The media normalize a rightwing coup d'etat, by Edward Herman
Source Steve Zeltzer
Date 01/02/09/10:35

ZNet Commentary / Edward Herman / February 8, 2001

The media normalize a rightwing coup d'etat

By Edward S. Herman

We have just gone through a remarkable moment in U.S. history, in
which a Republican activist-dominated Supreme Court has refused to
allow a complete vote count in Florida which would have given Al Gore
the presidency, and by judicial fiat simply awarded the presidency to
preferred Republican candidate. The tricks by which Scalia and company
accomplished this were extremely crude, their judicial reasoning was
puerile and cited no valid precedents for their actions and rulings; and
Scalia even wrote that the final ruling was no precedent but was "limited
to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in
election processes generally presents many complexities." But the ruling
was quite clear that varying standards in counting votes violates the
amendment, and could be the basis of undercutting any election. As
Vincent Bugliosi points out in a crushing article in The Nation ("None
Call It Treason," Feb. 5, 2001), "in other words, the Court, in effect,
saying its ruling 'only applied to those future cases captioned Bush v.
Gore. In all other equal protection voting cases, litigants should refer
prior decisions of this court.'"
The Republican activist majority on the Supreme Court, usually gung
ho for deferring to state rights, and who "almost never use equal
protection jurisprudence except in striking down affirmative action
programs" (USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky), were brazenly
explicit that they were overridding a state court, and stopping a vote
count, because it might cause "irreparable harm" to George W. Bush. The
fact that stopping it might cause "irreparable harm" to Gore and deny
voters their opportunity to have their votes counted was of no concern.
They then terminated the electoral process in Florida because there
wasn't time for a vote count which they had delayed to assure that result.
This was a genuine coup d'etat, with the the Republican Court
majority simply awarding the election to their favorite and denying the
general populace the right to determine an election outcome. Not only did
Gore already have a national majority, the actual retrospective vote
has shown that he won Florida as well and thus an Electoral College
But this judicial theft of an election was quickly normalized by the
mainstream media. The court was criticized for its actions, sometimes
even a bit severely, but only for a day or so, and in a tone that hardly
justice to the events. The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial on the
was entitled "Hail To the Chief," giving Bush immediate full recognition,
and their text says "Accept Bush's win, but also lament the high court's
sad failure." (Dec. 13, 2000) In the New York Times, the court was
alleged to have "rarely seemed so openly political" and "missed the
chance to reach an enlightened compromise" (ed., Dec. 14). These seem
a wee bit mild, considering that the activist Republicans on the court
simply taken it upon themselves to choose the president, "abandoning
any pretense at behaving like a court of law" (law professor Anthony
The media had been full of election details for months on end, and
here we had the Supreme Court nullifying all that purported democratic
activity by its hugely political intervention, and we are asked to just
"lament" this lapse and hail the new chief. And in the succeeding weeks
the media pretty much dropped the subject. When in late January,
retrospective vote counts disclosed that the Court action had deprived
Gore of a majority vote in Florida, The Guardian of London reported this
under the title "Florida 'Recounts' Confirm Gore Winner" (January 29,
2001). But the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times didn't even find
this story newsworthy.
Although Bush not only didn't have a "mandate" but rather lost the
popular voting election and represents illegitimate authority, his
monstrous selections of Ashcroft, Norton, Chavez (then Chao), which
were aggressive assaults on minority groups, environmentalists, and
labor, were treated very gently by the mainstream media (even though
both the Inquirer and Times came out against the Ashcroft nomination).
They didn't question these appointments in terms of the non-mandate of
voters, or juxtapose these appointments with his alleged aim of
and "unity," and the Times took at face value "his drive for
(ed., Jan. 24). For the Times, "Bush's Transition [Was] Largely a
All Sides Suggest" (Jan. 28, page 1).
With Monica Lewinsky the media were pleased to stay with a topic
that had no inherent political relevance for months on end, giving it
hundreds or thousands of times the space devoted to the Supreme
Court's coup d'etat. This is media manipulation and corruption of a high
order. Why have the media normalized the Republican coup d'etat? One
reason is that the Republicans are far more aggressive in pursuing their
political ends than the Democrats, and in fact the Democrats quickly
folded after the Supreme Court coup decision and failed to seek justice
either in the Senate or law courts. I am convinced that just as the
Republicans pursued the Lewinsky case without relent, so if the Court
had treated them as Gore was treated they would have fought back and
the subject would be highly newsworthy.
Of course, the Republicans benefit from the fact that they dominate
the pundit and talk show host cohort and have the Wall Street Journal
editorial page continously available to press their agenda aggressively
and with great indignation. This enables them to push their cases a la
Lewinsky, with "liberal media" cooperation, whereas the Democrats
repeatedly defer to the "national interest" and need for "unity" in
Republicans get away with serious political crimes (the Iran-contra
scandal, the "October surprise," the Bush administration's secret support
of Saddam Hussein).
But the other factor is that the corporate media are part of a national
establishment that is highly sympathetic to the political and economic
status quo, and just as they treated Nader as outside the pale and the
party and plutocratic domination of the election as highly satisfactory,
they are anxious to legitimate no matter what the outcome. So while the
Guardian of London may be prepared to find deep flaws in the 2000
election here, and dwell on the subject, the mainstream media are not. In
his devastating analysis of the Court's actions Bugliosi makes a
compelling case that "These five justices are criminals in every true
of the word, and in a fair and just world belong behind bars." Nothing
this in the U.S. mainstream media. The Philadelphia Inquirer could
editorialize that Clinton's last minute blitz of pardons was "One last
outrage" (January 23), which is what it was, but the far more outrageous
actions of the Supreme Court are merely something "sad" and to
"lament," not "outrageous." The mainstream media are agents of power
and in this role handled the 2000 presidential election well.

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