Sep 3 2002

AP Rewrites History of Florida Recount

In a reference to the disputed presidential election of 2000, the Associated Press rewrote history– history that AP itself helped make in the first place.

In an August 25 report on a new book by Katherine Harris, who as Florida’s secretary of state played a major role in the election controversy, AP included this attempt to provide context: “Some unofficial ballot inspections paid for by consortiums of news agencies showed Bush winning by varying margins.”

Since AP was a member of the main media consortium reexamining the ballots, all it would have needed to do to get the story right would be to review its own reporting. Here’s how the wire service summarized the findings at the time (11/11/01): “A full, statewide recount of all undervotes and overvotes could have erased Bush’s 537-vote victory and put Gore ahead by a tiny margin ranging from 42 to 171 votes, depending on how valid votes are defined.”

Another, less rigorous media review of ballots, by the Miami Herald and USA Today, produced a more ambiguous result. As summarized by AP (11/12/01), that review found that “Bush would stayed ahead under the strictest standards for judging votes, while Gore would have broken on top under the most liberal.”

The outcome of the recount of the valid ballots in the Florida election is obviously an important historical question, since the state’s results determined the outcome of the presidential election. AP has a responsibility to refer to history as it actually happened.

ACTION: Please ask the Associated Press to issue a correction to its August 25 story, noting that the main media recount actually showed Gore winning a full statewide recount of Florida ballots.