It is Election Night, Tuesday, November 7, 2000, and my first election providing live on-air analysis. It would also become the longest election in my closing on a quarter-century in this business.
That night, a well-known, but somewhat unproven Vice President of the United States was considered the favorite to beat a younger Governor of a major southwestern state. The Governor’s father had been President, and he was the third generation in his family political dynasty. The contest of George W. Bush versus Al Gore, also of another family political dynasty, would ultimately be decided weeks later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gore had already conceded a narrow loss to George Bush, based on exit polling data and the state of Florida being declared for Bush. But as the night wore on, the numbers in Florida kept getting closer, and as Bush was heading towards the stage with his acceptance speech in hand, Gore called back to withdraw his concession.
The nation would not have a declared President-elect until December 12, 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ended a series of Florida ballot recounts, focusing on Broward and Palm Beach counties. Bush’s margin at this point was down to several hundred votes and the Florida Supreme Court was about to add additional jurisdictions to the hand re-tally. Ending the recounts, with Bush ahead, in a split 5-4 decision awarded Florida’s Electoral College votes to Bush, who would later win the election by just 5 votes in the Electoral College.
Less than a month later, as Congress certified those Electoral College votes, with Vice-President Al Gore presiding over his own defeat tally, several Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation would object to the Florida tally...and presiding officer Gore would rule them out of order.
Two weeks later, on January 20, 2001, with a blizzard blanketing D.C. and a bit more than frost in the air on the Inauguration Stage...Gore would gaze straight ahead, with jaw set, as just a few feet away Bush was administered the oath of office, and once again the United States successfully completed a peaceful transition of power, something which still remains for many an envy of the free world.
During those weeks of recounts, there were protests aplenty in Tallahassee, the Florida state capital. Some elections officials took catcalls and hate mail, particularly Florida’s Secretary of State, the Fox News Channel was then only four years old, but nothing of the force in politics which it has become since, and though MSNBC had launched the same year as Fox, it was then known more for talk-shows and longer format NBC News shows and reruns.
Today we have a former President referring to his own much larger loss of four close states, and the White House along with that, as the ‘crime of the century.’ His acolytes chant ‘Stop the Steal,’ now entering their second year, and supposedly credible candidates for the U.S. Senate propose initiatives like Election Police and forensic audits of every election before winners are announced. And from the current winning side, hoping to perpetualize wins by their party, we have voter reforms disguised in a Trojan Horse overhaul of state and local election laws to be taken over by the federal government. While one party laments their loss and claims fraud, the other claims that without these changes the republic is at stake and voter suppression is as rampant as the days of Jim Crow.
News outlets choose sides, readers, listeners, and viewers predominantly read, view, and listen to only the news outlets which support or contribute to forming their opinions. This echo chamber breaks down civil dialogue expanding an increasingly tribal America of ‘us vs. them.’
That few thousand protesters in Florida during those 35 days of recounts has now swollen to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with little but hate and contempt for members of the opposing team. These outlets leaning ‘their way’ often feed and egg on this loathing and contempt, and later comment with surprise when the volatile becomes explosive.
Back to Al Gore, staring icily ahead that cold January 20th morning...as we all know he invented the internet...maybe if I can find a flux capacitor or another time machine, I can take Al Gore back to that moment, and he can invent the electric jet instead, and when we fly back to the future...the news media will still be an industry both trusted and admired by the American people. Trade the growing bias for a return to true net neutrality. A fellow can dream.
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