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15 November 2000

The Daily update: Furiouser and furiouser

Synopsis: Michael Kelly picked up where Will left off. In so doing, he revealed a Key Rule of the campaign's bogus coverage.

The Great Defender
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 11/15/00

Machine Recount Certified
Sue Anne Pressley, The Washington Post, 11/15/00

Laws on Manual Counts Vary Widely Around U.S.
Peter Slevin, The Washington Post, 11/13/00

Angry, angry Michael Kelly picked up where George Will had left off. On Sunday and Tuesday, Will wrote vituperative, name-calling Post op-ed pieces, in which he seemed to have little command of basic facts (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/13/00, 11/14/00). Today, Kelly resumed the angry name-calling right there in paragraph one:

KELLY (paragraph 1): It's a tossup as to what is most revolting about Al Gore's determination to vote-rig his way into the White House. You could argue that it is the daylight-brazenness; decent people know that this sort of thing is done under cover—that's how Boss Daley, father of Gore's campaign chief, Bill Daley, always did it. Then there is the utterly reckless selfishness; the price of a Gore presidency will be a constitutional crisis, a divided nation and a taint on the presidency. But we've been there before, and as Gore's boss said at that time, the important thing is just to win.

Just in Kelly's paragraph one, Gore is revolting, selfish, and utterly reckless, and of course, he's rigging votes. The name-calling extends to people's parents as well. Starting paragraph 2, Gore is "stomach-turning." Will's legacy is carried on well.

Sadly, Will's legacy was enacted in one other way; Kelly's column—filled with name-calling and denigration—is as dumb as a box full of rocks. You'd think a great paper would take great care in permitting its pundits to vent in this way. But listen to the comic-book "reasoning" with which Kelly degrades the sad Post:

KELLY (4): Let us recount, as it were, just what it is that Al, The Great Defender, has done in his fight (not to win but) to preserve the integrity of democracy. First, he lost the democratic vote in Florida and this, on top of his other losses, meant he lost the presidential election. He conceded this, but then, as it became clear that the closeness of the Florida vote meant a mandated recount, withdrew his concession. Then he told George W. Bush not to get snippy about it. Then, with the recount likely to confirm Bush the victor, he sent brigades of lawyers and political operators to Florida to look for loopholes. Then his man Daley warned that the Gore campaign would sue rather than accept the verdict of the recount.

Maybe it's possible to be dumber than that, but most people would have to work at it. "First, he lost the democratic vote in Florida?" he did? When exactly was that? As everyone on earth except Kelly knows, there are thousands of overseas ballots yet to be counted in a race where the margin is 300 votes. Even today, on this morning, no one knows who "won the democratic vote in Florida." But Professor Fury is somehow surprised that Gore didn't concede last Wednesday morning—at a time when no one had the slightest idea who had "lost the presidential election."

Even if it appeared on its own, this caliber of reasoning would be an insult to the American discourse. The Washington Post ought to crawl off in shame for putting such nonsense in print. But Kelly's utterly addled reasoning doesn't appear in the Post on its own. It appears along with the ugly name-calling that litters his column from beginning to end. Where Will married insult to factual error, Kelly joins it to bogus logic. Listen as he hammers Gore for suggesting a recount by hand:

KELLY (7): Then it appeared that The Selfless One would lose the automatic recount. Then he realized that democracy would be even better protected if the 20,000 or so misdirected voters of Palm Beach County never did get their intended votes counted, because there was a better, easier way to get himself elected. In every election, counting machines miss ballots for mechanical reasons—holes not punched quite through, usually. Given the tightness of the race, The Keeper of the Founders' Faith could wiggle his way into the White House by cherry-picking a few thousand uncounted Democratic votes. This process would not rescue the miscast or voided Palm Beach votes, since a hand recount would simply confirm the votes for Buchanan and still reject the double-punched ballots.

This passage, of course, swims in sarcasm. It also drowns in its author's illogic, Kelly's long-established stock in trade. In this passage, Kelly acknowledges that machine counting "miss[es] ballots for mechanical reasons." There are thousands of "uncounted votes," he says. But when Gore suggests that those ballots be counted, he is subjected to a further deluge of name-calling—he's The Selfless One and The Keeper of the Faith, as the Witless One rants on through his column.

Amazing, isn't it? GOP spokesmen have opposed hand recounting by claiming that machine counts are more accurate. Not Kelly! He openly states that the machine counts are wrong, then assails Gore as he tries to correct them! Hay-yo! Eight-year-old children would roll their eyes at the reasoning power of the Post's angry pundit. And yet the Post presents this caliber of work every week—every day!—to its readers.

Kelly's work is a howling insult to America's public discourse. But there is one advantage gained this week from the efforts of Kelly and Will. The ugly name-calling which they've peddled throws one Key Rule of the discourse into stark, bold relief. Here's the rule: You can call Al Gore any name that you want, however weak your knowledge or logic. But no corresponding character insults will be hurled at Governor Bush.

