FAIR ACTION ALERT: Crucial Media Role in Recount Debate
COUP WATCH: FAIR ACTION ALERT: Crucial Media Role in Recount Debate
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and news reports
Crucial Media Role in Recount Debate
November 16, 2000
Rarely have the U.S. media had a more important role to play in the nation's democratic process.
The election of the nation's next president appears to hang on the outcome in the single state of Florida. The Florida vote, in turn, may well hinge on whether or not hand recounts are conducted in some or all of the state's counties.
Essentially, this confusing election boils down to one issue: whether or not hand recounts will provide a more accurate count of the people's votes in Florida. Everyone agrees that the most accurate vote possible is necessary. But the two leading candidates make sharply different claims about how to achieve this.
According to Vice President Al Gore, "Machines can sometimes misread of fail to detect the way ballots are cast. And when there are serious doubts, checking the machine count with a careful hand count is accepted far and wide as the best way to know the true intentions of the voters."
Governor George W. Bush asserts the opposite: "Manual counting, with individuals making subjective decisions about voter intent, introduces human error and politics into the vote-counting process. Each time these voting cards are handled, the potential for errors multiplies. Additional manual recounts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the process less accurate, not more so."
This issue, upon which the fate of the election hangs, is too important to be reported in terms of partisan charges and counter-charges. Yet this is how the issue has been covered in the media, particularly on the network newscasts. Despite pledges to "cut through all the smoke and spin" (CBS Evening News, 11/14/00), television coverage has not done so thus far. There has been very little discussion of the core issue-- whether hand counts or machine counts are the most accurate method of gauging the will of the electorate. Coverage that relies on language like "score one for the Democrats" (ABC World News Tonight, 11/15/00) does a disservice to viewers.
This is a question that calls for careful and independent reporting on the part of all media outlets. The findings of such investigations should be reported at least as prominently as the latest claims being made by the candidates' camps.
This is a critical moment for American democracy. The question of which candidate wins the state of Florida--and the White House-- may well depend on how well the media do their job. On November 15, ABC's Peter Jennings summed up the state of affairs this way: "It may be a civics lesson, but it's also a circus." Responsible media coverage could clarify the issue.
ACTION: Please contact network news outlets and ask them to independently investigate whether a manual recount is more or less likely to produce an accurate count of people's votes. Ask them to report the results of this investigation prominently.
NBC Nightly News
Phone: 212-664-4971 or 202-885-4259
ABC World News Tonight
CBS Evening News
Phone: 212-975-3691, 202-457-4385
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