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Special Event

Congress to Hold Hearings on Election Night News Coverage

Aired November 16, 2000 - 11:15 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: You asked for a Republican, we have a number of them for you. Going right now live to Capitol Hill for a Senate news conference, Republican members of Senate.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R), LOUISIANA: ... and its potential effect upon the voters, both in the panhandle of Florida and in other parts of our country, as election night unfolded.

Since that news conference, I want to update you and let you know that the staff has begun its investigation, that they are preparing inquiries to the Voter News Service and will be visiting with the Voter News Service personnel regarding the gathering of information about how those calls were made and when those calls were made.

And also since then, we have also received a great deal of information, some of which we will, as I said, preliminarily disclose to you today.

I want to announce that we are still planning the hearing. We could conceivably schedule a hearing when we come back in the first week of December, more probably when we come back in January. We're still assessing the volume of information and the possibilities of when we might be ready to call such a hearing.

Also wanted to point out to you that when we do the hearing, we plan to call the CEOs of the parent companies of the networks and those companies who were part of the Election Night coverage in order to get a full airing of what happened that night.

Also want to point out to you that, just as a sideboard, that we have heard that the Gore campaign has alleged that Fox News may have prejudiced the perception of Americans with regard to the election by calling Florida for Bush at 2:16 a.m. when all the polls were closed.

I will show you today some rather startling evidence of how calls made when the polls were still open may have had a much more significant impact and may have prejudiced the election of our president.

The information I will present to you today was first presented to us by the grandson of former President Dwight Eisenhower, David Eisenhower, who works for the Annenberg Project. Mr. Eisenhower did some initial work on Election Night of reporting and forwarded that to our investigators. We have since refined his work, and the product we will present to you today, I think, establishes a rather startling and very disturbing fact.

You will recall when last we met, I was asked by one of you whether or not I thought there was prejudice in the reporting, whether there was bias in the reporting, and I told you I was not prepared to make such an allegation. I'm prepared, with the information we have now ready to present to you, to tell you that I think there is now a presumption of bias in the reporting, and that the networks will have a duty when they do come before us in our hearing to overcome that presumption.

There may be another reason for what I will present to you. There may be other reasons for why what happened on Election Night actually happened, but the presumptive conclusion that I think any reasonable person will reach after reviewing this evidence is that there must have been, there probably was, bias in the reporting of the election on Election Night by the major networks of our country.

Here is the evidence: On one of the charts I will show you that, first of all, in nine of the states where George W. Bush won the election with a percentage of 6 percent or above, based upon CNN declarations of winners and losers, in nine of those states, those states were put on the too-close-to-call and were delayed in calls for George W. Bush. In no state where Al Gore won a margin of victory of 6 percent above was there any delay in the call.

In all cases where Al Gore won a state by 6 percent or more, the call was made immediately for Al Gore.

In nine states, including one where -- Alabama where George Bush won by a landslide of 15 percent, there were delays in the call.

In short, using this VNS information, all of the networks, cable and broadcasting, effectively gave America the impression that the George W. Bush states were too close to call while the Al Gore states were falling in line for Al Gore. In fact, rapidly calling them in every case where the margin was 6 percent or above.

We have additional charts and I think they are handouts. The handouts we presented to you also present a very disturbing picture, I think, of probable bias. The handouts we present to you will demonstrate the times in which the calls were made for both Bush and Gore that were in fact delayed.

A comparison of all those calls will demonstrate that with one exception, Maine -- and we think that exception is not an exception because CNN made a very late call while all the other networks called Maine very early. In all of these cases, the calls for Al Gore were made in about half the time that it took to make the calls for George W. Bush.

In short, there was a long delay for calling the states for George W. Bush compared to a much shorter delay for calling the states for Al Gore. Combine that with the wrong call of Florida, while voters in the Panhandle of Florida were still voting, and the message that was sent out by the networks, by calling the Al Gore states early and delaying the calls on the George W. Bush states, you receive a picture of America believing that Al Gore was sweeping the country, that George W. Bush was having trouble carrying his states, that Al Gore was having no trouble carrying his states.

