- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

ON MEDIA

Chads, cads, Votomatics and Richard B. Cheney's latest blood count: The press hasn't been this frantic or cheerful since President Clinton's impeachment.
Journalists are in heaven. There is no better tonic for a 24-hour media than a drawn-out passion play with unresolved plots, endless details and emotional underpinnings.
Yesterday, for example, the Associated Press reported on the perils of "chad buildup" and traced down William Rouverol, the inventor of the paper-punching voting machine.
"We never really thought about what would happen if there were ever a million-vote election that was decided by one vote or a few votes," the octogenarian noted.
Already, two books on the voting wrangle are under way. Both the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and Salon's Jake Tapper have landed deals with major publishers.
Meanwhile, CNN and other cable channels provided comic relief for much of the afternoon yesterday by remaining in the Florida courtroom of Leon County Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls, where the proceedings got folksy, indeed.
There's much more to come. Judge Sauls has ordered thousands of suspect ballots brought to Tallahassee and promised to keep voting hearings going until "the last lawyer is standing."
Will the ballots arrive "in a white Bronco?" asked the National Journal's Hotline, alluding to the O.J. Simpson trial, the consummate media courtroom drama.
"All we need now is a stained chad washing up on the shores of Florida from Cuba," the Hotline added.
The election impasse has boosted business elsewhere.
Fox News Channel had a 342 percent increase in viewership this month compared with last November, according to Nielsen ratings service. CNN saw a 175 percent rise and MSNBC, a 240 percent rise.
Among broadcast networks, NBC got the biggest bang from the voting drama. NBC projects its top-rated "Today" show will have the best November ratings since 1987. No. 1 rated "Meet the Press" has had a 62 percent increase in viewership over last year.
"Saturday Night Live," now ironically cited by journalists as a kind of quirky news source, got its best ratings since 1993.
In the meantime, ABC's "Nightline" beat CBS' "The Late Show" in the ratings race for the past three weeks. Both were topped by NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," however.
While the Supreme Court won't open its hallowed doors to the hubbub of TV cameras during upcoming election hearings, it will release bare-bones audio tapes.
The decision "is a great first step for electronic journalism, and more important, for the public," said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, though she allowed that her group would have preferred live coverage.
The networks have yet to live down the debacle of their erroneous early calls on election night. Washington law firm Smithwick & Belendiuk yesterday filed a complaint before the Federal Communications Commission against ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, claiming they had "subverted the public interest" by the calls.
"It may have been nothing more than an innocent mistake, but you had all the major news organizations using one source for their information," the firm's founder, Arthur Belendiuk, told Reuters News Agency.
"I don't think this is a political issue. I think this is an issue about reporting things that are critical to our country," he added.
Jennifer Harper can be reached at 202/636-3085 or by e-mail at Harper@twtmail.com.

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