• December 6, 2004 | 7:25 p.m. ET
Certified and/or certifiable (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS - Exactly one month to the day before Congress will open the votes of the Electoral College, the Secretary of State of Ohio certified the state’s vote this afternoon, that moment in time which separates the Re-Count Exhibition Season from the Re-Count Regular Season.
Exactly per his legally-supported schedule, Kenneth Blackwell this afternoon made the November 2 vote official. With provisionals, absentees, and corrections, it turned out to be not a 136,000 vote margin for President Bush, but rather one of 119,000. The certification was almost immediately greeted by two protests, the prospect of a third, and the details of a fourth.
Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb today scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in Columbus at which the re-count request from he and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik will be formalized.
Still delayed, a long, long, long-shot bid - spearheaded by attorney Cliff Arnebeck - to have an Ohio Supreme Court Justice contest the actual election — holding off making the first count official until voting irregularities are reviewed. Mr. Arnebeck told us this afternoon that it now may be Wednesday before his suit is filed.
But the protests are not just from the fringes any more. Citing the long lines, shortages of ballots, voting machine meltdowns, and spoiled ballots, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe announced his party would spend "whatever it takes" to conduct what it calls "a comprehensive investigative study" of the vote in Ohio, one to be completed some time next year.
But just as McAuliffe insisted that the study was not intended "to contest the results of the 2004 election,” a slightly different message was coming from what remains of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Ohio. Kerry's lead electoral attorney there, Daniel Hoffheimer, echoed the McAuliffe tone, noting "neither the pending Ohio recount nor this investigation is designed to challenge the popular vote in Ohio.”
But in another moment of perplexing tantalization from the Kerry camp, Hoffheimer also said, “while the election of the Bush-Cheney ticket by the Electoral College is all but certain..."
Well that’s enough to drive the remaining Kerry faithful right out of their capsules. File it next to “regardless of the outcome of this election,” and the debate over whether the campaign in Ohio should “join” or “participate in” the Glibs’ recount.
Meantime, what happens when the losing party in the election wants to investigate the election, but has no standing nor political capital to conduct actual hearings in, say, the House of Representatives? It hosts a "forum" — a friendly little informal gathering of members of the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn Office Building, Wednesday morning.
John Conyers and as many as dozen of the other 15 Democrats on Judiciary, who say they want to "discuss any issues and concerns regarding the numerous voting irregularities that have been reported in Ohio during the 2004 election."
Conyers has invited a special guest — none other than Warren Mitofsky , the head of Mitofsky International, one of the two companies that conducted exit polling for the television networks. Conyers has written to Mitofsky, asking him to release any of the so-called "raw data" from November 2, the materials constituting the exit polls that fired such controversy, particularly on the internet, and show up to Wednesday's little gathering.
Conyers' office told us Mr. Mitofsky has yet to R.S.V.P.
Interestingly, in the letter to Mitofsky, Conyers is not at all informal. He says Mitofsky can best serve truth right now “by testifying at a hearing we will be holding…”
If you’d like somebody to testify on behalf of the proposition that you’re not nuts for reading about, nor asking, questions, try the Public Editor’s column in Sunday’s edition of the Portland paper, The Oregonian. There, Mike Arrietta-Walden says the foremost complaint received from readers, is about his newspaper’s spotty coverage of voting irregularities. It’s very possible that a lot of the reader feedback was encouraged by websites, but that’s par for the course, as Mediaweek’s piece on the number of Brent Bozell-generated form letters received by the Federal Communications Commission.
What matters most, perhaps, is that while Arrietta-Walden notes the geographical distance between Portland and most of the election hot spots dictated the paper would have to rely on wire services, he still sees his newspaper (and others) as asleep at the switch: “That coverage, especially from national newspapers, has not been extensive and deep, but The Oregonian hasn't taken full advantage of what coverage there was. The lukewarm interest shown by many newspapers partly stems from the fact that leaders of the Kerry campaign and experts with several nonpartisan election watchdogs have repeatedly said that the errors detected would not amount to a reversal of the election. Journalists have moved on to other, pressing stories of the day.”
Arrietta-Walden is also cautionary about the wisdom of letting the blogs drive the net. He didn’t mention Wayne Madsen by name, but he might well have.
When Mr. Madsen’s internet piece positing a $29,000,000 payoff to “fix” the election made the rounds, I wrote here that the journalism didn’t live up to many minimum standards, and the logic, even fewer (somebody promised to pay off people to rig the election computers, gave at least some of them the full history of how the money was to be laundered — and then didn’t ante up?).
Mr. Madsen followed up with another piece in which he claimed to have an actual copy of the check. A single election-fixing check for $29.6 million. One-stop shopping for the political scandal of the millennium.
Now, he is back with an even longer, more intricate story that drags in NASA, Lockheed Martin, Brazilian computer maintenance technicians, Nigerian scammers, and a reputed affidavit that fingers a Florida congressman.
The problem is that the amazing check for $29.6 million, whose authenticity was the cornerstone of Madsen’s first two stories, not only turns out to be a fraud, but now, its fraudulence becomes one of the cornerstone’s of Madsen’s newest story. As he told the Pacifica radio station (KPFT) in Houston Sunday, “Yeah, it turns out that the $29 million check, although a valuable clue, was a fake. But it looks like the people who released the check did so as a way to say ‘hey, look here, don’t look at the check, look who’s behind it, look around it, follow the money that these people have been involved with…’”
Once again, if any part of Mr. Madsen’s writing on the election is proved and valid, I’ll not only repeat my offer to pay his way for him to pick up his Pulitzer Prize — I’ll physically carry him there myself. There could very well be facts — even important facts — hiding in there somewhere.
But to turn on a dime and write that a document is real, and hard evidence of a crime, and then come back and admit that it’s fake, but still hard evidence of a crime, is an intellectual leap of faith worthy of Evel Knievel. It violates every precept of good journalism, to say nothing of good investigation. I won’t even ask about logic.
Shoot e-mail to KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Votes, Steroids, and Shoes (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - It’s not exactly Zola’s “J’Accuse.” In fact it seems to have been written entirely in Congressionalese.
But anybody seeking the proverbial laundry list of all the complaints, questions, and oddities of Election Night in Ohio is referred to the fifteen-page letter sent Thursday to Ohio’s Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, over the signatures of twelve of the fifteen Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee.
The document is so calm as to almost neuter the implications of the 34 specific questions John Conyers and his associates pose. It was not composed by a political firebrand. It does not invoke the Cuyahoga County “super voting” precinct numbers, since explained as amateurish accounting rather than political perfidy. Curiously, it does echo John Kerry’s ambiguous on-line statement. “We are sure you agree with us that regardless of the outcome of the election…”
More importantly, it starts where our own investigations of Ohio began, with the lockdown in Warren County as the votes were tallied there. The Judiciary members ask three questions that, in importance, actually transcend the election itself. They want to know if Blackwell has investigated the barring of reporters during the vote count, if Blackwell has identified the FBI agent who allegedly (and despite FBI denials) warned the county of a terrorist threat, and, most pointedly: “If County officials were not advised of terrorist activity by an FBI agent, have you inquired as to why they misrepresented this fact? If the lockdown was not as a response to a terrorist threat, why did it take place? Did any manipulation of vote tallies occur?”
Blackwell needs to answer these questions. He needs to answer them even if his answers aren’t very convincing. Twelve Congressmen from the losing side of a presidential election do not a Warren Commission make (forgive the coincidental historical analogy). The likelihood they’ll even get anything going inside the Judiciary Committee is negligible.
But posterity is a stern taskmaster. At the time, the election disaster of 1876 was wrapped up nicely, with Rutherford Hayes taking the oath early in 1877, and Samuel Tilden slipping into the backwaters of history. But ask any American of any political stripe about 1876, and if they paid attention in one Social Studies class in High School, they’re likely to tell you that was the year the presidency was stolen. A comprehensive study of the machinations that permitted the seating of a man who won neither the popular nor the electoral vote - and the awful consequences for the South of the resulting enabling compromise - was published as recently as last year (Roy Morris’s Fraud Of The Century).
It is neither wild speculation nor partisan sour grapes to suggest that unless Blackwell promptly answers the 34 questions raised in the Democrats’ letter, the 2004 election will meet a similar historical fate. With the exponential growth in the rapidity of research, the issue, unless settled now by thorough and transparent investigation, could trickle gradually into the collective public consciousness - and far sooner than did the Hayes/Tilden fiasco. It should be assumed that even if the day-to-day chroniclers of such things in the media find Ohio’s vote too complicated, or too unlikely to alter the outcome, investigators and historians will populate the bookshelves of the nation with scathing analyses, even dismissals, of the 2004 vote - probably even before the nation again goes to the polls.
