears to be a post-hoc decision to systematize the stories
with reference to the "Full Report." Now, instead of the first
story being the "full report," as suggested by its peremptory
heading on Wednesday, April 4th, "Ballot review shows Bush retainig
lead," this article is now subsumed within a larger whole, called
the "Full report." It is merely one story under "Day
Ballot review shows Bush retaining lead
About The Herald recount project
Law: Check 'defective' ballots
Voters did odd things in picking candidates
Unlikely scenario puts Gore ahead by 3 votes
Reviews by other newspapers
Ballots probably will be saved for history
Examining the Ballots
Recounts could have given Gore the edge
Comparisons in precincts show some differences
Republicans, Democrats talking about findings, need for reforms
Most states follow tough rules
Optical scanning isn't perfect
Rampant errors, ironies mark Florida's ballot-count crisis
How demographic factors were linked to undervotes
"No precedent" for ballot scrutiny
Review imposes heavy loads
Lawmakers far apart on new election laws
The key players in election reform
Now, for a few instances of the recantation. In the first article listed
below, the Herald admits that they hadn't checked Palm Beach and Broward
Counties in the article of the day before (Day 1. article 1). In the
second article listed below, published Sunday, April 8, the writer (albeit
Herald editorialist) adds:
"If the recount had been started from scratch in each of Florida's
counties, The Herald concluded 'Gore would be in the White House
This is a direct quote of one Herald author quoting another. The Wednesday
story is misleading because it doesn't aim to show who really won, but
rather, who would have won, given the carrying out of the FL SC ruling.
But even in that case, there is a split. Gore won under the stricter
standards that the Bush team had requested. But, the main point here
is that the PBC and Broward ballots, which the paper had already reviewed,
are considered moot or inadmissable. While the article 1, Day one is
meant to represent what would have happened had the FL SC count gone
on as ordered, it is not the definitive word on "who won,"
although its headline is suggestive of the same. The irresponsibility
in this reporting is not so much the content, as the headline ascribed
to it. Unfortunately, the headline, not the subsequent (or even coterminous
articles) is what is remembered by the broadest audience.
Further, the Herald admits that over-votes weren't even considered,
and it is generally known now that over-votes are the real tragedy of
this past election.
But perhaps even more importantly, the DBT/ChoicePoint/State of Florida
Purge is utterly absent from any of these accounts. The purge, while
covered by the Palm Beach Post after Gregory Palast's ground-breaking
coverage, has still not been discussed within the context of any of
the Herald's "who won" scenarios. The Herald never mentions
the Purge in the context of "who won" articles, but as an
aside, with reference to voting reforms.
Yet, the question of fraud still looms very very large. The Herald's
"Who won" stories have generally been framed in the context
of a fair, equitable election. However, they should always take into
consideration the illegal (whether or not "intentional") purging
of voters as reported so blatantly in the Civil Rights Commission hearings
and a recent hearing in Georgia.
Founder and Chair
Citizens for Legitimate Government
Sorry, Michael, but you have it wrong.
The second story simply fleshes out elements of the first. It concentrates
on the official manual recounts conducted by broward and palm beach
counties before the florida supreme court issued its order. It shows
where those recounts might have gone wrong. But, and this is very important,
to see where the florida supreme court order would have led, we were
required to accept the results of those earlier recounts in broward
and palm beach, because the florida supreme court order exempted those
counties from counting their votes yet again. There is and was no effort
to ''recant.'' Only to further detail our findings. The second story
was prepared in parallel with the first. Some people seem to be having
a real hard time with this, but our main objective was to determine
what would have happened if the U.S. Supreme court had not terminated
the recount as it was implemented by the florida supreme court, and
thus the main findings of our first story and the entire package. I'm
afraid you are reading too much into our online department's efforts
to list our stories.
Martin, I appreciate and fully understand
what you're saying here, and acknowledged as much in my previous email.
I understand what your "article 1" was saying: "Given
the FL SC ruling and x criteria, Bush would have won" (despite
Gore winning with Bush's criteria). My point is that the connotation
of your "article 1" is that "Bush won" Florida,
period. And that, simply, is untenable.
OF COURSE, I KNOW that the FL SC did not order the PBC and Broward recounts.
But your accounting firm had already done them by the time of this first
article. The Herald should have clearly framed, from the outset, the
"Bush Won" scenario within the context of your "complete"
recounts. Thus, the article might have been headed: "Recount as
Ordered Gives Bush Win: But With Our Larger Count, Gore Wins."
That, as you know, is the story in full. (Now, please, read the next
But once again, you utterly fail to address the PURGE! As a savvy news
person that you are, I find it very hard to believe that you can't see
the relevance of this story, that has been effectively submerged to
date. Why is the Purge never mentioned in the context of the "who
won" articles? Winning implies winning fair and square. There is
plenty of evidence to the contrary, which (apparently) the Herald is
not at liberty to report on.
