Bush Cousin Calls Presidential Election

by Michael I. Niman
Special to Buffalo Beat (December 14th, 2000) - AlterNet Syndication (December 14th, 2000)
<contact www.alternet.org for syndication rights>

The US presidential election was a celebration of the triumph of media over matter.

To an objective observer, two facts are clear: Gore won the nationwide popular vote, and according to a recent Miami Herald analysis, he was also in all likelihood the favorite of Florida voters as well.

George W. Bush’s claim to victory initially had a shaky basis in objective reality. The Florida race, or even the national race, was a statistical dead heat — a tie. There was no clear winner. Factor in the bizarre antiquated 19th century vote tabulating technology used in much of the US and the wide margin of error inherent with these machines, and the difficulty of determining a winner was clear.

For most Americans, and for much of the global television audience, however, Bush was always either the presumed "winner" or at the very least, the likely winner. Al Gore was always seen as trying to either "catch-up" to Bush, or "overturn" the Bush victory. The Bush claim to victory always had the veneer of legitimacy while the Gore claim effused a certain stench.

This perceived Bush victory, the perception that the horse race finally boiled down to one stallion breaking through the finish gate, was a network news fabrication. We saw it on TV. The networks called the election for George W. Bush, projecting him the winner — in effect declaring him the President Elect. CBS News’ Dan Rather boldly told us late on election night, "Sip it, Savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall — George W. Bush is the next president of the United States." The networks anointed a President and no recount of actual votes will ever be able to undo that coronation.

The genesis of this call, and in particular the chronology of the ensuing echos are telling. The story began on election night at 2:16 AM. Fox News projected George W. Bush as winner of the Florida primary and the Presidential election. In a classic case of pack journalism that college professors will no doubt cite for years to come, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all followed Fox’s lead during the next four minutes, calling the election for Bush.

The telling part of this story is that the call was made by John Ellis, a freelance political advisor contracted by Fox News to head their election night "decision desk." Ellis is also first cousin to George W. Bush and Florida governor John Ellis "Jeb" Bush.

More than just a cousin in name, Ellis maintains close contact with the Bush brothers. A former colleague of his at The Boston Globe reports how he stays in regular email contact with his cousin Jeb. The Center for Public Inquiry reports that he has been a guest of his cousin George W. at the Texas governor’s mansion. During the election, Ellis took to the editorial pages of The Globe, defending George W. against charges of cocaine abuse, writing that he personally knew Bush was not a "cocaine addict" since he has been close with his cousin for a very long time. Hence it was not surprise, recently, when Ellis proclaimed, "I am loyal to my cousin.... I put that loyalty ahead of my loyalty to anyone else."

By calling the election for his cousin when he did, Ellis proved instrumental in turning Bush’s loss in the popular vote into an apparently righteous struggle to gain the presidency. With a constitutional crisis looming on the horizon, pundits called for Gore, and not Bush, to be a "patriot" and concede. In a fair count, without shenanigans or election irregularities, the Miami Herald estimated Gore would have won Florida by 23,000 votes. The Bush strategy all along was to prevent a recount and run out the clock — which he succeeded in doing, eventually winning the state and the presidency by a few hundred votes. The strategy only worked because Ellis coronated him the winner.

Weeks later, Ellis’ former colleague, Bill Kovach, while defending Ellis’ integrity as a journalist, reported that Ellis had been in telephone contact with both Jeb and George W. Bush on election night prior to his making the election call. Even Kovach admitted this was improper.

It’s a clear a conflict of interest for a presidential candidate’s close and loyal first cousin, the nephew of a former U.S. President, to end up in a position to call the election for the U.S. national media?

The puzzle comes together quickly. Ellis works for Roger Ailes, the director of Fox News. Ailes is the former Republican party media consultant who, according to Time Magazine, engineered Richard Nixon’s 1968 political resurrection, scripted Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate comeback and was responsible for rescuing George Bush Senior’s floundering presidential campaign in 1988. It was Ailes who coached then candidate Bush Senior’s campaign performance, prepared him for debates, coordinated his television advertising, and cooked up the racially divisive Willie Horton campaign, eventually turning a double digit deficit in the polls into an election day upset for George Bush Senior. Ailes also served a stint as producer of the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

He moved over to Fox after being recruited by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian born founder and CEO of News Corporation, the owner of Fox News. Murdoch, whose media empire spans 52 countries with primary investments in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia, is one of the largest contributors to the Republican party. In 1996 alone, he gave roughly $1 million to Republican party campaigns. In 1995 he attempted to give Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million "advance" against royalties on a forthcoming Gingrich authored, Murdoch published book, "To Renew America." The House Ethics Committee, however, forced Gingrich to return the money.

The specter of the Ellis, Ailes, Murdoch team bearing responsibility for the miscall that set in motion a Bush team victory script with George W. as heir apparent to the White House, is, in it’s own right, quite frightening. It is not, however, out of place, given recent events in Florida.

Let’s not forget that Florida, the key state in deciding the presidential contest, is run by George W. Bush’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush. The Florida election is held under the supervision of Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, a co-chair of the Bush campaign. It was Harris who used her position to stifle a hand recount and who eventually certified an allegedly incomplete vote count. Add to this the specter of bizarre "butterfly" ballots and imprecise 19th century vote tabulating technology (with older counting machines amassed in minority communities), allegations of police officers harassing Black voters, and the fact that, under Florida law one third of the adult African-American male population is barred from voting because of felony convictions resulting from previous run-ins with the aforementioned police, and what we see is an electoral system more reminiscent of a corrupt third world fiefdom, than a supposed industrial democracy. If such an election transpired in any other country, the world would condemn it.

An earlier article by Dr. Niman concerning the 206,400 African American males disenfranchised from voting in the Florida presidential election was published in The Challenger. It is available on-line at mediastudy.com/articles.

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