Logic must suggest to the more sober of the Republicans that this needs to be addressed now. A party trumpeting the already-exaggerated claims that its vote majority owes largely to the “Moral Values” issues has got to be aware of the potential for long-term damage that continuing a stonewall answer to those 34 questions (and others) can wreak. I only have to look away from this screen for a second, to my small collection of political campaign buttons, to underscore the wisdom of this warning. One of mine reads “The ‘I’ in Nixon stands for integrity.”
One of the benchmarks for this kind of cautionary tale can be found, oddly, in the burgeoning steroid scandal in baseball. When the steroid “precursor,” androstrenedione, was found to be in public view in the locker of Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals during his historic 1998 season, its presence caused a quick uproar that largely faded as McGwire first broke, then shattered the seasonal home run record. I recall interviewing the late, great, sportswriter Leonard Koppett on my old MSNBC program, and hearing him insist that the discovery of McGwire’s use of a substance so dangerous you can’t even get it with a prescription in Canada, would have no long-term effect on McGwire’s record nor the sport as a whole.
Six years later, McGwire is an almost-forgotten figure outside of the city he electrified. Barry Bonds, the even bulkier man who broke McGwire’s record, and now approaches Henry Aaron’s mark for career home runs, is at the center of the latest steroid firestorm. Jason Giambi, the New York Yankees’ slugger, proves to have admitted to a grand jury a year ago this month that he took steroids and human growth hormone obtained from Bonds’s personal trainer. Bonds testified that he obtained the same materials from the same man, but insists he was sure they were vitamins and “Flaxseed Oil.”
Baseball is unforgiving about results it later deems skewed. For years, the record for the highest seasonal batting average in history was given to Tip O’Neill of the 1887 St. Louis Browns, with a phenomenal mark of .492. But O’Neill’s average owed largely to a one-season rules interpretation: that bases on balls should be counted as hits. O’Neill’s average didn’t just get an asterisk - it prompted a gradual revising of history that saw his average reduced to .435 in all the record books.
But it didn’t stop there. Once the rules of the day were overruled by the perspective of history, the quality of the league in which O’Neill played - the old American Association - was gradually downgraded to the point where its stars were dismissed for consideration for the sport’s Hall of Fame, despite statistics equaling or surpassing those of the men who played in the rival National League of the same era.
And the progressive repudiation continued to expand. All of the hefty batting performances prior to 1893 are viewed with smiling derision, because it was not until that season that the pitcher was moved out to his current distance from the plate. Hitting was “too easy,” therefore the statistics of the time, and the men who compiled them, are ignored. The rewriting of history has also claimed the World Series played before 1900, and, in fact, nearly everything accomplished on a baseball field in the 19th Century - largely because 1893 is a more difficult separating point to remember than is 1900.
It is safe to say that Barry Bonds will be the Tip O’Neill of 2004, and his turn-of-the-century era could eventually wind up being as statistically invalid and quaint as events before 1900. His and McGwire’s records may stay in the books, but Henry Aaron’s and Roger Maris’s will likely be given unofficial priority.
That’s a lesson that should be remembered by Secretary of State Blackwell. A presidency, like a baseball season, is fleeting. History is not. As George W. Bush seeks the legacy so important to every second-term president, it should be remembered by him as well.
And lastly, while we’re in this overlap among politics, sports, the rules, and the credibility of authority - a quick thought about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ football quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. The National Football League has threatened him with a fine of $5,000 if he again adorns his shoes, or any other part of his uniform, with the hand-written message “40.”
The number is an homage to the late Arizona Cardinals’ player Pat Tillman, who quit football to serve his country as an Army Ranger, and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan last April.
For reasons of marketing, and to curb players from writing anything on their uniforms (whether “Hi Mom,” “Vote Bush,” or “Coca-Cola”), the NFL doesn’t want Roethlisberger paying public tribute to Tillman.
But, the league is happy to sell you a Pat Tillman replica jersey, complete with that big number 40, for $64.99.
Keep those emails coming at KOLbermann@msnbc.com
Jackson verses Blackwell (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS - The complaint about the voting irregularities story is that it has been a little austere, a little impersonal. Part of its lack of appeal to the mainstream media has been its lack of “name players” — the aloofness of John Kerry, as an example. You wouldn’t think you’d have to sex up something as important as the integrity of the democratic process, but it turns out that in these early years of the 21st Century, you have to sex up everything — ask Monday Night Football.
But, not to worry, two players have taken to the stage, big-time. If Ohio actually gets the notice it deserves, the credit will go to Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
You will recall that in his syndicated Op-Ed column (appearing principally in The Chicago Sun-Times) earlier this week, Jackson wrote the Ohio vote count was "marred by intolerable, often partisan, irregularities and discrepancies,” and added that "U.S. citizens have as much reason as those in Kiev to be concerned that the fix was in."
During the day Thursday, Secretary Blackwell's media secretary was firing back... calling the column blatantly inaccurate: "We expect someone writing an Op-Ed and a syndicate distributing that Op-Ed would fact-check information and have a responsibility to the facts."
Proving two can play at this game, Blackwell has wrote his own Op-Ed piece in response and it was made available to newspapers today. Jesse in turn, actually turned up on CNN this evening on Paula Zahn's news hour, talking about the same stuff he talked about on Countdown on Tuesday, and that we've been talking about here since the week after the election. Somehow I'm thinking it was a good idea that Blackwell and Jackson appeared on consecutive nights on Countdown, and not the same one.
Blackwell, incidentally, got sued again, by the Greens and Libs again. The Badnarik and Cobb parties are already due back in court tomorrow to try to get a Federal Judge to vacate the temporary restraining order against the re-count inside Delaware County, Ohio. Today, they filed another federal action, naming Blackwell directly, accusing him of stalling the re-count and abusing his authority. The suit asks that the recount begin immediately... since the electoral college is scheduled to meet just eleven days from now — although its vote won’t be opened by congress until January 6.
Blackwell gets to wait until Monday to certify the state’s vote, even though all 88 counties in the Buckeye State have finished their own confirmations. Data is still sketchy, but it turns out election officials accepted about 77% of the provisional ballots — about 121,000 of them. No statewide count of the provisionals yet, though results reported by one county — Franklin (that's Columbus), indicated that Senator Kerry had gotten nearly 7,700 of the more-than 12,000 provisional votes counted.
But of all the developments out of Ohio, the most provocative, clearly, is still stalled under the weight of its own paperwork. The Alliance for Democracy is not quite ready with its challenge to the vote yet. Lawyer Cliff Arnebeck, with who else but Reverend Jackson by his side today on the steps of the Ohio Supreme Court, said that the group hopes to file its election challenge tomorrow — if not, Monday — but it’s not guaranteeing anything.
If and when it gets around to it, the Alliance will be asking one high court justice to set the election results aside, pending a full investigation and hearing. Arnebeck said today he believes that if all ballots were counted in what he calls a "traditional context,” the outcome would not just swing from President Bush’s 130,000 vote election night lead — it would swing all the way in the opposite direction, and give Kerry a 130,000 vote lead.
“Once we file the litigation.” Arnebeck added, “aggressive discovery will proceed, and we'll get to the truth. I want to reemphasize once again as we did at the previous press conference that the purpose here is not partisan, the purpose here is not destructive toward anyone and we invite all candidates, we invite the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign to join and cooperate in a non-partisan effort to find the truth, gather the facts, and assure the public, and assure both candidates, that this is an honest election."
Arnebeck sounded a little like a protestor in Kiev: "Our presidential election affects not just this country but all the citizens of the world. And therefore it's absolutely essential that the person who assumes the mantle of that office has the full confidence of our public and the world community that it was an honest election.”
One final note here. I should clarify what I wrote in this space last night about Countdown’s interaction with Bev Harris of Black Box Voting. My staff is not certain that any of our messages to Ms. Harris inviting her on the show since the week of November 15 have specifically asked her for permission to play the videotapes of her work trying to audit the Florida vote. We think so, but I’ve got only three people booking all the guests on this program, and they each probably make about 100 calls a day.
Complicating our effort is the fact that even as we hoped to provide a platform to publicize and illuminate her efforts, Ms. Harris had returned none of the messages left on her own voicemail by Countdown staffers since she spoke to our staffers briefly, twice, during the week of November 8. Only today did she even get back in touch with us, and was so belligerent, threatening, and demanding, that we have chosen to withdraw our invitation to her to appear, or to have videotape of her efforts played, on Countdown.
Threats against myself or my staff will not be tolerated. We are not only busting our humps on the voting irregularities beat, but we remain the only mainstream news organization to continue to cover this vital story. These are my people — they are running professional risks I can’t begin to describe — and I will stand up for them, first, last, and always.
