Reminder: Bush Won in Florida Recounts Conducted by the Media

May 25th, 2008 7:56 PM

With HBO's 'Recount' movie (airing Sunday and Monday night at 9 PM EDT/PDT) sure to rekindle claims that Al Gore would have won if only the U.S. Supreme Court had not “stopped the counting,” a reminder that both recounts conducted by major media outlets in 2001 determined George W. Bush would have won anyway. Two stars of the film have fueled the re-writing of history with actor Kevin Spacey, who plays Gore operative Ron Klain, charging that “the Bush people were trying to stop votes from being counted and the Gore people were just trying to get votes counted” while Laura Dern, who plays Katherine Harris, recalled that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling left her “devastated because there were uncounted votes.”

The lead of an April 4, 2001 USA Today story headlined, “Newspapers' recount shows Bush prevailed,” by reporter Dennis Cauchon:


George W. Bush would have won a hand count of Florida's disputed ballots if the standard advocated by Al Gore had been used, the first full study of the ballots reveals. Bush would have won by 1,665 votes -- more than triple his official 537-vote margin -- if every dimple, hanging chad and mark on the ballots had been counted as votes, a USA TODAY/Miami Herald/Knight Ridder study shows. The study is the first comprehensive review of the 61,195 "undervote" ballots that were at the center of Florida's disputed presidential election....

That look was followed in November by an analysis by a consortium of media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN and AP. It determined that George W. Bush still would have won under either legally possible recount scenario which could have occurred: The Florida Supreme Court ordered recount of undervotes statewide or Gore’s request for a recount in certain counties. The New York Times led its November 12, 2001 front page article, “Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote,” by reporters Ford Fessenden and John M. Broder:


A comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots from last year's presidential election reveals that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward.

Contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have charged, the United States Supreme Court did not award an election to Mr. Bush that otherwise would have been won by Mr. Gore. A close examination of the ballots found that Mr. Bush would have retained a slender margin over Mr. Gore if the Florida court's order to recount more than 43,000 ballots had not been reversed by the United States Supreme Court.

Even under the strategy that Mr. Gore pursued at the beginning of the Florida standoff -- filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties -- Mr. Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted for a consortium of news organizations....

In summarizing the consortium’s findings, however, the November 13, 2001 MRC CyberAlert recounted CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather gave equal weight to a scenario which never could have occurred, a statewide recount of all overvotes in which the intent of the voter would have been intuited, as to how Bush would still have won in the only legally possible scenario, a recount of undervotes:

In the second half of the hour-long CBS Evening News on Monday night [November 12], Rather announced:
A consortium of news organizations today released their joint findings on the disputed Bush/Gore presidential election results from Florida. They suggest the limited hand re-count of votes requested by Democrat Al Gore would still have given Florida and the presidency to George W. Bush. But this study also found that if there had been a re-count of all disqualified ballots statewide it might have produced a narrow Gore victory.
As Monday’s New York Times headline clearly stated, "Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote," but Rather failed to correct his earlier reporting. At the top of the CBS Evening News back on the December 13, 2000, Rather had declared:
Good evening. Texas Governor George Bush tonight will assume the mantle and the honor of President-elect. This comes 24 hours after a sharply split and, some say, politically and ideologically motivated U.S. Supreme Court ended Vice President Gore’s contest of the Florida election and, in effect, handed the presidency to Bush.
Neither ABC’s World News Tonight nor the NBC Nightly News, both of which remained the usual half-hour on a busy news day on Monday, mentioned the latest media effort at a Florida re-count.