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Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” (Associated Press 7/6/1989; Noyes 1/25/2008; Dickinson 5/25/2011) After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. (Salon 1/26/2011) Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. (Noyes 1/25/2008)
Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. (Kettle 11/23/2000; Guardian 11/25/2000)
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” (Consortium News 11/27/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010) Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. (Tapper 3/2001)
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Milbank 11/27/2000; Barrett 12/19/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Alterman 12/9/2010)
Republican strategist Roger Stone, the founder of a 527 group called “Citizens United Not Timid,” appears on MSNBC’s Tucker, a talk show hosted by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. Stone’s organization was founded to oppose the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and purports to “educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is.” What Clinton “really is,” the organization emphasizes, is the obscenity spelled out by the group’s acronym. The group emphasizes the acronym on its Web site and on T-shirts by showing the first letters of the words in its name in boldface. Stone has appeared on Carlson’s show numerous times in recent weeks. This appearance is notable because NBC, MSNBC’s parent company, recently issued an apology for Jane Fonda’s use of the word “c_nt” on a recent Today Show appearance, when Fonda was discussing the play The Vagina Monologues. Carlson does not inform his audience of Stone’s leadership of the anti-Clinton organization. Stone has said of the organization: “[I]t’s one-word education. That’s our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym.” Stone has said that he and a group of co-founders tried to brainstorm a name for the acronym “b_tch,” but “just couldn’t do it.” In recent days, MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized for making sexist comments about Clinton, and MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was suspended for making objectionable comments about Clinton and her daughter Chelsea. The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters writes, “The events of the past few weeks are part of an extensive pattern, documented by Media Matters for America, of sexism, misogyny, and other bigotry heard on MSNBC.” (Pavlus 2/20/2008) In August 2007, Stone was forced to leave the campaign of New York State Senator Joseph Bruno (R-NY) after he left a threatening, abusive, and profane telephone message for the 83-year-old father of Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY). (Hakim 8/22/2007)