E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
More than one kind of black box (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - I’ve been avoiding this topic for four weeks now, but given what I understand are a lot of dropped jaws around the blogosphere, I think I better spill this.
I don’t think Bev Harris of Black Box Voting is doing anybody any favors.
I suggested as much tonight on Countdown and there were a lot of understandably surprised emails. Some profane, incidentally, which had previously been the exclusive province of those who notified me of their opposition to anybody covering anything about voting irregularities or especially Jesse Jackson’s F-Word.
Each and every day since our coverage of all this began on November 8, I have received a set of emails, some times a few, some times many, asking “Why don’t you have Bev Harris on Countdown?,” “Why don’t you run the Bev Harris videotapes?,” “Why don’t you show the voting tapes Bev Harris found discarded in the trash in Florida?”
Because she won’t let us.
I have not dealt with Ms. Harris directly, but my staff has, and though we have asked her on a regular basis to let us show these tapes on national television, she has declined.
We are running in risky waters as it is, offering a platform for tapes we can’t independently verify. But I have heretofore been convinced that she had credentials sufficient to make an interview segment with her both useful and reasonable.
My ample gut has lately sent me a different message, and her showdown with Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore on Monday seemed to buttress my instinct. She burst into LePore’s retirement ceremony, her cameraman rolling tape as she did so, and she raced to the podium to announce to the shocked room full of supervisors that she was “serving” LePore with papers as part of her lawsuits over what she claims are LePore’s evasions in providing records of the 2004 vote.
The usefulness of that videotape to the immediate issue at hand - were there widespread failures of the electronic voting systems in this country on November 2nd, and if so, were those failures enabledby any malfeasance - has an expiration date. If they show irregularities, if they show public servants at their worst, even if they’re guerrilla-style political confrontations, they have a public value - an urgent one.
Have you seen them?
What Ms. Harris has left herself open to is a charge that as much as any interest she has in the justifiable public concern over our most precious right - the right to a reliable, honest election - she may also have an interest in making her own documentary, on her own schedule, for her own purposes.
What Ms. Harris has also left herself - and by extension anybody who is advocating investigation, or merely covering the story - open to,is the charge of grandstanding, of tin-foil hatting, of being somebody who bursts in to a room and screams at public officials, videotape running all the time, artificially creating news.
Me - I think that can be justified. Guerrilla politics - even guerrilla news - isn’t pretty, but it’s often necessary, as long as it’s news you’re interested in. It’s necessary, as long as you take advantage of the opportunity to disperse what news you’ve gathered, promptly and professionally, especially if that opportunity can serve the public good, and comes with relatively few strings attached (“can we see it first so we know what the hell we’re broadcasting?” - the same thing we ask anybody with news videotape not shot by an NBC or affiliated camera crew, whether they’ve recorded a hurricane or a cat nursing a puppy).
It has been pointed out that Bev Harris was scheduled to be on Countdown back on November 8 but her appearance was cancelled. I haven’t addressed this before, either. But we didn’t cancel on her - we wanted, on that first night raising this touchy subject nobody else had previously covered, to have more mainstream guests. And we wanted her back another night. And since then we’ve wanted her to come back with her video. And she hasn’t.
I don’t know her motivations and I don’t know her bona fides. But I’m afraid at this stage, intentionally or by the simplest of communication failures, she isn’t helping illuminate this issue. And every step that attracts heat but not light is another step towards discrediting the entire process.
Thougths? E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Recount SI, Jesse No (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - We have been inviting Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to appear on Countdown since we began to cover the voting irregularities story on November 8th.
It struck me as not quite coincidental that he finally joined us the same day the Ohio GOP issued what might be the first Republican recognition of any kind that there are questions about the vote - a news release with the gaudy headline “Democrats Struggle to Justify Unnecessary Recount / (Jesse) Jackson swoops in to fuel conspiracy theories even Kerry lawyers admit are baseless.”
While it was the Greens and Libertarians filing for the recount, the Republicans seemed to prefer silence. But after Jackson spoke in Columbus Sunday and Cincinnati Monday , suddenly Mr. Blackwell was available. “I think what happened,” he said, “is that Jesse Jackson ran around the block and tried to get out in front of a parade that was already on the march.”
That’s an odd phrase. Show of hands, please! Who out of the 20% who believe the election is illegitimate would have believed that a Republican state official would ever compare an Ohio recount to “a parade that was already on the march”? Sounds like a campaign phrase - for Democrats.
Suddenly the recount itself seems like an old pal to Ohio’s top election official. Last week, the incoming president of the association of county election officials mused out loud about a suit to stop the Glibs, so I asked Blackwell if he was saying that his office would take no step to try to prevent the recount. “Once they ask for a recount, we will provide them with a recount… we will regard this as yet another audit of the voting process.”
As to the audit of the perception of conflict of interest in Blackwell’s other role as Honorary Co-Chair of the Bush-Cheney Ohio Campaign, he seemed less definitive. “We have a bi-partisan system in Ohio where the Hamilton County Chairman of the board of elections, Tim Burke, is also the Democrat chairman of the Democrat party in that county.” I’ll pause the quote here to note that said party does business as the Democratic Party and the Republicans’ obsession with that little ‘ic’ has always seemed peevish to me, even when it’s coming out of John McCain’s mouth. Blackwell continued: “The same for Dayton. The Democrat Chairman is the Chairman of the Board of Elections in Montgomery County.”
This is interesting, and this is troubling (why should you be able to be both Chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Elections?). But it also seemed to be self-evidently irrelevant - something akin to the political version of “They started it,” whether the ‘they’ are Republicans or Democrats.
The Democrats, of course, didn’t start the recount push in Ohio, the Glibs did, and the distinction seems vitally important to Blackwell. Messrs. Badnarik and Cobb “have a standing, not Jesse Jackson, and because Senator Kerry has conceded and has not asked for a recount he has no standing, and so I would anticipate that the Electoral College will be held on the 13th of December and 20 votes will go to the certified winner.”
We had already gone way past our scheduled length of the interview, and were throwing out other political stories, when I had to choose between two last questions to which I wanted Secretary Blackwell’s official answers. Judging by email response to the show, a lot of people would have asked the one I didn’t - about the still inexplicable “terrorist threat” lockdown of vote-counting in Warren County.
Not to get too Inside Baseball on you, but my thinking in the heat of the moment was that Mr. Blackwell would respond to questions about Warren County much in the way he veered off from my earlier question about what the Ohio GOP news release termed “a costly $1.5 million dollar recount…” He quickly agreed that the Recount Gap between actual costs and the $10 per precinct charge was the fault of nobody but Ohio’s legislature, which hasn’t updated the rate card since 1956. Then came what I expected we’d have heard again if I’d asked about Warren: “Ohio has a delicately balanced bi-partisan system that counts votes at the local level. I have nothing to do with counting the votes.”
For answers, we need the Warren County election authorities and - here’s a surprise - they haven’t commented since the FBI denied issuing them any kind of ‘terrorism warning.’
So, instead, I went for a straight yes-or-no on the latest ‘sources say’ story from the many and varied internets: did he, or did he not, meet with President Bush, in Ohio, on election day. “That’s just hogwash, absolutely zero, not true. And it’s the sort of mythology that grows out of, you know, a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands and the imaginations of Jonathan Swift.” While earning points for referencing the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Secretary Blackwell also threw a gauntlet down at the feet of the net’s Baker Streets Irregulars: there darn well better not be anybody willing to swear an oath they saw such a meeting take place.
We had no expectations that this interview was going to produce a “Eureka” moment and we were correct. But the salient point seems to be that -- as was meekly forecast here some time ago -- as the prospect of the actual recount loomed, the story would be driven into the mainstream media. Why, even CNN’s Inside Politics interviewed Jackson briefly Monday - and the Reverend’s use of the new F-word (fraud) seemingly motivated Blackwell to go on the record (and bring up Jackson’s presence in Ohio eight times after I stopped asking him about Jackson).
I did not see the CNN interview, but I am told Jackson did not repeat his strong weekend comments about Kerry supporting the Ohio investigations, which to me implies again that the only people more sensitive to the prospect of Kerry participation in the recount than the Republican Party, is the Democratic Party. This eludes my capability for analysis beyond what I have written here previously about the pulling back of last week’s news release by the Ohio Dems because it read the Kerry/Edwards campaign “joins” the recount, and its replacement a few hours later by an otherwise identical statement saying the Kerry/Edwards campaign “participates in” the process.
There is more parsing going on here - by both parties - than at a reunion of the Ken Starr fan club.
