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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Even More on the Big Fix

Here’s an interesting little sidebar of our system of government confirmed recently by the crack Countdown research staff: no Presidential candidate’s concession speech is legally binding. The only determinants of the outcome of election are the reports of the state returns boards and the vote of the Electoral College.

That’s right. Richard Nixon may have phoned John Kennedy in November, 1960, and congratulated him through clenched teeth. But if the FBI had burst into Kennedy headquarters in Chicago a week later and walked out with all the file cabinets and a bunch of employees with their raincoats drawn up over their heads, nothing Nixon had said would’ve prevented him, and not JFK, from taking the oath of office the following January.

This is mentioned because there is a small but blood-curdling set of news stories that right now exists somewhere between the world of investigative journalism, and the world of the Reynolds Wrap Hat. And while the group’s ultimate home remains unclear - so might our election of just a week ago.

Stories like these have filled the web since the tide turned against John Kerry late Tuesday night. But not until Friday did they begin to spill into the more conventional news media. That’s when the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that officials in Warren County, Ohio, had “locked down” its administration building to prevent anybody from observing the vote count there.

Suspicious enough on the face of it, the decision got more dubious still when County Commissioners confirmed that they were acting on the advice of their Emergency Services Director, Frank Young. Mr. Young had explained that he had been advised by the federal government to implement the measures for the sake of Homeland Security.

Gotcha. Tom Ridge thought Osama Bin Laden was planning to hit Caesar Creek State Park in Waynesville. During the vote count in Lebanon. Or maybe it was Kings Island Amusement Park that had gone Code-Orange without telling anybody. Al-Qaeda had selected Turtlecreek Township for its first foray into a Red State.

The State of Ohio confirms that of all of its 88 Counties, Warren alone decided such Homeland Security measures were necessary. Even in Butler County, reports the Enquirer, the media and others were permitted to watch through a window as ballot-checkers performed their duties. In Warren, the media was finally admitted to the lobby of the administration building, which may have been slightly less incommodious for the reporters, but which still managed to keep them two floors away from the venue of the actual count.

Nobody in Warren County seems to think they’ve done anything wrong. The newspaper quotes County Prosecutor Rachel Hurtzel as saying the Commissioners “were within their rights” to lock the building down, because having photographers or reporters present could have interfered with the count.

You bet, Rachel.

As I suggested, this is the first time one of the Fix stories has moved fully into the mainstream media. In so saying, I’m not dismissing the blogosphere. Hell, I’m in the blogosphere now, and there have been nights when I’ve gotten far more web hits than television viewers (thank you, Debate Scorecard readers). Even the overt partisanship of blogs don’t bother me - Tom Paine was a pretty partisan guy, and ultimately that served truth a lot better than a ship full of neutral reporters would have. I was just reading last night of the struggles Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer had during their early reporting from Europe in ’38 and ’39, because CBS thought them too anti-Nazi.

The only reason I differentiate between the blogs and the newspapers is that in the latter, a certain bar of ascertainable, reasonably neutral, fact has to be passed, and has to be approved by a consensus of reporters and editors. The process isn’t flawless (ask Dan Rather) but the next time you read a blog where bald-faced lies are accepted as fact, ask yourself whether we here in cyberspace have yet achieved the reliability of even the mainstream media. In short, a lot gets left out of newspapers, radio, and tv - but what’s left in tends to be, in the words of my old CNN Sports colleague NickCharles, a lead-pipe cinch.

Thus the majority of the media has yet to touch the other stories of Ohio (the amazing Bush Times Ten voting machine in Gahanna) or the sagas of Ohio South: huge margins for Bush in Florida counties in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2-1, places where the optical scanning of precinct totals seems to have turned results from perfect matches for the pro-Kerry exit poll data, to Bush sweeps.

We will be endeavoring to pull those stories, along with the Warren County farce, into the mainstream Monday and/or Tuesday nights on Countdown. That is, if we can wedge them in there among the news media’s main concerns since last Tuesday:

Who fixed the Exit Polls? Yes - you could deliberately skew a national series of post-vote questionnaires in favor of Kerry to discourage people from voting out west, where everything but New Mexico had been ceded to Kerry anyway, but you couldn’t alter key precinct votes in Ohio and/or Florida; and,

What will Bush do with his Mandate and his Political Capital? He got the highest vote total for a presidential candidate, you know. Did anybody notice who’s second on the list? A Mr. Kerry. Since when was the term “mandate” applied when 56 million people voted against a guy? And by the way, how about that Karl Rove and his Freudian slip on “Fox News Sunday”? Rove was asked if the electoral triumph would be as impactful on the balance of power between the parties as William McKinley’s in 1896 and he forgot his own talking points. The victories were “similarly narrow,” Rove began, and then, seemingly aghast at his forthrightness, corrected himself. “Not narrow; similarly structured.”

Gotta dash now. Some of us have to get to work on the Warren and Florida stories.

--MSNBC, Nov 10

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