Big Media's Democracy Double Standards
by Robert Parry
Consortiumnews.com, November 23,
The Washington Post and other leading
American newspapers are up in arms about the legitimacy of a presidential
election where exit polls showed the challenger winning but where
the incumbent party came out on top, amid complaints about heavy-handed
election-day tactics and possibly rigged vote tallies.
In a lead editorial, the Post cited the
divergent exit polls, along with voter claims about ballot irregularities,
as prime reasons for overturning the official results. For its
part, the New York Times cited reports of "suspiciously,
even fantastically, high turnouts in regions that supported"
the government candidate. The U.S. news media is making clear
that the truth about these electoral anomalies must be told.
Of course, the election in question occurred
in the Ukraine.
In the United States - where exit polls
showed John Kerry winning on Nov. 2, where Republican tactics
discouraged African-American voting in Democratic precincts, and
where George W. Bush's vote totals in many counties were eyebrow-raising
- the Post, the Times and other top news outlets mocked anyone
who questioned the results.
For instance, when we noted Bush's surprising
performance in Dade, Broward and other Florida counties, a Washington
Post article termed us "spreadsheet-wielding conspiracy theorists."
[See Consortiumnews.com's "Washington Post's Sloppy Analysis."]
Meanwhile, the New York Times accepted unsupported explanations
for why the U.S. exit polls were so wrong, including the theory
that Kerry supporters were chattier than Bush voters.
Hypocrisy? What Hypocrisy?
But why the double standard? Why would
Ukrainian exit polls be deemed reliable evidence of fraud while
American exit polls would simply be inexplicably wrong nationwide
and in six battleground states where Kerry was shown to be leading
but Bush ultimately won?
Logically, it would seem that U.S. exit
polls would be more reliable because of the far greater experience
in refining sampling techniques than in the Ukraine. Also, given
the Ukraine's authoritarian past, one might expect that Ukrainian
voters would be more likely to rebuff pollsters or give false
answers than American voters.
Instead, the U.S. news media chucked out
or "corrected" the U.S. exit polls - CNN made them conform
to the official results - while embracing the Ukrainian exit polls
as a true measure of the popular will.
To compound the irony, the Washington
Post editorial is now calling on George W. Bush to defend democratic
principles halfway around the world. In the Nov. 23 editorial
entitled "Coup in Kiev," the Post wrote, "For the
Bush administration, the responsibility starts with stating the
unvarnished truth about what has happened in an election"
- the one in the Ukraine, of course.
"Unvarnished truth" was far
less important to the Post, the Times and other U.S. news organizations
when they were reporting on the results of Election 2000.
Then, the cherished value was "unity,"
as Americans were urged to ignore the fact that Al Gore got more
votes and instead rally behind George W. Bush, even though he
had dispatched thugs to Florida to disrupt recounts and then enlisted
his political allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the counting
of votes. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege:
Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
In the months that followed Election
2000, the U.S. news media even put the cause of Bush's legitimacy
ahead of its duty to accurately inform the public. In November
2001, after conducting an unofficial recount of Florida's ballots,
the news outlets discovered that if all legally cast votes had
been counted - regardless of the standard used for evaluating
chads - Gore won.
That finding meant that Gore was the rightful
occupant of the White House and that Bush was a fraudulent president.
But in those days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the news
organizations again opted for "unity" over "unvarnished
truth," fudging their own results and burying the lead of
Gore's electoral victory.
To falsely tout Bush's "victory,"
the Post, the Times, CNN and other news outlets arbitrarily -
and erroneously - ditched so-called "overvotes," in
which voters both checked and wrote in a candidate's name. Not
only were these votes legal under Florida law but they apparently
would have been included in the statewide recount if the five
Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court had not intervened at Bush's
In another case of painful irony, the
U.S. Democratic Party is expressing more outrage about electoral
fairness in the Ukraine than in the United States. The National
Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which is sponsored
by the Democratic Party, put out a statement declaring that "fundamental
flaws in Ukraine's presidential election process subverted its
legitimacy." [NYT, Nov. 23, 2004]
However, at home, the Democrats have accepted
the Nov. 2 outcome passively, despite widespread fury within the
Democratic base about what many see as the Bush campaign's abusive
practices. Again, "unity" has trumped "unvarnished
It has fallen to several third-party candidates
to seek limited recounts in several states, including Ohio and
New Hampshire, a move at least designed to give assurance to millions
of Americans that the Bush campaign didn't get away with stealing
a second election. Meanwhile, the national Democratic Party has
chosen to sit on the sidelines, presumably to avoid accusations
of irresponsibility from the Washington Post and other parts of
the big U.S. news media.
So, as the Ukrainian people take to the
streets to defend the principles of democracy, including the concept
that a just government derives from the consent of the governed,
the United States - once democracy's beacon to the world - presents
its commitment to those ideals more through hypocrisy abroad than
action at home.
Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, has
written a new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush
Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com.
It's also available at Amazon.com.