For the record, Jesse Jackson is scheduled to join us Tuesday night on Countdown, with the caveat that his day planner is notoriously fluid - so if he’s not there, don’t assume he’s been - I don’t know - fired.
Sadly I must close with the grim update on the other topic I posted Monday morning. National Transportation Safety Board officials in Colorado announced at a 6 PM MST news briefing that a body had been found near the site of the crash of the chartered jet carrying NBC Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol and two of his sons. Authorities are “99 percent certain” the remains are those of Dick’s 14-year old son Teddy, but are - in news that is heart-rending by and of itself - awaiting dental records before making a positive identification.
All of us at MSNBC thank you greatly for your sympathy expressed throughout the day in dozens of emails. It is an unspeakable nightmare, and your kindness is appreciated beyond expression.
E-mail at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Dick Ebersol (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - It could’ve been a scene out of The Great Gatsby.
Dick Ebersol, my new boss at NBC Sports, was going to explain to me my rookie’s role on the network’s upcoming telecasts of the 1997 World Series. But first he had to direct producer David Neal on a few details.
“No, no,” he said, without a touch of reproach to his voice. “The first pitch Saturday can’t be at 8:07, it has to be at 8:37.” His eyes focused further down the slip of paper in his hands. “And Sunday’s backwards, too. It should be at 8:07, not 8:37. I’ll tell Buddy.”
“Buddy” was Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and what Dick was going to do, in that same even, smooth, FM voice of his, was tell Bud Selig that the starting times of all the World Series games were going to have to be altered.
It had never occurred to me that one man actually just did that, just as it had never occurred to Fitzgerald’s characters that one man might have fixed the 1919 World Series. And here I was, watching it happen in front of me with ease and grace. And while it was unfolding with not a touch of the nefariousness connected with “fixing” a World Series, it reflected exactly the same degree of power and influence. I had to check to see if I was wet behind the ears, or had hay falling out of my bumpkin’s suit, or both.
This is, to some degree, Dick Ebersol’s public persona as the President, later Chairman, of NBC Sports and Olympics. It is that of the ultimate deal-maker, the man who broke precedent and locked up Olympic coverage for NBC for more than a decade, the man who walked away from the NFL and baseball when the money no longer made sense - the man who decided what time the World Series games would start.
But Dick Ebersol’s secret is far more important than all the deals he ever put together and all the influence he ever wielded. Of all the individuals I’ve met in 25 years in broadcasting, he is the one who most often put people ahead of business.
I know. I was one of them - three times.
As I write this, Dick Ebersol is in a hospital in Colorado, having survived a chartered-plane crash that killed both pilots. Two other passengers, including his son Charley, are known to have survived. His younger son Teddy was reported missing. Their mother, the actress Susan Saint James, was not on the flight.
Dick Ebersol brought me to NBC, pulling strings behind the scenes, ones that didn’t necessarily make total financial sense, just so I could work occasionally for him on baseball and football, and work nightly on my first MSNBC program, “The Big Show.” But it was a year later that I discovered that Dick Ebersol wasn’t just a great businessman, but more importantly, a great man. A confluence of events made continuing “The Big Show” impossible. NBC was justifiably mad at me. I was justifiably mad at them. The situation seemed irredeemable, possibly cataclysmic. There were lawyers. There were frayed friendships. But not in Dick Ebersol’s office. One day, at the nadir of the crisis, Dick called up and said “I think I know a way out of this. You’re too good a person, your bosses are too good people, that this should end badly. Just stay calm and let me work on it.”
Two months later he’d convinced everybody at NBC to simply sell my contract to Fox. He pulled me out of a potential career-ending situation, and saved NBC’s public face, and recouped nearly every penny of the company’s investment in me. It was with a mixture of pride in the accomplishment, and pride in the absurdity of the thing, that he announced he was the first television honcho ever to deserve Major League Baseball’s “General Manager of the Year” award.
Dick had stayed in touch during my adventures at Fox. But I had no idea why, in October, 2002, he wanted me to come to his office for lunch. After an hour’s worth of the kind of open, trusting, hilarious conversation that had made working with him a pleasure for all of us, he just casually mentioned he’d like me to be the primary cable host for the Olympics in Athens. After I recovered from my shock, I pointed out to him that I hadn’t left NBC under the best of circumstances - that there were clearly still hard feelings.
“Not from here,” he said, matter-of-factly.
With that, I was back at NBC. Simply because Dick Ebersol values people as much as he values the wheeling and dealing. He even smoothed the way for my return to MSNBC the following February, an event that would have been considered far less likely than Napoleon’s return from Elba - until he intervened.
The third time Dick Ebersol put a person (me) ahead of business came this past summer. It was evident that for a month, I had to be in two places at once: in Athens to broadcast the Olympics, and at MSNBC to continue “Countdown” as the presidential campaign heated up. With the greatest possible reluctance, I was voting for the latter. He wasn’t. He wanted me in Greece. And then one day he said “I understand. We’ll get through it.”
This is no time to list all the executives I’ve worked for, or with, who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, have done any of those things, taken those steps which reflected the essence of humanity in a business where humanity is not always a factor. Suffice to say, Dick Ebersol took all those steps, and countless more with other people.
And while he takes his job very seriously, he has never taken himself very seriously - another almost unique characteristic in this field. Propriety requires that I cannot write here his ribald self-effacing pun on his own latest corporate title, nor the identity of the newspaperman who will never know that one of his best interviews with the Chairman of NBC Sports was partially conducted by said Chairman from said Chairman’s private washroom while the rest of us tried to stifle the giggles he provided us.
That’s why all of us who have, or who have had, the privilege of working for and with him, are in such shock and grief now. I have often joked that I’d like to be Dick Ebersol when and if I grew up. I still do.
Email me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
It's Alive - It's Alive (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - You don’t have to have seen the entirety of the original movie “Frankenstein” to remember the over-the-top scene in which Colin Clive as the doctor recognizes the first twitching of his creation, and begins to rapturously repeat that line: It’s Alive!
It is ungenerous, but not together inaccurate, to point out that Frankenstein’s Monster’s head was shaped not unlike that of John Kerry’s. So, after the weekend’s developments in Ohio one can almost see Colin Clive hovering over the recumbent Democrat nominee and repeating his two-word claim to fame.
“John Kerry supports a full investigation” of the voting irregularities in Ohio, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told reporters Saturday before he began two days of rallies in the state to push for an investigation - and a recount. “I talked with John Kerry last night (Friday), and he supports the investigation,” The Chicago Sun-Times further quoted Jackson. “His lawyers are observing it closely.”
Well, evidently Rev. Jackson can observe the body twitching even if the rest of us are still where we were when Senator Kerry made his direct-to-video, M.C. Escher drawing of a statement: “regardless of the outcome of this election.” We’re scratching our heads with one hand, and wanting to use the other to poke the tall, supine creature with a stick to see if it really is alive.
Several reporters on Saturday’s conference call asked about the event that ensured the mainstream media silence that has been roundly mistaken as a “lock-down”: Senator Kerry’s concession speech on November 3rd.
“Kerry was inclined to believe what he was told,” begins Jackson’s quote in The Cincinnati Enquirer, “and he was told the election was over. But now we’re unearthing information that did not surface at first. I suppose the more information Kerry gets, the more you will hear from him.”
Send us a postcard, Senator.
In his news conference and at his rally Sunday in Columbus, Jackson hit the now-familiar main points of the Ohio inquiry. He called the disconnect between exiting polling and actual voting “suspicious,” invoked the infamous Multiplying Voting Machine of Gahanna, cited the Warren County lockdown, and criticized Kenneth Blackwell’s dual role as Ohio’s Secretary of State (and thus its chief electoral official) and as Co-Chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign there. Love him or hate him, Rev. Jackson still has the knack for perfect imagery. “We need to investigate, coordinate, litigate, recount and recuse. Mr. Blackwell cannot be both the owner of the team and the umpire.”
Jackson may or may not have also introduced a new rotting fish into the pile of evidence that suggests Ohio did a very lousy job of running an election four weeks ago. “We don’t want to be presumptuous, but these numbers in Butler, Clermont, Warren and Hamilton counties are suspicious.” Jackson refers in part to what several voters’ groups see as the incongruity of an underfunded Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, C. Ellen Connally, getting a net 45,000 more votes in Butler County relative to her Republican opponent than Kerry did relative to his. She finished ahead of her party’s presidential nominee by 10,000 net votes or more in five Ohio counties; by 5,000 or more in ten others.
