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Big Media's Democracy Double Standards

By Robert Parry
November 23, 2004

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. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Evidence of a Second Bush Coup?”]

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.

Election 2000

“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 behest. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

Weak Democrats

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 truth.”

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.

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