Friday, November 12, 2004

Recounts and retractions

November 11, 2004 | 12:08 a.m. ET

Recounts and retractions (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— John Kerry or no John Kerry, there could still be recounts in Ohio and New Hampshire— courtesy of the two candidates who got far more grief than votes during the presidential campaign.

David Cobb of the Green Party told a California radio station late yesterday afternoon that he is “quite likely to be demanding a recount in Ohio,” with a final decision to be reached and announced during the day

The New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General, meanwhile, told us at Countdown that negotiations are ongoing with Ralph Nader, who at a news conference yesterday not only demanded a recount in a minimum of four districts, but also added another bizarre touch to the proceedings by launching into a brief but surprisingly high-quality Richard Nixon impression.

The central issue in both potential recounts appears to be money. Cobb, whose presence on the ballot in all 50 states is probably coming to your attention only as you read this, said in an interview with the Pacifica station in Los Angeles, KPFK, that a recount would cost the Greens around $110,000, on a basis of approximately $10 per precinct. As you’d probably guess, Mr. Cobb’s doesn’t have the money lying around— but as a presidential candidate, he does have the right. Whether or not he can raise the cash is the operative question.

In New Hampshire, Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch indicated that reports that Nader forfeited his right to request a recount there because he didn’t get a $2,000 filing fee to them before last Friday’s deadline were erroneous. However, Fitch did raise the bar on Nader, saying that he would have to provide a written guarantee that he would cover all costs relating to a recount, and that the state would probably demand a deposit, or the establishment of an escrow account. Complicating matters still further is Fitch’s admission that New Hampshire really can’t give a good estimate on the final costs.

It’s been twenty years since they’ve had a recount there and Fitch said costs in today’s dollars could be $30,000, $50,000, or even $80,000— although he guesses that the middle figure is the “top end” of what they’re looking at. New Hampshire is a recount-friendly state. Candidates are permitted to base a recount on the results of a particular community, and if they find their doubts resolved, they’re afforded the opportunity to cancel the rest of any statewide investigation.

That Cobb and Nader between them could lead to a resolution of both Democrats’ doubts about the legitimacy of the election, and Republicans’ resentment that there are doubts, contains a delicious irony. To call them “fringe” candidates is to demean their efforts, but they’re hardly favorites at any spot on the political spectrum. Nader, in particular, was trashed on a daily basis by the Democrats who feared he could negatively impact Kerry’s vote totals in swing states, as he clearly did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000. For the rancor, Nader has nobody to blame but himself. Not until late in the campaign did he successfully articulate his reasons for ‘running anyway’— namely, his conviction that breaking the two-party duopoly at lower echelons of government (particularly in the House) will take decades, and had to start at the top and work down.

In any event, if Nader and Cobb are at the edges, questions about Ohio moved back into the mainstream yesterday with another cogent article in The Cincinnati Enquirer. The rationale for the bizarre “lockdown” of the vote-counting venue in Warren County on election night suddenly broke down when it was contradicted by spokespersons from the FBI and Ohio’s primary homeland security official.

County Emergency Services Director Frank Young said last week that in a face-to-face meeting with an FBI agent, he was warned that Warren County, outside Cincinnati, faced a “terrorist threat.” County Commissioners President Pat South amplified, insisting to us at Countdown that her jurisdiction had received a series of memos from Homeland Security about the threat. “These memos were sent out statewide, not just to Warren County, and they included a lot of planning tools and resources to use for election day security.

“In a face to face meeting between the FBI and our director of Emergency Services,” Ms. South continued, “we were informed that on a scale from 1 to 10, the tri-state area of Southwest Ohio was ranked at a high 8 to a low 9 in terms of security risk. Warren County in particular, was rated at 10.”

But the Bureau says it issued no such warning.

“The FBI did not notify anyone in Warren County of any specific terrorist threat to Warren County before Election Day,” FBI spokesman Michael Brooks told Enquirer reporters Erica Solvig and Dan Horn.

Through a spokeswoman, Ohio Public Safety Director Ken Morckel told the newspaper that his office knew of no heightened terror warning for election night for Warren County or any other community in Greater Cincinnati.

Despite the contradiction from both security services, Ms. South again amplified, telling the Enquirer “It wasn’t international terrorism that we were in fear of; it was more domestic terrorism.”

So the media was kept two floors away from the vote counting at the Warren County Administration on election night on the basis of a “10” FBI terror threat that the FBI says was never issued.

Appearing with us on Countdown last night, Newsweek Senior Editor and columnist Jonathan Alter said the Warren ‘terror’ story was likely to grab the interest of the mainstream media: “I think you’ll see in the next few days, other reporters start to get their act together… you’ll hear more about this story in the days and weeks to come.”

It has all even come to the attention of the blithe agitator of the far right, Ann Coulter, who yesterday not only wrote of the election irregularities but, I’m proud to say, slimed and misquoted me. “In a major report on ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ last Monday,” my fellow Cornell alum writes, “Olbermann revealed that Bush’s win in Florida— and thus the election—was ‘attributable largely to largely Democratic districts suddenly switching sides and all voting for Mr. Bush at the same time’!”

It made for fascinating reading, because it made me think for a moment that I had been on television while in a coma. I couldn’t recall making such a broadly ridiculous remark— and it turns out I didn’t. Ms. Coulter, living up to her usual standards which many of us in the Alumni Association nightly pray she didn’t learn at the university, took a quote from a transcript of the November 8th show completely out of context, and entirely twisted its meaning.

The actual quote follows, with the key portion discarded by Ms. Coulter indicated in bold face:

“There (Florida), county totals in Tuesday’s election might be attributable largely to largely Democratic districts suddenly switching sides and all voting for Mr. Bush.”

Thus, a comment indicating how President Bush might have legitimately achieved majorities in some Florida counties, is transformed into a contention that the entire election turned on those county margins.

It’s a neat trick— the journalistic equivalent of the dog who learns to balance the biscuit on her nose and then flip it into her mouth on voice command.

Never tried it myself.

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