- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

There was hand-wringing. There was foot-dragging. There were ridiculous shots of reporters racing through the night like players in a Hollywood "B" movie.

Broadcast coverage of the Supreme Court decision in the past 48 hours has been determined, disjointed, even comedic at times.

With baffling legalese on the TelePrompTers, much was open for interpretation. Some journalists, however, were reluctant to surrender the news that George W. Bush was victorious.

"This is a complicated situation," said CBS' Dan Rather once the court decision arrived. "What it does not do is, in effect, deliver the presidency to George Bush … it keeps alive keeps alive at least the possibility of Al Gore trying to continue his contest."

Analyst Bob Schieffer later doubted the decision: "I'm not sure it really brings all that much finality to this," while legal analyst Johnathan Turley described it as a "bum's rush by five very conservative justices."

ABC, meanwhile, cut to the chase. "This effectively ends the election," said Peter Jennings around 10:30 Tuesday night. "It has ended the election," analyst George Stephanopoulos shot back.

"It does appear that this election came to an end as a result of the intervention by the United States Supreme Court," said NBC's Tom Brokaw though fellow anchor David Bloom later added, "They're very high up in this campaign, the people who tonight are saying to the vice president, 'It's not necessarily over.' "

CNN took about 90 minutes to ease delicately into the idea that Mr. Gore had lost, passing opinions between 15 persons at several locations, with much ado about Mr. Gore's emotional state.

Had the court "stepped back from deciding the next president of the U.S.?" anchor Bernard Shaw asked legal analyst Roger Cossack as the CNN news collective tried to make sense of things.

It would "appear so," Mr. Cossack replied, later adding, "It appears that they have not said, 'Bush you win, Gore you win.' What they have said is, 'Florida Supreme Court, see if you can come up with a better solution than the one you have right now.' "

In Wednesday's earliest hours, CNN still was reporting, "There were some who feel the door is not completely closed, who feel that there's a principle here that the campaign and the candidate should press, which is to count votes."

By dawn, most networks were piecing together their post-mortems of the situation, many advising Mr. Bush to heal the country, hire some Democrats and graciously allow Mr. Gore the spotlight.

"If Al Gore handles his exit properly," said NBC's Tim Russert, "he can, in effect, become a shadow president, a de facto president, trying to establish himself as the potential nominee in the year 2004."

Reaction in the print media was mixed, though awash with drama the night was called extraordinary, wrenching, difficult, heartbreaking, among other things.

The court's decision cost "the public trust and the tradition of fair election," noted the New York Times, while the Wall Street Journal billed it "reasoned, prudent and solidly grounded in the Constitution."

In a telling analysis on its Web site, Time magazine noted, "We learned the limitations of instant information: the information's only instant if you understand what it means."

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at 202/636-3085 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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