It is not unprecedented for a statewide candidate - especially a popular, well-publicized one - to finish “ahead of the ticket.” But Connally was a retired African-American judge from Cleveland, and Butler County is as about as far away from Cleveland (on the Indiana border, and 40 miles north of Kentucky) as you can get and still be in Ohio. Moreover, The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that the Republican candidates in the three Supreme Court races raised 40% more in official campaign funds than did Connally and the other Democrats. The Toledo Blade showed that the fund-raising, and thus visibility, was far more lopsided than even the party documents would suggest: “Citizens for a Strong Ohio, a nonprofit arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, raised $3 million to fund TV and radio ads that gave the winners exposure Democrats couldn't match,” the newspaper reported on November 4th.
The fun continues throughout the Buckeye State. The Cincinnati Post Saturday quoted Chairman Tim Burke of the Hamilton County Board of Elections as saying that approximately 400 of the 3,000 provisional ballots invalidated in his jurisdiction were thrown out for an extraordinary reason. In some cases, one polling place served more than one voting precinct - and though they were in the correct building, voters were disqualified because they got in the wrong line. “400 voters were in the right place,” Burke says, “but not at the right table.” The newspaper says Burke plans to object to those disqualifications when Hamilton County meets Tuesday to certify its vote.
Other discarded provisional ballots will be sued over. Cuyahoga County tossed a third of all its provisionals, and a group called ‘The People for the American Way Foundation’ filed Friday for a writ of mandamus against Secretary of State Blackwell in the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals, asking the court to order Blackwell to notify each of the 8,099 disqualified voters and afford them the opportunity to contest their disenfranchisement.
And lastly, though he legally has until December 6 to certify the Ohio vote, Cincinnati television station WCPO reported Sunday that Blackwell is in fact expected to do so on Wednesday of this week.
Thoughts? Email me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Reportedly According to Apparently Informed Sources (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK — As of early Friday evening, at least 60 viewers and readers had forwarded me cut-and-pastes of— or links to— an amazingly intricate conspiracy theory on-line piece that intertwines the Presidential election, Homeland Security, the FBI, $29,000,000 in payoffs, Enron, and the Saudi Royal Family— seemingly everybody except the Visiting Nurse Association of Skaneateles, New York.
Each e-mail has come with the same question: could this possibly be true?
To summarize the story, Wayne Madsen, a former naval officer and now self-styled investigative journalist, has written that “according to informed sources in Washington and Houston,” computer experts were promised phenomenal amounts of cash, laundered via Saudi Arabia and the secret accounts of those who looted Enron, to pose as FBI and Homeland Security agents, infiltrate polling places around the country, and hack into electronic voting systems.
After Iran-Contra, nobody can discount the theoretical possibility of any international conspiracy to commit… well, to commit anything. But in the absence of verifiable facts, and in the middle of a sea of unidentified sources and usage of the words “reportedly” and “apparently,” it is often instructive to see if the writer, and the mere journalistic structure of what he’s written, can even maintain what artists like to call “verisimilitude” - the mere appearance of truth.
And as a work of journalism, the Madsen piece has several glaring problems that make even a doubter like myself cringe.
Mr. Madsen’s only readily recognizable germ of truth comes in the third paragraph of his piece: “There have been media reports from around the country concerning the locking down of precincts while votes were being tallied.” He then retells the still inexplicable walling off of the Administration Building in Warren County, Ohio, on the night of the election, on the pretext of a terror warning from the FBI that the FBI has since declared it never made.
But that has been the only such report of a “lock down.”
Madsen does not offer, nor has the media or even the Internet reported, any other examples - even unverified ones.
The Palm Beach Post reported last month that 73 schools which doubled as polling places in Palm Beach County, Florida, were to belocked down during voting— locked down in the sense that kids were to be escorted by teachers from class to class, and even to the bathroom. Additionally, the Associated Press and several other news organizations reported that Florida’s State Election Headquarters in Tallahassee was evacuated on the morning of Monday, November 1st, due to a suspicious package, and workers not permitted to return— locked out— until just before noon.
But short of those two examples— neither of which Mr. Madsen cites— his “media reports from around the country concerning the locking down of precincts while votes were being tallied,” are all the same: about Warren County. Journalistically, this is the equivalent of a news account of the unfortunate man who’s been hit by lightning six times, being inflated into “media reports from around the country concerning people being hit by lightning six times each.”
If there are other lockdown cases, Mr. Madsen should verify and report them.
It is also useful in these situations to look at an author’s other work. On October 20th, in what to the best of my knowledge was Mr. Madsen’s previous jaw-dropper, he wrote “Bush pre-election strike on Iran ‘imminent.’” This time the piece began: “According to White House and Washington Beltway insiders…”
Mr. Madsen then told of a blood-curdling plan for the U.S. to strike top Iranian Islamic leaders, a series of mosques, nuclear research sites, and at least one nuclear reactor - all of it to be accomplished before November 2, thus making the President “assured of a landslide win against Kerry.”
Now, I don’t claim to know everything in the news, but if we had bombed Teheran late last month, I think somebody would have mentioned it to me.
Returning to the current article, Mr. Madsen also strains logic in one very important area. It is his claim that “the leak about the money and the rigged election apparently came from technicians who were promised to be paid a certain amount for their work but the Bush campaign interlocutors reneged and some of the technicians are revealing the nature of the vote rigging program.”
There’s a discouraging journalistic fact here. Mr. Madsen has distanced himself further from the purported original source of the information (his “informed sources” “reportedly” got this from the “technicians”), to the point where this information is now, at best, third-hand.
And there is a hole in the center of this saga big enough to sink the plot of a Bruce Willis movie — the means by which the information came to see the light of day.
If untold numbers of operatives really were dispatched to polling places around the country to enact the most nefarious political plot in this country’s history, why would the ring-leaders reveal to any of them any of the following:
- The total amount spent on the plan (Madsen drops the $29 million dollar figure in the first sentence)?
- The primary source of the carefully laundered cash (Madsen sites “Five Star Trust”)?
- The sources of “other money used to fund the election rigging” (Madsen lists “siphoned Enron money stored away in accounts in the Cook Islands”)?
Most importantly, having told their minions all of this damning information, having sent them out on an evil mission that if exposed could overturn an election and require the building of extra prisons just to hold all those who would be convicted in such an overarching scheme, why on earth would they try toget away with not paying them?
None of this is written to downplay the disturbing nature of the Warren County incident. Nor is it posited even to dismiss the many who see in the various failures of electronic voting around the country nearly four weeks ago not just incompetence, but malfeasance. Hell, if a shred of Mr. Madsen’s story is true, I’ll pay his expenses when he goes to pick up his Pulitzer Prize.
But in a time when serious investigations of what did or didn’t happen on November 2nd are vital to the sanctity of our voting process, reporting— in the mainstream media and on the Internet alike— has to be solid and reasoned.
I’d have to put Mr. Madsen’s story in the same category as the on-line report that I had been fired by MSNBC on November 12th for attempting to cover voting irregularities.
I might add as an additional caution that I just saw that report posted anew on another Website. And apparently I’m still standing.
Write me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Zogby Vs. Mitofsky (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - It was a spectacular irony - a Republican senator using the word “fraud” about the presidential election. More spectacular still, he was visiting his condemnation of apparent election manipulation on the incumbent party. And beyond all that, he and others based their conclusions largely on the incredible disparity between the last exit polls and the vote count itself. Of course, Indiana’s Richard Lugar was talking about the presidential election in the Ukraine . But in so doing, he underscored that once again, the exit polls appear to have fulfilled the time-honored international tradition of the canary in the mine shaft. If only we could have used them in that way here.
“I don't think that exit polls can be used as a barometer for the accuracy of an election itself,” noted pollster John Zogby explained to me on last night’s Countdown, in what we think was his first full-scale television interview since the election. “At least until we find out if there's something broken with this round of election polls… I think that the gentlemen who are responsible for the exit polls should be fully transparent, release their data, discuss their methodology. Let us see what exactly it is that happened, and why it happened.”
It turns out one of those gentlemen doesn’t think anything happened.
In an unsolicited e-mail to Countdown, Warren Mitofsky wrote that he was “struck by the misinformation” in our program. He heads Mitofsky International, which along with Edison Media Research, conducted the election night exit polling for the television networks and the Associated Press. I referred to the variance among the early and late exit polls, and the voting. Insisting “there were no early exit polls” released by his company or Edison, Mr. Mitofsky wrote “the early release came from unauthorized leaks to bloggers who posted misinformation.”
Mitofsky compared those leaks to “the score at half time at a football game” and said the “leakers were reading complex displays intended for trained statisticians. The leakers did not understand what they were reading and the bloggers did not know they were getting misinformation.”
