Nov
16
2000

Crucial Media Role in Recount Debate

Rarely have the U.S. media had a more important role to play in the nation'sdemocratic process.

The election of the nation's next president appears to hang on the outcomein the single state of Florida. The Florida vote, in turn, may well hingeon whether or not hand recounts are conducted in some or all of the state'scounties.

Essentially, this confusing election boils down to one issue: whether or nothand recounts will provide a more accurate count of the people's votes inFlorida. Everyone agrees that the most accurate vote possible is necessary.But the two leading candidates make sharply different claims about how toachieve this.

According to Vice President Al Gore, "Machines can sometimes misread of failto detect the way ballots are cast. And when there are serious doubts,checking the machine count with a careful hand count is accepted far andwide as the best way to know the true intentions of the voters."

Governor George W. Bush asserts the opposite: "Manual counting, withindividuals making subjective decisions about voter intent, introduces humanerror and politics into the vote-counting process. Each time these votingcards are handled, the potential for errors multiplies. Additional manualrecounts of votes that have been counted and recounted will make the processless accurate, not more so."

This issue, upon which the fate of the election hangs, is too important tobe reported in terms of partisan charges and counter-charges. Yet this ishow the issue has been covered in the media, particularly on the networknewscasts. Despite pledges to "cut through all the smoke and spin" (CBSEvening News, 11/14/00), television coverage has not done so thus far. Therehas been very little discussion of the core issue-- whether hand counts ormachine counts are the most accurate method of gauging the will of theelectorate. Coverage that relies on language like "score one for theDemocrats" (ABC World News Tonight, 11/15/00) does a disservice to viewers.

This is a question that calls for careful and independent reporting on thepart of all media outlets. The findings of such investigations should bereported at least as prominently as the latest claims being made by thecandidates' camps.

This is a critical moment for American democracy. The question of whichcandidate wins the state of Florida--and the White House-- may well dependon how well the media do their job. On November 15, ABC's Peter Jenningssummed up the state of affairs this way: "It may be a civics lesson, butit's also a circus." Responsible media coverage could clarify the issue.

ACTION: Please contact network news outlets and ask them to independentlyinvestigate whether a manual recount is more or less likely to produce anaccurate count of people's votes. Ask them to report the results of thisinvestigation prominently.

CONTACT:

NBC Nightly NewsPhone: 212-664-4971 or 202-885-4259Fax: 202-362-2009Nightly@nbc.com

ABC World News TonightPhone: 212-456-4040Fax: 212-456-2795netaudr@abc.com

CBS Evening NewsPhone: 212-975-3691, 202 457-4385Fax: 212-975-1893audsvcs@cbs.com