- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

There's no telling how many trees the environmentally correct New York Times destroyed in order to print its non-stories last month about the role Florida's supposedly "flawed" overseas absentee ballots played in last year's presidential election. Suffice it to say that the publication of the more than 12,500 words comprising the several stories that were splashed across more than four pages of the July 15 Sunday edition including the 9,100-word big enchilada entitled "How Bush Took Florida: Mining the Overseas Absentee Vote" killed more greenhouse-gas-absorbing trees than the Times's bloviating "investigation" warranted. Mary Matalin had the scoop on election night.

Among the nearly 3,700 overseas absentee ballots that arrived at Florida's county canvassing boards within 10 days of the election, roughly 2,500 were judged to be legally cast ballots. Among those, the Times claims to have found 680 ballots with flaws that violated state election law or administrative rules. Acknowledging that "it is not known for whom the flawed ballots were cast," the Times nonetheless ominously noted in the fifth paragraph of the nearly 10,000-word article that "four out of five were accepted in counties carried by Bush." (The Times evidently couldn't find the space to report that Mr. Bush carried nearly four out five Florida counties.) In any event, it wasn't until the 17th paragraph that the Times got around to telling its readers that the "best estimate" of the Harvard expert on voting patterns and statistical models the paper hired as a consultant was that Mr. Bush's officially certified 537-vote margin of victory would have been reduced by 245 votes. In other words, excluding the 680 "flawed" overseas absentee ballots would not have changed anything.

All things considered, the stories were utterly irrelevant to the big picture, although they did provide one tantalizing tidbit of information. Without the overseas absentee ballots counted after Election Day Mr. Bush had a net gain of 739 votes from the roughly 2,500 legal overseas ballots received and counted after Election Day Al Gore would have won Florida by 202 votes and been elected president.

Now, we were prepared to sacrifice not a single limb on a single tree commenting on the Times's six-month "investigation." Then, we recalled where we had first heard the rather astonishing prediction that Mr. Bush would prevail in Florida based on absentee ballots a prediciton made by CNN "Crossfire" host Mary Matalin within minutes after the networks had awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes to Mr. Gore early on election night.

Indeed, even before the networks called Florida for Mr. Gore, Miss Matalin predicted the Republican absentee-ballot effort in Florida would add 1 or 2 percentage points to Mr. Bush's total, providing the difference between victory and defeat. No sooner had CNN put Florida in Mr. Gore's column than Miss Matalin immediately questioned the accuracy of the projection.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here," Miss Matalin declared as she boldly rejected her network's call. Asked by CNN political anchor Judy Woodruff what she was suggesting, Miss Matalin pulled no punches. "hen the real count is in, the absentee ballots are counted," she predicted, Florida is "going to flip" to Mr. Bush's column. The absentee-ballot operation "more than covers the spread as it exists right now."

Miss Matalin wasn't blowing smoke. Later that night on CNN, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, whom Mr. Bush crushed in 1994 to win the Texas governorship, spoke from personal experience. "The Bush people," she said, "make a concerted effort to register absentee voting for military," adding, "hey did this in my race, and so I know they have done it in race. I told everybody to watch out for it." Mrs. Richards called the tactic "just as smart as it can be because it is a sleeper vote. You never see it."

Well, Mary Matalin saw it, which explains why she is now Vice President Cheney's closest political adviser and counselor. It took the New York Times six months and an unlimited bankroll to say nothing of an untold number of carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees and the Old Gray Lady still doesn't get it.

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