With Florida regarded as the crucial state that would provide the election winner and keys to the White House in 2000, the Republican team had a trump card in place with Bush's younger brother Jeb serving as Florida's governor. By scrubbing numerous minorities legitimately qualified to vote from voters' lists on grounds that they were felons, the Bush clan felt it was in good shape where the Sunshine State was concerned.
As the Bush brothers and father sat in their hotel suite election night, shock waves emerged when it was announced that Florida had been projected into Gore's column. Shortly thereafter a first in presidential election politics occurred. The three Bushes were shown in their suite. An obviously pre-arranged script was followed and it was simple enough that even George W. was able to follow it.
The snippet began with candidate George W. warning that their best evidence, meaning the calculations of brother Jeb, revealed that they would win Florida.
Later the Bush message conveyed by foot soldier John Sununu and others, who noted that their hated adversary Dan Rather of CBS had called the race first, registered with their best self righteous anger tones that votes had not yet been counted in the northernmost section of the state beyond Tallahassee and into the beginning of the Central Time Zone.
Since God fearing Christians lived there, the announcement of Rather and later commentators threw a pallor of gloom over them and they went home rather than voting, which they assuredly would have done otherwise.
The complaint carried the contradictory stigma so ingrained in the far right. After all, if these ardent Republicans from the rural northern tip of Florida were true believers, were they not convinced that the networks were part of a vast left wing media conspiracy?
Was this factor not enhanced by the fact that implacable enemy Dan Rather, whose reporting helped bring down Richard Nixon, had made the initial call for Gore?
If reporting from the left wing conspiracy is not to be believed then why were these committed Republicans so willing to accept the projection of Gore winning Florida?
After a long nail-biting evening of twists and turns a win projection was delivered. It came from Fox News, the sole network of reliable reporting to Republican right true believers. It was Fox that had hammered home relentlessly the Karl Rove promoted theme that character was the election's deciding issue with George W. Bush standing superior to Vice President Al Gore in that vital area.
Never mind that Bush by his own admission had been a heavy drinker until he was said to reform at age 40. He had also been an admitted sexual carouser in early adulthood. Bush had not only received a coveted position in the Texas National Guard through his father's heavy influence while Gore had served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He had also bolted National Guard duty.
The presidential call made by Fox was unsurprisingly for Bush, but there was an important additional element. Working the call desk that evening at Fox was John Ellis. He was not a household name that would send shock waves reverberating throughout America.
There was an all-encompassing element involved in Fox boss Roger Ailes, who cut his teeth in politics working as a media consultant in Richard Nixon's first winning presidential campaign in 1968, assigning John Ellis to such a strategically sensitive election night post. Ellis happens to be George W. Bush's cousin.
Once that the Fox projection engineered by Cousin John Ellis was made a ripple effect promptly emerged. The other networks followed the Ellis directed Bush projection.
When Gore observed that trend he called Bush to congratulate him and was set to deliver a concession speech. Some alert staffers, after carefully observing Florida returns, concluded that there was no basis for the Ellis generated projections. Gore was actually blocked from entering the stage so he could be told that a concession would be premature and potentially harmful.
The response from Bush when Gore called him to reveal that he would not concede after all was a snippy response that his brother Jeb had assured him that he had won. Gore asserted that Jeb Bush was not the deciding authority. Gore was almost certainly unaware of it at the time, but a Bush relative assisted by Roger Ailes and Fox had emerged as would be election decider regarding presidential projections.
Ellis' election night call gave Bush a decided psychological edge. It gave voters in general the idea that the Republican was president-elect or close to that pinnacle. Gore was seen as the challenger with Bush the leader. The Rove driven forces pushed this idea forcefully.
When a recount was mandated in Florida under state law since the result was within the half-percent figure specified, the Bush forces hoped that people were basically unaware of this important fact. They sought to sell the idea that Gore's forces were seeking to steal the election.
Bush zealots showed up in well organized numbers where recount activity occurred. They wore T-shirts reading "Sore Loserman" in reference to the ticket of Gore and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
The efforts reached riot proportions in Dade County. They achieved the result of closing down activity with recognizable officials being pummeled by the furious mob.
A congressional hearing was ultimately held regarding the numerous pitfalls and abdications of democracy relative to the 2000 presidential election. Roger Ailes appeared and said he was sorry over what happened election night at Fox.
Ailes delivered the same kind of contrite sounding declaration as his boss Rupert Murdoch did Tuesday before the British Parliament.
Like Murdoch, Ailes explained that he was unaware of what was happening. Ailes and Murdoch generally boast about their hands on style and careful attention to detail.
When the going got tough, however, and certain questions would not be answered, an "Ah shucks, I was unaware" was the pushed into the corner response.
An important parting question is what the Fox commentators would have said if Al Gore's cousin had been working a network desk and generated a snowball effect by calling the election in favor of a relative.
Just maybe would we have heard about that earlier? Just maybe could there have been eruptions to make some of the Florida demonstrations pale by comparison?
KEYWORDS: Roger Ailes, Fox News, John Ellis, 2000 Presidential Election
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