His defense of his work grew more strident. “The presidential exit polls released at poll closing time when they were completed had an average error of 1.9 percentage points. There were no mistaken projections by Edison/Mitofsky or any of the NEP members.” One more thrust: “All the professionals correctly interpreted the numbers.”
While Zogby spoke of a “blue ribbon panel” to investigate both the voting irregularities and the exit polling, Mitofsky asked rhetorically, “Did anyone really think that 51% in an exit poll two hours before voting was finished in the western states gave Kerry a lock on the presidency?”
John Zogby, meanwhile, was more concerned about the short end of another poll this week -- one that indicated that about four in five Americans thought President Bush had been legitimately elected three weeks ago. “But, Keith, 20 percent don’t think the president is legitimate. And worse yet, if you take the other half, those that didn’t vote for him, about half of the other side doesn’t think the president is legitimate. That just hasn’t existed for a long, long time in our system. We need to restore, I think, some semblance of legitimacy and honor to the system.”
Warren Mitofsky seemed to disagree. “The exit polls have been better in the past. They were far from perfect, but nowhere near as bad as your broadcast made them sound.” He never mentioned Zogby in his e-mail, but he did blast others. “Only the unauthorized leakers and bloggers were misled - a fate they richly deserved.”
Mitofsky’s pride in his efforts is understandable. But the so-called ‘early waves’ of exit polling information were disseminated in generalized form to all the networks as darkness fell in the east on November 2nd. They were intended as background, as material that could be used to anticipate patterns and results. Those who characterized them loaded them heavily with caveats and disclaimers, and kept numbers virtually out of their characterizations. But the effect was impossible to misinterpret. Merely in their intended spheres, they helped shape coverage and tone, on-air and off.
And they, along with the voting irregularities so thoroughly chronicled on the net (and still just seeping into the mainstream media), created an atmosphere that Zogby thinks requires broad remedy: “I think it's in the interests of the nation that we study what happened in this election and widen that, let's study what happened with the exit polls, and let's come out with a definitive conclusions by a blue ribbon panel to restore the legitimacy of this election.”
Zogby thinks he knows the steps to take to do that. The first is for those who are raising questions, to keep doing so. “I can reassure them they’re not crazy for asking. It’s not just those who are far out, it is indeed many respectable, responsible people.” The pollster says he’s heard from thousands of them, asking him to get involved in their various causes and investigations, so many he can’t answer them all.
But he used Countdown as his mass e-mail reply. “I’ll take this opportunity right now to say I think that it’s in the interest of healing this country and restoring some unity to this country for us to have a thorough investigation of what happened both to the election and with the exit polls.” Zogby called for the proverbial blue-ribbon commission into the voting irregularities, and the full release of the exit polling data.
And he encouraged the recounts, even when, as they have in the first three of the nine precincts in New Hampshire, they have varied by just fifteen votes from the original count. The second tally in Ohio, Zogby says, “certainly is useful, but I don't think its enough…I called this election for months the Armageddon election, and in that context, one of the things that we discovered throughout our polling was the fact that there were going to be significant numbers, on both sides who were not going to accept the legitimacy of the other guy winning, especially if it was close election.”
Do they have reason? With three weeks’ reflection, he’s not convinced there was an altered vote - accidental or otherwise - at least not on “a grand scale.” But Zogby says the “system is not geared for a close election like this” and if “many millions of people… don’t think that their vote was counted accurately,” the results are almost as bad as if an election was rigged, or decided by static charges in a thousand computers.
Zogby says he’s at peace with his own Election Night forecast - made not with the Mitofsky or Edison exit polling, but with his own polls. He saw Florida and Ohio both “trending” towards Kerry, and producing a triple-digit victory for the Democrat. Within the pollster’s margin of error, he made no mistakes. But he may not be as thoroughly sanguine as he suggests. Off-air, in the preparatory interview standard for all guests, his November 2 forecast was mentioned.
“Thanks,” he said, “for reminding me.”
Which reminds me that it was mildly encouraging to see some focus given to this entire topic Tuesday night by my old CNN cohort Aaron Brown. A carefully-worded segment included a laundry list of the problems we’ve been reporting on Countdown for the last three weeks, and compared them to “the kind of dumb mistake that ruined the Hubbell telescope.” Brown referenced the UC Berkeley study on the prospect of 130,000 phantom votes in Florida (though he didn’t mention its conclusion that all of them went to President Bush), and even had about fifteen seconds of Blackbox’s Bev Harris and her slog through the computer printout records in Florida.
Such as they are.
Thoughts? Email me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Hanging Chads and Hanging Participles (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - You don’t have to wait for the Ohio Presidential Recount to get confused. Just pay attention to the recasting of news releases from the Ohio Democratic Party.
Early Monday afternoon, Ohio Chairman Dennis White released a comparative bombshell inside the still tiny world of the Recount-Conscious. It bore the headline “Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins Ohio Recount” and advised that “assuring Ohioans receive an accurate count of all votes cast for president has prompted the Democratic Party to join the initiative to recount the results of the November 2 presidential election.”
But by 8 p.m. Eastern, a second press release was out, with two notable tweaks. Now the headline read “Kerry/Edwards Campaign Participates In Ohio Recount,” and the lead sentence read “…has prompted the Democratic Party to participate in the initiative to recount the results…”
The switch from “join” to “participate” reduces the Democratic commitment from virtual co-sponsorship to nearly the level of acquiescence. In late afternoon, Ohio Dems’ spokesmen Dan Trevas told us that the remains of the national Kerry/Edwards campaign had approved the original press release and “gave us the authority to proceed with this. Tomorrow we expect to have a letter from them to Kenneth Blackwell” which would ask Ohio’s Secretary of State to proceed with a recount.
But the lead Kerry lawyer on the ground in Ohio, Daniel Hoffheimer, was more cautionary. “What they meant to say is that the Kerry/Edwards campaign will be putting witnesses in the Boards of Elections if a recount is asked for… We are not requesting a recount.”
At this point, the words are being that carefully chosen and, evidently, debated. So don’t think when John Kerry said in his web-exclusive statement and video Friday that “Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted…” he wasn’t being deliberately vague. Similarly nuanced were the words of the Ohio Democratic chair, Mr. White: “As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change…”
Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of Newsweek and since the days of our old The Big Show an MSNBC analyst, summed up the exact inexactitude of Kerry and the Democrats about Ohio, on the Monday Countdown. “They keep saying these little things designed to make clear, at least to their supporters and the whole blogosphere out there, that they take the possibility (of a Kerry victory) and the need for a recount seriously.”
Fineman put it in terms that the mainstream can’t ignore. He told me he’d talked to Ohio’s Mr. Blackwell earlier in the evening. “There in fact will be a recount,” Howard said with a sigh that encapsulated all of the Florida 2000 Experience. “We will be talking about chads once again.”
As Kerry himself calculated early on November 3, the Provisional Ballots alone obviously could not provide anything close to enough bona fide Democratic votes to overcome President Bush’s 135,000 vote plurality in the Ohio election night tally. But as Howard also pointed out — and my colleague David Shuster so thoroughly extrapolated in a previous post on Hardblogger — the Provisionals plus the “Undercount” could make things very close indeed. The punch-card ballots “where it looks like nobody marked anything” when read by an optical scanning machine, might produce thousands of legitimate votes if hand-counted and judged by Ohio’s strict laws defining how many corners of the proverbial chads have to be detached to make a vote valid.
In Ohio, the reality of the recount is beginning to sink in, and local governments aren’t happy about it. The Associated Press ran a story Monday afternoon in which its reporter quoted the incoming president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, Keith Cunningham. “The inference is that Ohio election officials will not count every vote,” said the man who is currently head of the Board of Elections in Allen County (that’s the Lima area, northwest of Columbus). “That’s just insulting; it’s frivolous and simply harassment.”
Advised of the recount push by the Green and Libertarian Parties, and their plan to sue to force a second tally even before Secretary of State Blackwell is scheduled to certify the first count, Cunningham said his statewide group might sue back to prevent a recount. “I need to see if this is merely my opinion or reflects the opinion of the association.”
The issue may boil down to money. The Glibs had raised $235,000 as of Monday morning, an amount which covers the $113,600 bond they had to provide as demanded by Ohio election law, plus some of their own organizational expenses. But Cunningham said the actual expenses would “crush county governments,” and a spokesman for Blackwell said the final cost could be $1.5 million.
So there it is. There will be a recount in Ohio. Unless there won’t be. And the Kerry campaign staff will participate in it. Unless that’s too strong a word for them.
Keep those e-mails coming at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Ohio Dems join recount effort (Keith Olbermann)
SECAUCUS— The headline might be a little expansive since the national headquarters has not yet echoed it, but it's still pretty impressive as it is:
"Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins Ohio Recount."
