CNN's strange "victory" lap
Nichomachus | 08/21/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This is a fairly mediocre recap of Election 2000 that is more about CNN and their talking heads, with the Florida Recount thrown in as an after-thought. Complete with gauzy interviews of their anchors and plenty of *gee whiz* music, CNN's approach is less informative than a rather forced nostalgic sense of "Remember when we all got together and had a wonderful time?" I was appalled.
I'm one of those people that stayed up until 4 in the morning after the 2000 election, so I got to see the media meltdown first-hand on all of the networks, and have no sympathy for CNN's "golly gee" approach to remembering what happened. All of them were operating on a herd-mentality, and both the Bush and Gore campaigns had every right to be furious, and Americans disgusted, not just for their miscalling Florida numerous times, but for their effect on voter turnout all across the country. I remember feeling malicious glee listening to Judy Woodruff babbling about the history of the Texas War Memorial thingy and Candy Crowley's canned Bush-victory report while on CBS Dan Rather finally got on the ball and called Florida properly as too close to call and within the recount percentage.
The CNN anchors deal with the exit-poll failure in a couple of throw away comments in the documentary, but to be fair Jeff Greenfield rightly called the media's handling of the election a failure. The documentary's approach to the Recount, however, is essentially a re-run of the media's failed coverage of it in 2000, where their focus was again on the artificial horse-race quality of media punditry--where their concern was along the lines of "How does this make Gore/Bush look" instead of on the more important question of "Who won? And how do we find out?"
Judy Woodruff's comments in the documentary resurrect the media's ennui, even telling us that polls showed Americans favored ending the recount, when polls actually showed Americans wanted an accurate count. In that period, what clearly developed in the media was a desire to end the process, for what was perceived then--as now--as for the good of the country. The image of Gore a sore loser was the dominant theme, alien to the actual question of "Who won?" That mentality persists today in their documentary, and questions of the legitimacy of such a mentality are not even considered.
This of course means that the scandal of voter disenfranchisement in Florida was ignored, the complicity of Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush in manipulating voter rolls is not touched on, while Harris seems to get a "good soldier" pat on the back from CNN. The thug tactics of Republican lawyers and Hill staffers, and their effect on the process, are not acknowledged. Since they confine everything to election night, the recount, and court cases and judge everyone and everything from within that narrow time frame, what actually happened in Florida (and why) doesn't register at all in this documentary.
In the end, though, I agree that the Democrats fouled up legally and politically, and should have demanded a state-wide hand recount, and CNN is also right in pointing out that Gore's irresponsible campaigning lost not only Clinton's Arkansas, but his own home-state of Tennessee. That does not, however, excuse CNN's avid participation in the groupthink that that political reality in those other states justified their disastorous and mediocre coverage of the Florida Recount.
Now, the UNPRECEDENTED documentary clearly has its own agenda, even if you agree with it. But at least that documentary is actually *about* the political process and how it is abused, rather than CNN's self-congratulatory approach to the election, and the incestuous idea that somehow politics is measured, understood, and evaluated solely by CNN's own images and coverage."