Given a real reading of the over-votes, the undervotes, and the Purge,
it is obvious who Florida chose for President. I understand what your
"article 1" was saying: "given the FL SC ruling and x
criteria, Bus would have won." But, you surely know how that plays
in a nation waiting to find out the WHOLE story. It serves as a substitution
for the whole story, placcating the Republicans and angering the rest.
You announce this first and peremptorily, as if this IS the whole story,
when indeed, you are fully aware that it is not. That is where the Herald's
sleight of hand lies.
All of the factors that yielded invalid
votes already have been explored in great detail by The Herald and other
newspapers. Many times over. Again, the purpose of our ballot review
and most recent reports was, as described, to see what would have happened
under the Florida Supreme Court's order, which by its nature only could
have included valid votes. I completely understand your point, and I
understand the frustration that has been so evident in my e-mail traffic,
but you and the others must recognize the distinction here. To focus
on the question at hand -- what would have happened under the FlaSupCo
order -- our project had to limit itself to valid, legally accepted
votes. In this context, it could not speculate on what MIGHT have happened
if invalid votes had been valid votes. Sure, all those people intended
to vote, and many of them for Gore. But botched votes are not valid
votes, no matter the intention. To cover all of the factors that caused
invalid votes, all over again, would have required a book, not a newspaper
story. As luck would have it, we have just finished such a book. It
explores many of the factors -- bad machines, poor ballot design, inexperienced
voters, etc. -- that yielded the enormous volume of invalid votes. It
will be available next month. Perhaps, you will find more satisfaction
there. But again, at the time of the Florida Supreme Court's order,
the starting point for our ballot review, only valid votes would and
could have been considered.
Martin, You are preaching to the choir
if you are still trying to get me to understand what article 1 was reporting
on. I know that it was saying: "Given the FL SC ruling and 'x'
criteria (Gore's, btw), Bush would have won." That was perfectly
clear to me after the first two paragraphs of the article. I read texts
closely for a living. Given my close reading, I have the following issues:
But, please address: 1) the question of connotation given the context--that
is, how the story comes off as suggesting that Bush is the winner of
Florida, period, upon your own recount. YOUR own firm's recount has
a different picture--if considered in whole. That is what we expected
to read about: what YOU found, in whole. Why aren't the other sub-topics
subsumed within this whole: What you found en toto? The story runs first,
before all these others, and suggests that it is THE story in whole,
when indeed it is later framed with reference to other stories--and
specifically, within YOUR whole recount.
2) the reason that the Purge is never mentioned in the context of "who
won." Perhaps you are not familiar with the story of Database Technology/ChoicePoint's
Purging of legal voters at the behest and with the explicit knowledge
(if we are to believe their sworn testimony on at least two occasions)
of the State of Florida, and the office of Katherine Harris (at least)?
I have asked you to address the question three times now, to no avail.
Don't you see this as relevant within the context of "who won?"
I do not understand your first point.
You did read about what we found. As for the second point, the supposed
results of ''the purge'' appear to be a myth. We are well aware of the
state's effort to remove felons from state voting rolls, as required
by law. We are well aware that many non-felons got caught in that net.
We are not aware of a large number of non-felons people who were prevented
from voting because of this. Our investigations have found, and our
stories have reported, that virtually all of those wrongly ensnared
by that program corrected the record before Election Day and were permitted
to vote. We know of fewer than 12 documented cases of non-felons who
were not allowed to vote on Election Day because of that program.
I do not understand your first point.
You did read about what we found.
1) My first point is this: why didn't you first publish a story on YOUR
total findings, and frame all other scenarios within a total picture
of YOUR "complete" recount? We all want to know who REALLY
won, not who WOULD have won based on the legal contortions that the
count/courts/lawyers and others went through. Your story basically says,
"like the other totals before it, this one, too, is incomplete:
Bush wins!" That is unsatisfactory. It is more of the same, not
the story. I know that this may have become a novel idea to you by now,
but what we're looking for is the complete picture, not the picture
as distorted by the courts and the incomplete counts of counties/canvassing
boards/judges/media. "The whole truth, and nothing but the truth"
Not a sophisticated concept, but a useful one nonetheless.
(subpoint: And why favor the Gore team standard, rather than the Bush
standard, which makes Bush rather than Gore the winner? Why not split
that headline between the two, rather than posing the Gore win as some
"argument" the Gore people might have?)
2) As for the second point, the supposed results of ''the purge'' appear
to be a myth. We are well aware of the state's effort to remove felons
from state voting rolls, as required by law. We are well aware that
many non-felons got caught in that net. We are not aware of a large
number of non-felons people who were prevented from voting because of
this. Our investigations have found, and our stories have reported,
that virtually all of those wrongly ensnared by that program corrected
the record before Election Day and were permitted to vote. We know of
fewer than 12 documented cases of non-felons who were not allowed to
vote on Election Day because of that program.
That is, cases of people who came forth, or actual names found who were
purged? We all know that people, ballots and other things have a way
of disappearing in Florida. So, what numbers shall we use here--the
number of actually purged voters, or the number of those who could be
found for comment?