Before the terrorist attack, September was destined to be a difficult month for George W. Bush. Allegations about the 2000 election and his legitimacy were about hit the news... pressure was mounting for formal investigations into election law violations in Florida... Dick Cheney was under increasing criticism about not releasing the names of the people who influenced energy policy... Newsweek published excerpts of "The Accidental President"... a major report was about to be released about the devastation landmines were bringing to innocent people, highlighting the treaty the U.S. has still not signed... international dissatisfaction was growing about the increasing U. S. arrogance and isolation... thousands of protesters were planning to link their arms around the White House... And, as George W. traveled to Florida to celebrate increased test scores at a Jacksonville school, an allegation arose that the scores were bogus. Then Fate intervened...

The NORC Florida Ballot Study
A Five-Part Series of Analysis and Commentary
Aaron M. Cohen
Editor and Publisher, The Democracy Chronicle
Copyright 2001 Aaron M. Cohen

Part Two: The News that Would Have Been

I. Media Consortium Places "Indefinite Hold" on the Release of it Florida Ballot Study

To re-cap, last month, I wrote the first article in this five-part series about "the definitive" analysis of Florida's 180,000 uncertified, uncounted ballots from the presidential election.

The Florida Ballot Study is sponsored by a consortium of major news organizations that include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post Co., Tribune Publishing, CNN, Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post. The New York Times owns The Boston Globe, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the Lakeland Ledger among others. Washington Post Co. owns The Washington Post and Newsweek. Tribune, based in Chicago, owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among others.

To conduct the study, last January the Consortium retained the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to develop "a comprehensive in-depth inventory of all uncounted votes in Florida's November 2000 Presidential race that would be immune from charges of political bias or methodological weakness."

Originally expected to take three months, the study dragged for nearly seven months due to logistical delays with some of the elections offices in Florida's 67 counties.

The plan has been for NORC to make the data available to the Consortium members, who would keep it embargoed for a week while they analyzed it and wrote the stories they would publish simultaneously. After that, the data would be publicly accessible on NORC's Web site.

On September 11, NORC was poised to release the data to the media Consortium within a few days. The Consortium members first planned to publish the results on September 17, but had rescheduled it for September 24.

NORC has stressed that the raw data in its ballot study "does not identify 'winners'. Its goal is to assess the reliability of the voting systems themselves, using the highest standards of scientific accuracy and reliability."

However, Consortium members were preparing to develop their own (competitive) analyses and stories about what NORC data reveal about the uncounted ballots.

The Consortium decides to place an "Indefinite Hold" on release of the data

As a result of the September 11 terrorist attack, the Consortium decided to place an "indefinite hold" on the release of the NORC study.

A source close to the study explained to The Democracy Chronicle that this decision was reached due to strained media resources.

Understandably, however, a second dilemma seemed equally likely - namely, the reluctance to undermine the credibility of a president called to action as Commander in Chief faced with unifying the nation in a concerted effort to bring justice to the perpetrators and strengthen national vigilance in light of other possible attacks.

It is now confirmed that the "strained resources" explanation has now fully morphed into a "national unity" rationale.

In an article on, Seth Mnookin confirms that the media Consortium has "a queasy sense that now is not the right time to publish information that could well question the legitimacy of the nation's commander in chief."

One journalist involved in the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Mnookin: "I think the question is 'Will they let the mood of the country alter their plans?' I don't think anyone wants to minimize all this work and effort. At the same time there's a sense that now is not the time to be writing about something that might make it look like someone else should have been elected president."

Another staffer at a news organization involved in the consortium told Mnookin: "At some point, the press needs to decide when it's going to go back to its traditional role of questioning those in power… There's a sense right now, with a war effort just getting underway, that it's not the right time."

Some Consortium members go further…

At least two members of the media Consortium have not been so anonymous in their points of view.

The Wall Street Journal, in a September 19 editorial, stated:

"So much for Florida, and Jim Jeffords's Senate betrayal too. Those teapot tempests happened in a different country a long time ago. In the wake of last week's terror attacks, most Americans are putting their trust in President Bush and want him to succeed. This gives him a historic opportunity to assert his leadership, not just on security and foreign policy but across the board."

In the "Week in Review" section of September 23 The New York Times, Richard L. Berke, writing about the current bipartisanship, writes:

"Until Sept. 11, the capital was riding a historically partisan period, with leading Democrats still portraying their president as "appointed" by the Supreme Court. In a move that might have stoked the partisan tensions - but now seems utterly irrelevant - a consortium of news organizations, including The New York Times, had been scheduled this week to release the results of its ambitious undertaking to recount the Florida presidential ballots. (That has been put on hold indefinitely.)"

Elsewhere in Sunday's Times, another writer intimates that the data may not be so "irrelevant".

In the Book Review section, Bill Kovach, writing about Renata Adler's new book about politics and media, states:

"Material collected by the postelection consortium has produced information challenging Florida officials' claims about the conduct of the election."

II. The News that Would Have Been

September was going to be a difficult month for George W. Bush had not Fate, or terrorists, intervened.

III. "Try to remember the kind of September…"

The "bogus" calm before the storm

Early in the morning of September 11, traveling to Florida to promote his education and reading initiatives, George W. Bush arrived in Jacksonville to meet up with brother Jeb to celebrate the amazing increase in reading scores at Justina Elementary School due to the America's Choice program.

But radio talk show host, Andy Johnson, of WJGR AM 1320, was alleging that the Bush Brothers dog-and-pony show was bogus: "Problem: [at Justina Elementary School] they don't really do America's Choice. Another problem: America's Choice is a failed idea. Another really big problem: test scores went down. Other than that, everything is wonderful…. It is like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Nobody wants to point out that Dubya is coming for the purpose of recognizing something which never did happen. There was no improvement in reading at Justina Road Elementary School."

As George started reading to the kids, over 6,000 people were killed.

George Bush's September is now quite different from the one he and his minions feared. The terrorists, representing nothing less than evil incarnate, not only mass murdered innocents and brought deep woes to their families, friends, and all of us - they also legitimized the presidency of George W. Bush. And by so doing, they almost extinguished the lights pro-democracy activists had kept flickering since November 7.

September was to be the month when more of our citizens would be illuminated about how Bush et. al. had subverted democracy and achieved what - with time - will most certainly be recorded as the first American coup d'état of the 21st century.

Aaron M. Cohen


(1) More about these issues will be published in the next issue of "The Democracy Chronicle".

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