Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Diane Roberts, John Ellis, and Election Night 2000

I checked out of the library the book Dream State by Diane Roberts, intrigued by its colorful topic, which is described in the subtitle as "eight generations of swamp lawyers, conquistadors, Confederate daughters, Banana Republicans, and other Florida wildlife." The front inside of the dust cover description begins this way: "Part family memoir, part political commentary, part apologia, Dream State is all Floridian, telling the grand and sometimes crazy story of the twenty-seventh state through the eyes of one of its native daughters." It mentions a few of the zany and historically meaningful anecodtes involving Roberts' relatives and says "with a storyteller's talent for setting great scenes," she "lays out the sweeping history of eight generations of" her family and "Forrest Gumps them into situations with more historically familiar names."

Roberts is not just a journalist and an NPR commentator, but one whose family is tightly woven into the Democratic Party throughout Florida history and even now. She says they were "pretty much all" Democrats until 1976 when one wing of the family, noting that Jimmy Carter wasn't the racist they wanted, voted for George Wallace and "later turned to Ronald Reagan." (p.11). So it's not surprising that when, as the jacket blurb tells us, the book "start[s] in the recent past with the botched presidential election of 2000," she has an approach that's biased against the Republicans in the matter.

Her bias clouds her judgment of that episode. On pages 15 and 16, she recounts election night this way:
At 7:52 PM on November 7, John Ellis of the Fox Network Decision 2000 team called Florida for Al Gore. ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN had already projected a win for Gore. At 7:58 PM, John Ellis phoned his first cousin John Ellis Bush, better known as Jeb, to say he was awfully sorry, old man, but Junior was about to crash and burn in Florida. Shortly before 2:15 AM on November 8, John Ellis dialed the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas. Good news: Republican numbers have shot up. At 2:17 AM, John Ellis declared Florida a win for Cousin George W. The other channels followed like sheep.

George W. thinks he won. The Bush logic goes like this: 1. Jeb said he would win Florida; 2. Cousin John Ellis said he did win Florida; 3. On national TV, damn it.

This is insulting, frankly, in its unfairness to the reader. With her "storyteller's talent for setting great scenes," she deftly dismisses the possibility that George W. Bush may have thought he won for reasons more legitimate than his family connections and effectively excludes it from consideration.

Her assertion of a Bush victory claim resting prinicipally on Ellis's Fox call relies on two spurious ideas. The first is that Ellis (who, I acknowledge, shouldn't have been involved at all) himself invented the conclusion that Bush had come out ahead after all. The second is that the other channels, following like sheep, must have had no valid basis to call it for Bush themselves.

Each of those premises are flawed. I was going to draw on Dave Kope'sl Fifty-Nine Deceipts in Fahrenheit 9/11 article to discuss the role of Voter News Service (VNS) in providing data to the networks and the chronology of various networks making and rescinding calls for either candidate. But after stumbling upon this anti-Moore site that also quotes Kopel, I discovered on it an even stronger refutation of this theory by--disappointingly, to me--Ann Coulter.

Now, I pretty much never read or pay attention to Ann Coulter. Whenever I've run across articles or appearances by or quotes from her, I've found her so shrill and abrasive, so apt to pour vitriol and animosity into an argument that it makes me cringe. I think such invective tends to drive its targets to entrench themselves further into their positions. Some who disagree with her on a given issue may be reasonable people suitable for persuasion until she alienates them. Given that I've then avoided her, I may be wrong in my impression, but I mention it in case anyone shares it and so would be apt to disregard her argument on this issue.

The passage, though, from her book Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right excerpted at the bowlingfortruth.com page, I actually found really rather temperate. It's full of facts (or at least plausible purported facts--I don't know who the three Democrats working in concert with Ellis were who she mentions) and cogent reasoning.

I'm not going to quote her. It's a pretty long passage, and it would be insufficiently effective for me to clip a small bit of it and silly of me to copy the whole stretch. It's worth clicking over there and reading. If you agree with Diane Roberts about the role of John Ellis and Fox News in causing the other networks to call Florida for Bush and Dubya to believe he'd won it, please read that excerpt and, if it doesn't change your mind, explain to me why Coulter doesn't refute Roberts.

(And feel free to disregard Coulter's paragraph that begins "It was a 'suggestion' made all the more insidious by virtue of being true." I happen to agree with her point in that paragraph, but it's not at all essential to the argument at hand.)

Diane Roberts is a good writer with an interesting subject in that book. I just wish I felt I could trust her a bit more.


Anonymous KK said...

Wow. I can't BELIEVE you are STILL going on about this! When will you let it go, some time around 2357?

11:54 AM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

What a strange and confusing comment. When was I going on about this before?

11:49 PM  

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