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One day after the Miami Herald published a story that prompted national headlines about George W. Bush being the real winner in Florida, the newspaper effectively recanted.
In a new story in Thursday's editions, the Herald acknowledged what we also pointed out: that a careful examination of the Herald's own data would have led to a conclusion that Al Gore was the choice of Florida voters under a reasonable standard judging the "clear intent of the voters."
The Herald's data revealed that by looking at the so-called "undervotes" in all 67 counties and counting various markings for president, Gore would have won Florida and thus the presidency.
The Herald's second-day story said Gore would have achieved net gains of 1,475 votes in Palm Beach County and 1,081 votes in Broward County if the various marks for president recorded on the ballots were counted.
"Broward and Palm Beach canvassing boards … could have credited hundreds more ballots to the Democrat if they had counted every dimple, pinprick and hanging chad as a vote," the Herald reported.
Even with a more conservative standard, Gore could have erased Bush's certified statewide victory of 537 votes, meaning that Gore could be president today if a full, statewide recount had been permitted.
Yet, Wednesday's misleading "Bush Won" story -- pushed by the Herald and its recount partner USA Today -- was widely embraced by the national press corps and applauded by Bush partisans in the White House. The new Herald story, entitled "Recounts Could Have Given Gore the Edge," received only a fraction of the national attention.
The earlier story reached its "Bush Won" conclusion by subtracting Gore's gains in Palm Beach, Broward, Volusia and part of Miami-Dade County. That subtraction was based on the questionable logic that those votes would not have been included in the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 8, even if the recount had not been stopped by five Republican justices of the U.S. Supreme Court a day later.
[For more details about the Herald's odd rationale, see "W's Latest Unjust Reward."]
After helping to establish the bogus conventional wisdom of Bush as the legitimate winner, the Herald reversed itself with the second-day story that reached what seems to be a contradictory conclusion.
"Had the Broward and Palm Beach canvassing boards used the loosest standard in judging ballots … Gore almost certainly would have won," the Herald reported. "He might have gained 2,022 votes in the two counties. …
"And that tally may be conservative because it excludes the cleanly punched ballots in Broward, 252 Bush votes and 786 Gore votes. Broward election officials say they cannot be certain that cleanly punched ballots weren't also read during the machine count."
The newspaper then quoted Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., who followed the Broward recount as saying that these marks on the ballots represented the clear intent of voters.
"The reality is that the canvassing board did not use a liberal standard and did not use the correct standard," Deutsch said. "Had they used the correct standard, Al Gore would be president."
Deep inside the Wednesday "Bush Won" story, the Herald reported that Gore would have carried Florida by 299 votes even with a more conservative standard – counting undervotes that had been partially punched through and ballots that had indentations in more than one race, indicating a voter trying to cast a vote on a malfunctioning voting machine.
As we pointed out, that information about Gore's apparent victory was buried in the 44th paragraph of the Herald's initial story.
In a related Florida-election development on Thursday, The New York Times reported that hundreds of undervote ballots in Florida apparently disappeared before the unofficial newspaper recounts could be conducted, adding more confusion to the outcome.
"In Orange County, for example, officials reported in November that they had found 966 ballots with no discernible vote for president," the Times said. "But when the newspapers went back to recount those undervotes, the county could only produce 639 such ballots. In Miami-Dade County, the discrepancy was 106 ballots; in Pasco 64." [NYT, April 5, 2001]
The Times is part of a different group of newspapers conducting their own recount in Florida, a tally that is expected to be finished in about a month.
Unlike the Miami Herald/USA Today tally, the other newspapers are counting both undervotes – those lacking a machine-read vote for president – and overvotes – where voters may have punched a ballot and then written in the name of the candidate of their choice.
Still, the Miami Herald's first misleading story reaffirming Bush's victory is the one that has gotten virtually all the media play and become the news media's conventional wisdom. The newspaper's reversal a day later has been almost totally ignored.
Nevertheless, in contradiction of that conventional wisdom, the evidence continues to build that Gore was not only the favorite of Florida's voters – if there had not been irregularities with the "butterfly ballot" and the purging of voters incorrectly identified as felons – but it appears that Gore also would have been elected president if a fair statewide recount had been permitted.
Thanks to the determined efforts of George W. Bush and his lawyers, that opportunity was never permitted.