The news release was issued this afternoon over the signature of Ohio's Democratic chairman, Dennis White: "As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change, however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone's vote is counted fairly and accurately." White called for witnesses, volunteers, and donations.
The statement ends nearly three weeks of official Democratic ambivalence towards the formal recount process in the election's decisive state. As late as Friday, Senator Kerry's email to 3,000,000 supporters contained a seemingly ambiguous reference to that process, which began with the phrase "Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted, and believe me they will be counted, we will continue to challenge the administration."
It had been left to the independent parties, the Greens and Libertarians, to do the initial work demanding a recount in each of Ohio's 88 counties. Their combined effort led to a bond of $113,600 being posted with the state last Friday to guarantee the coverage of expenses incurred. Just today, the "Glibs" amplified their demands in Ohio, filing a federal lawsuit that, if successful, would require the completion of the "full, hand recount" before the meeting of the Electoral College on December 13.
The Ohio Democrats did not attach themselves to the lawsuit. "The recount can begin after the official results are certified, which likely will be in the first week of December," reads the news release. "The Democratic party wants to be fully prepared to begin a recount immediately."
Howard Fineman joins me on Countdown tonight at 8 and Midnight eastern to discuss the ramifications.
Relax about Ohio, Relax about the guy tailing me (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK— Anybody else notice that when you politely refer to the Secretary of State of Ohio, you have to call him “Mr. Blackwell,” just like that guy who compiles the goofy worst-dressed list?
Mr. Kenneth Blackwell is the subject of three actions regarding the Ohio vote that you haven’t seen on television yet. Each (the Cobb/Badnarik Recount bid, the Alliance for Democracy legal challenge, and the Ohio Democratic Party suit over provisional ballots) has an undertone suggesting time is of the essence, and that he is wasting it. The accusation may or may not be true, but it also may or may not be relevant.
The Glibs’ recount effort was underscored last week by their letters to Blackwell insisting he hurry up and finish certifying the count well before the announced deadline of December 6, because otherwise, there won’t be enough time for the recount before the voting of the Electoral College on December 13. The Alliance attorney Clifford Arnebeck told The Columbus Dispatch that his quite separate legal challenge to the election must be addressed immediately because “time is critical.” The local Democrats haven’t been commenting on their low-flying suit - more about that later. They’re just smiling quietly to themselves.
Cobb, Badnarik, Arnebeck, and everybody else actually has more time than they think. I addressed this topic with the wonderfully knowledgeable George Washington University Constitutional Law professor, Jonathan Turley, back on Countdown on November 9th. He noted the election process is a little slower— and has one more major loophole— than is generally known. It begins on December 7th, the date “when you essentially certify your electors… it gives a presumption to the legitimacy to your votes. And then, on the 13th, the electors actually vote.”
But, Turley noted, “those votes are not opened by Congress until January 6. Now, if there are controversies, such as some disclosure that a state actually went for Kerry (instead of Bush), there is the ability of members of Congress to challenge.” In other words, even after the December 13th Electoral College Vote, in the extremely unlikely scenario that a court overturns the Ohio count, or that the recount discovers 4,000 Gahanna-style machines that each recorded 4,000 votes too many for one candidate, there is still a mechanism to correct the error, honest or otherwise.
“It requires a written objection from one House member and one senator,” Turley continues. Once that objection is raised, the joint meeting of the two houses is discontinued. “Then both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.”
In these super-heated partisan times, it may seem like just another prospective process decided by majority rule instead of fact. But envision the far-fetched scenario of some dramatic, conclusive new result from Ohio turning up around, say, January 4th. What congressman or senator in his right mind would vote to seat the candidate who lost the popular vote in Ohio? We wouldn’t be talking about party loyalty any more - we’d be talking about pure political self-interest here, and whenever in our history that critical mass has been achieved, it’s been every politician for himself (ask Barry Goldwater when Richard Nixon trolled for his support in July and August, 1974, or Republican Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas when his was to be the decisive vote that would have impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868).
The point of this dip into the world of political science fiction is that the Ohio timeframe is a little less condensed than it seems. The drop-dead date is not December 13, but January 6.
It is noteworthy that the announcement of a legal challenge made it into weekend editions of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, the Associated Press wires, and other publications. The Columbus paper even mentioned something curious. “Earlier this week, the Ohio Democratic party announced it would join a lawsuit arguing that the state lacks clear rules for evaluating provisional ballots, a move the party said will keep its options open if problems with the ballots surface.”
This makes a little more sense out of a confusing item that appeared in an obscure weekly paper in Westchester County, New York, last Wednesday, in which a reporter named Adam Stone wrote “A top-ranking official with Democratic Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign told North County News last week that although unlikely, there is a recount effort being waged that could unseat Republican President George Bush.” Stone quotes Kerry spokesman David Wade as saying: “We have 17,000 lawyers working on this, and the grassroots accountability couldn’t be any higher - no (irregularity) will go unchecked. Period.” Gives a little context to Senator Kerry’s opaque mass e-mail and on-line video statement from Friday afternoon.
The Ohio newspaper coverage suggests that even the mainstream media is beginning to sit up and take notice that, whatever its merits, the investigation into the voting irregularities of November 2nd has moved from the Reynolds Wrap Hat stage into legal and governmental action. Tripe does continue to appear, like Carol Pogash’s column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. Its headline provided me with a laugh: “Liberals, the election is over, live with it.” I’ve gotten 37,000 emails in the last two weeks (now running at better than 25:1 in favor), and the two most repeated comments by those critical of the coverage have been references to the ratings of Fox News Channel, and the phrase “the election is over, (expletive deleted), live with it. I hesitate to generalize, but this does suggest a certain unwillingness of critics to engage in political discourses that don’t have no swear words in ‘em.
Meantime, The Oakland Tribune not only devoted seventeen paragraphs Friday to the UC Berkeley study on the voting curiosities in Florida, but actually expended considerable energy towards what we used to call ‘advancing the story’: “The UC Berkeley report has not been peer reviewed, but a reputable MIT political scientist succeeded in replicating the analysis Thursday at the request of the Oakland Tribune and The Associated Press. He said an investigation is warranted.”
In fact, he - MIT Arts and Social Sciences Dean Charles Stewart - said more than that. “There is an interesting pattern here that I hope someone looks into.” Stewart is part of the same Cal Tech/MIT Voting Project that had earlier issued a preliminary report suggesting that there was no evidence of significant voting irregularity in Florida. Dean Stewart added he didn’t necessarily buy the Berkeley conclusion - that the only variable that could explain the “excessive” votes in Florida was poisoned touch-screen voting - and still thought there were other options, such as, in the words of The Tribune’s Ian Hoffman “absentee voting or some quirk of election administration.”
Neither MIT nor Cal Tech has yet responded to the comments of several poll-savvy commentators, and others, that its paper was using erroneous statistics. Its premise, you’ll recall, was that on a state-by-state basis, the notorious 2004 Exit Polls were within the margin of error and could be mathematically interpreted as having forecast the announced presidential outcome. It has been observed that the MIT/Cal Tech study used not the “raw” exit polls - as did Professor Steven Freeman of Penn did in his study - but rather the “weighted” polls, in which actual precinct and county official counts are mixed in to “correct” the organic “Hey, Buddy, who’d you vote for” numbers. The “weighted” polls have been analogized to a football handicapper predicting that the New Orleans Saints would beat the Denver Broncos 24-14, then, after the Broncos scored twenty points in the first quarter, announcing his prediction was now that the Saints would beat the Broncos 42-41, or even, that the Broncos would beat the Saints 40-7.
None of the coverage of the Berkeley study clarified a vitally important point about its conclusions regarding the touch-screen wobble in the fifteen Florida counties, and that has led to some unjustified optimism on the activist and Democratic sides. Its math produced two distinct numbers for “ghost votes” for President Bush: 130,000 and 260,000. This has led to the assumption in many quarters that Cal Tech has suggested as many as 260,000 Florida votes could swing from Bush to Kerry (enough to overturn the state). In fact - and the academics got a little too academic in summarizing their report and thus, this kind of got lost - the two numbers already consider the prospect of a swing:
a) There may have been 130,000 votes simply added to the Bush total. If proved and excised, they would reduce the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 220,000;
b) There may have been 130,000 votes switched from Kerry to Bush. If proved and corrected, they would reduce (by double the 130,000 figure - namely 260,000) the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 90,000.