Think about it. Over the past week, have you seen any name-calling—any at all—aimed at Governor Bush? For example, has anyone on the Post's op-ed page tossed brickbats aimed at Bush's lack of character? It would be perfectly easy to do that, dear friends, if you work by the rules of Kelly and Will. After all, isn't Bush a Big Liar too? Read this in this morning's news pages:

SUE ANNE PRESSLEY (11/15): "Machine counts are accurate. Let's not forget, we've had three of them," said Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew. "What on Earth rationale is there for going to a less accurate accounting, other than to come up with a different result?"

Bush spokesmen have said this all week long (contradicting what Kelly himself said). But two days ago, in Kelly's own paper, a reporter revealed an intriguing point. He described the rules that states maintain for the manual recount of punch-card ballots:

PETER SLEVIN (11/13): [A]s county canvassing boards go about the arduous process [in Florida], at least one appears to be adhering to standards stricter than those in some states, including Texas, that put their rules in writing.

Slevin was describing the Texas law on hand recounts which Bush himself had signed. He described the Lone Star standards:

SLEVIN: For example, Texas allows ballots to be counted if light shines through the punch hole—the so-called sunlight test abandoned by the Palm Beach County canvassing board Saturday over the objections of Democrats...

Texas, Michigan and Kentucky are among the states that specify rules for examining punch ballots by hand. They set out various tests, including holding up the ballot to see if a light shines through and inspecting the chad, the tiny part of the ballot that would fall away if the ballot were properly punched.

In Texas, a ballot is counted if one of four conditions are met: if light shines through, if two corners of the chad are detached, if the indentation is clear enough or if the ballot reflects "by other means" a clear intent to chose a candidate.

In other words, Bush signed a law which permits procedures more liberal than the ones his spokesmen now denounce. But, by the present rules of the press corps' game, no one engages in the ugly name-calling we've seen from the Post's Twin Hysterics. No one has taken to the Post's op-ed page to call the governor a ruthless dissembler. In fact, so polite is the Washington press corps—and so aware of the campaign's Master Narrative—that it has been virtually impossible to find this information except in Slevin's report. The obedient press corps knows the rules of the Master Narrative it agreed to long ago. It's completely OK to slander Gore's character; your information can be totally wrong, and you don't have to make a lick of sense. But unlovely facts that reflect on The Dub? The celebrity press corps has long since agreed—such facts will rarely be mentioned.

Michael Kelly's dim-witted ranting has gone on in the Post for the past several years. Last year, when Kelly dissembled about the "farm chores," the paper revealed its character flaws, keeping the scribe at his post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/3/99, 4/5/99, 4/7/99). This morning, his latest vacuous work insults America's troubled public discourse. In any sort of a rational world, the editor who put such pap in the Post would be out on the street—with its author.

Code of Silence: We don't recommend calling Bush a Big Liar. We also don't recommend it for Gore. But where, oh where, is the press corps' discussion about the Texas hand count statute? All over the air waves, GOP spinners insist that hand counts are bogus. (We've seen Carnac the Magnificent referred to four times.) The information which Peter Slevin reported is plainly relevant to that discussion. But the info has gone down the memory hole; we've seen it repeated nowhere. So why exactly shouldn't we judge that the celebrity press corps has again agreed to drop basic facts right out of the discourse? If they've done that—and some have—there's a word for their conduct. It's a word that you've heard. It's "corrupt."


Smile-a-while (11/15/00)

Bad Factor: Is misinformation all mixed up with bombast your bag? Get the tape of last night's O'Reilly Factor! Bill went on the air moments after Katherine Harris' public statement; he was completely certain that no manual recounts would ever be part of this election. He blustered over a string of guests, one or two of whom occasionally seemed to have some actual knowledge. But O'Reilly's certainty about The Outcome was matched by his failure to know basic facts. Like George Will, for example, he was misinformed about the number of spoiled Palm Beach ballots:

O'REILLY: In every election, you have a certain amount of votes that are disqualified by the machinery, OK? In 1996, 16,000 were thrown out. In 2000, 19,000 were thrown out. This is the order of business. That's what machines do.

What do machines "do?" They "throw out" piles of votes! But at any rate, 29,000 Palm Beach ballots were disqualified in the year 2000—19,000 for double-punches, 10,000 for having no punch at all. Allen Lichtman seemed to know. But guess who got the famous "last word?"

LICHTMAN: It was actually a much bigger discrepancy between 1996 and 2000. The point is—

O'REILLY: No, it was 16 to 19 in Palm Beach County.

As with Will, the actual numbers don't matter so much. But we reeled at the program's combination. On the one hand, we got total certainty about legal predictions. On the other, we met obvious ignorance about even the simplest and most clearly established points of fact.

Anyway, by the time Frank Lautenberg came on to guest, things were in complete disarray. Somehow, O'Reilly got it into his head that there were 19,000 overseas ballots. A series of "Who's On First" exchanges ensued, with O'Reilly talking about overseas ballots and Lautenberg clearly thinking that Bill was discussing Palm Beach double punches.

Hay-yo! The gods on Olympus rocked with laughter as they watched The Factor last night. They, of course, can afford to laugh. Our public discourse can't affect them. And they don't have to pay for their cable.