That incredible echo you hear on network TV news these days is the sound of network anchors deep in the tank for Al Gore.
It was one of the most instructive lessons of media bias in modern times. Florida's duly elected Secretary of State Katherine Harris officially certified Florida's election on Sunday night, stating that George W. Bush won the state's 25 electors. That, coupled with Bush's other 246 electoral votes, means Bush won the presidency, right? Well, if you're a network anchorman in the Age of Is, it means next to nothing until the Gore lawyers have climbed every legal mountain.
Harris, like the laws she's following, is just an annoying bump in the road.
First, how does NBC explain itself? So meaningless did this network consider the certification of the next President of the United States that it refused to interrupt the network's airing of "Titanic." The network lamely tried to excuse its obnoxious dismissal of the certification by stating it had, you betchum, aired a couple of minutes of coverage during the next commercial break. Forget it, fellas. Of course, the next night, when Gore spoke to the nation, NBC showed the Undead Candidate's entire desperate address live. On Tuesday, when Gore addressed the country again in the afternoon, NBC interrupted its soap opera to air Gore live again. True colors were never more evident.
Over at ABC, a sleepy-eyed Peter Jennings telegraphed his unhappiness with this seemingly final result. As Harris and her two fellow certifiers signed the documents sealing Gore's doom, Jennings rebutted: "Let's reassert what we said at the beginning. This is not over by any means, as formal as it looks. There'll be as many as half a dozen legal challenges on this, either already in motion or being put in motion."
Jennings went into rebuttal mode after Bush spoke: "So though Governor Bush quotes Thomas Jefferson and says every difference of opinion is not necessarily a difference of principle, names a transition team led by Dick Cheney, names Andy Card to be a chief of staff, and says he wants to open a transition office and work with President Clinton, this is certainly not over." In other words, please ignore everything you've seen and heard tonight. It is not real. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The great and powerful Oz has spoken, and Gore is still kicking in Florida!
To Jennings, this is more Argentina than America, not a disputed election, but a war: "So, another phase in the presidential war, and it is still very much a war, as you will see when you get up tomorrow and see the election challenges filed in Florida and a variety of other places as well. But there it is, speaking as President-Elect tonight, which he is technically ... It may yet change."
Like an echo of John Belushi's Bluto in "Animal House," the anchors are declaring it's not over until they decide it is.
As usual, Dan Rather won hands-down for weirdness. Rather was more impolite and partisan than Jennings, straining to identify Harris as a "Republican" not once, but at least six times. And for good measure, he questioned the finality of her decision at least ten times. To deconstruct the meaning of certification, he used his bizarre Muhammad Ali-like poetry, saying Harris would announce the winner "as she sees it and she decrees it." Evidently, in Rather's eyes, Harris was not duly elected. Somehow she anointed herself the Queen of Florida.
Rather also tried to overcome the visual image of Florida's certifiers signing away Gore's presidential pipe dreams: "What's happening here is the certification -- as the Florida Secretary of State sees it and decrees it -- is being signed ... After this it will be, at least in the opinion of the Secretary of State, that the results will be final."
In introducing Bush's remarks, Rather said Bush is "convinced more than ever that he is the next President of the United States." Translation: Doesn't this deluded chap know we anchormen have (ITAL) not (ITAL) made the decision final? Rather continued: "Florida's Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, officially, what she said, 'certified' Bush as the winner ... with what she called the final victory margin at 537 votes."
In another annoying tic, Rather kept announcing Florida's 25 electoral votes in the Bush column could be "potentially decisive" in the Electoral College. That is a thorough dismissal of the legal and legislative process in Florida, where the word "certification" still means something.
Could the network stars work any harder or be any more obvious in their ardor to strangle the fat lady before she sings?