On the ground in Florida, uncounted ballots continue to turn up in Pinellas County. Last Monday, an unmarked banker’s box with 268 absentee ballots was discovered “sitting in plain sight on an office floor, with papers and other boxes stacked on top of it,” according to The St. Petersburg Times. On Friday, the same paper reported that County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark found twelve more—ten provisionals in a blue pouch at a loading dock, and two absentees in a box headed for a storage facility. “I’m sick about this,” the paper quoted Clark, whose office also whiffed on 1400 absentee ballots on Election Day 2000, and counted another 600 twice. Asked by a reporter if the election is over, she replied “I certainly hope so.”
Well, I know how Ms. Clark feels. To close, a little anecdote from Big Town: I approached Seventh Avenue from the east and the guy in the black trenchcoat was walking north.
He got that little surprised look of recognition in his eyes and said “Keith! How are you?” We shook hands and he added, with apparent nervousness, “I’ll just be tailing you for the next block.” I laughed and said I was used to it.
Now, I’ve been getting recognized in public since 1982, and I had a stalker for eight years who once talked her way into ESPN and wound up being escorted to my desk— so I think I can tell the difference between a fan and a threat (this was a fan; a threat doesn’t come up and announce he’s going to tail you). I relate this just because of the timing. In the last week, I have read that I’ve been fired, suspended, muzzled, threatened (that, I think, was my NBC colleague Kevin Sites, who reported the Marine prisoner shooting in Iraq — our mailbox had a couple of those), and in the middle of it, I get a ‘What’s the frequency Kenneth moment’ from a fan who was just trying to be funny.
The laugh was genuine. As was my decision to cross the street.
Write me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
Didn't you run for president once? (Keith Olbermann)
SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— There has been a John Kerry sighting.
“Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted— and they will be counted— we will continue to challenge this administration,” the 2004 Democratic candidate said in a prepared statement released today. “I will fight for a national standard for federal elections that has both transparency and accountability in our voting system. It is unacceptable in the United States that people still don’t have full confidence in the integrity of the voting process.”
Since his concession, Kerry’s silence on the questions of voting irregularities in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere, has perplexed those pursuing those questions, helped render largely passive the media who should’ve been doing so, and provided virtual proof to others that there weren’t any questions at all. His supporters have been mystified at news this week that millions of dollars from his war chest went unspent. His lawyers have been characterized as flying below the radar as the Libertarian and Green Parties have pushed their recount in Ohio.
He has seemed to his supporters and many neutrals, in short, as being AWOL.
The statement doesn’t exactly dispel that aroma. It came by way of an e-mail to supporters— but not to the media— and a video on his otherwise update-free campaign website, which maintains the frozen-in-time November 2 front page that makes it look like the political equivalent of Miss Haversham’s cobweb-strewn house in Dickens’ "Great Expectations."
The primary topic of the mass e-mail isn’t even this election or future ones. It’s about a petition drive for universal child health care legislation Kerry intends to introduce on the first day of the new Congress. Whether the voting stuff was added as a sop to supporters loudly wondering where he— and the unspent $15,000,000— has been, is conjecture.
But the video is just plain weird. The phrasing of the start of the relevant passage—“Regardless of the outcome of this election”— is open to the same kind of parsing and confusion usually reserved for the latest release from Osama Bin Laden. Those seven words are extra-temporal; they are tense-free. In them he could be describing an election long-since decided, or one whose outcome is still in doubt.
And the timing and delivery of the message are equally confusing. No notification to the media? When much of the mechanism of political coverage is kick-started by statements like this one? And its issuance on a Friday afternoon— the moment of minimum news attention so famously titled “Take Out The Trash Day” on the NBC series “The West Wing”?— is perplexing, if not suspicious.
It has the vague feel of deliberate ambiguity, as if Kerry is saying to those who are plagued by doubts about the vote just seventeen days ago, that he agrees with them, but they shouldn’t tell anybody. It’s exactly what these confusing times do not need: more confusion.
Thoughts? E-mail KOlbermann@MSNBC.com
All I know is what I don't read in the papers (Keith Olbermann)
SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— I’m beginning to think like Jim Bunning now.
So far in this post-election trip through Alice’s looking glass we’ve had:
—a University of Pennsylvania professor defending the accuracy of exit polling in order damn the accuracy of vote counting;
—a joint CalTech/MIT study defending the accuracy of exit polling in order to confirm the accuracy of vote counting;
—a series of lesser academic works assailing the validity of the Penn and CalTech/MIT assessments;
—and now, a UC Berkeley Research Team report that concludes President Bush may have received up to 260,000 more votes in fifteen Florida counties than he should have, all courtesy the one-armed bandits better known as touch-screen voting systems.
And, save, for one "New York Times"reference to the CalTech/MIT study "disproving" the idea that the exit poll results were so wacky that they required thoroughly botched election nights in several states, the closest any of these research efforts have gotten to the mainstream media have been " Wired News" and " Countdown."
I still hesitate to endorse the ‘media lock-down’ theory extolled so widely on the net. I've expended a lot of space on the facts of political media passivity and exhaustion, and now I’ll add one factor to explain the collective shrugged shoulder: reading this stuff is hard. It’s hard work.
There are, as we know, lies, damn lies, and statistics. But there is one level of hell lower still— scholarly statistical studies. I have made four passes at “The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections,” and the thing has still got me pinned to the floor.
Most of the paper is so academically dense that it seems to have been written not just in another language, but in some form of code. There is one table captioned “OLS Regression with Robust Standard Errors.” Another is titled “OLS regressions with frequency weights for county size.” Only the summary produced by Professor Michael Hout and the Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Time is intelligible.
Of course, I’m reminded suddenly of the old cartoon, with the guy saying “I don’t understand women,” and the second guy saying, “So? Do you understand electricity?”
In his news conference yesterday at Berkeley (who attended? Who phoned in to the conference call? Why didn’t they try?) Professor Hout analogized the report to a “beeping smoke alarm.” It doesn’t say how bad the fire it is, it doesn’t accuse anybody of arson, it just says somebody ought to have an extinguisher handy.
Without attempting to crack the methodology, it’s clear the researchers claim they’ve compensated for all the bugaboos that hampered the usefulness of previous studies of the county voting results in Florida. They’ve weighted the thing to allow for an individual county’s voting record in both the 2000 and 1996 elections (throwing out the ‘Dixiecrat’ effect), to wash out issues like the varying Hispanic populations, median income, voter turnout change, and the different numbers of people voting in each county.
And they say that when you calculate all that, you are forced to conclude that compared to the Florida counties that used paper ballots, the ones that used electronic voting machines were much more likely to show “excessive votes” for Mr. Bush, and that the statistical odds of this happening organically are less than one in 1,000.
They also say that these “excessives” occurred most prominently in counties where Senator Kerry beat the President most handily. In the Democratic bastion of Broward, where Kerry won by roughly 105,000, they suggest the touch-screens “gave” the President 72,000 more votes than statistical consistency should have allowed. In Miami-Dade (Kerry by 55,000) they saw 19,300 more votes for Bush than expected. In Palm Beach (Kerry by 115,000) they claim Bush got 50,000 more votes than possible.
Hout and his research team consistently insisted they were not alleging that voting was rigged, nor even that what they’ve found actually affected the direction of Florida’s 27 Electoral Votes. They point out that in a worst-case scenario, they see 260,000 “excessives” - and Bush took the state by 350,000 votes. But they insist that based on Florida’s voting patterns in 1996 and 2000, the margin cannot be explained by successful get-out-the-vote campaigns, or income variables, or anything but something rotten in the touch screens.
It’s deep-woods mathematics, and it cries out for people who speak the language and can refute or confirm its value. Kim Zetter, who did an excellent work-up for "Wired News,"got the responses you’d expect from both sides. She quotes Susan Van Houten of Palm Beach’s Coalition for Election Reform as saying “I’ve believed the same thing for a while, that the numbers are screwy, and it looks like they proved it.” She quotes Jill Friedman-Wilson of the touch-screen manufacturer Election Systems & Software (their machines were in use in Broward and Miami-Dade) as responding “If you consider real-world experience, we know that ES&S’ touch-screen voting system has been proven in thousands of elections throughout the country.”
What’s possibly of more interest to us poor laymen is what isn’t in the Berkeley report.
As I mentioned previously, they don’t claim to know how this happened. But more importantly, they say that they ran a similar examination on the voting patterns in Ohio, comparing its paper ballot and electronic results, and found absolutely nothing to suggest either candidate got any “bump” that couldn’t otherwise be explained by past voting patterns, income, turnout, or any other commonplace factor.
In other words: No e-voting machines spontaneously combusting in Ohio.
“For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting,” Professor Hout concluded, “someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida. We’re calling on voting officials in Florida to take action.”
Anybody want to belly up to this bar?
Thougths? E-mail me at KOlbermann@msnbc.com
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