And the impression left for voters still going to the polls was that this election was not only going badly for George W. Bush, but that it was virtually over when the calls were made for the battleground states of Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

On the handouts I've given you, I'd ask you to look particularly at several comparisons. Look, for example, at the comparison between Missouri and Michigan. In those states, the two candidates won them by the same margin. Look, however, at how long it took to make the call for George W. Bush compared to the call for Al Gore.

Look at Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Here the network waits to call the state for Bush, even when he wins by a slightly larger margin than the call made for Al Gore.

Look at Colorado versus Minnesota. The network there calls the states that Gore won by a very small margin, much faster than the states that Bush wins in a blowout.

Look at Tennessee versus Minnesota. Tennessee was a critically important state. The message that Al Gore could not carry his home state was a significant message, and yet that message was delayed until after the polls had closed in California. The networks choose to call the symbolic state of Tennessee for Bush until after the California polls were closed, but meanwhile they call Minnesota and other states much quicker, despite a much smaller margin.

In short, the evidence is mounting that there was some kind of bias in this system. Now, was it intentional bias or was it accidental bias? Was it a bias because of modeling? Or was it a bias because of personal bias or prejudice of persons working at the networks? I can't answer that. I don't know.

But we'll have a hearing. And the burden will be on the networks and on VNS, Voter News Service upon which apparently everybody depends now, to prove to this nation that the election coverage, which now apparently has an effect of affecting the result of our presidential elections, may in fact have been intentionally biased. That is a disturbing potential conclusion that we have preliminarily seen from this evidence.

I hope, frankly, that we learn from the networks that there is another valid explanation for it. For I think for America to find out and to find out in the evidence that is presented to our committee that they cannot trust to have a fair reporting of its election in a way that will not influence the eventual result of that election is a very serious, I think, flaw in that system by which Americans choose our president. I want to also point out to you that I'm accompanied today by three other members of the Commerce Committee, one from the state of Florida, Mr. Stearns, and one from the state of California, Mr. Cox. They will each describe to you situations that existed in the panhandle of Florida and situations that existed in California, as this rather biased reporting system was developing the news of the election that night.

I wish also to tell you that we are receiving a great deal of information at the staff level from various members of academia who are researching this.

For example, Mr. John Lott at Yale University Law School has submitted an analysis to us which examines the Republican presidential votes in Florida from 1988 to 2000. According to his analysis, it shows that Republican voting rate in the western panhandle, the part that was still voting when Florida was erroneously called for Al Gore, shows that Republican voting rate in the western panhandle was significantly suppressed relative to non-Republican vote by a full 4 percent. That 4 percent in the panhandle equates to nearly 10,000 votes in the counties of the panhandle.

If Mr. Lott's information is verified by actual evidence, perhaps as many as 10,000 Republican voters in the panhandle were dissuaded from voting because of the early erroneous call of the state for George Bush -- for Al Gore, rather, when those voters were still going to the polls in the panhandle in Florida.

Mr. Stearns will discuss with you that situation.

I wish to also point out to you that we're examining the 1980 hearings when Democrats were similarly complaining about too early reporting by the networks of exit polling, when Mr. Carter, if you recall, conceded the election to Mr. Reagan because of that exit polling too early, and there was a massive dissuasion of voters from appearing at the polls on Election Day to vote for the Democratic candidates.

There was a study then done by John Jackson of the University of Michigan which indicated that the drop in voting, as a result of learning that your candidates already lost, was pegged in his study at 20 percent. Mr. Cox will discuss with you evidence that similar things happened this year because of the, perhaps, biased -- intentionally biased or otherwise -- reporting of the networks in the false call of Florida when the false call of Florida was made.

Additionally, Curtis Gans, of the Committee for the Study of American Electorate, has sent us information indicating their studies indicate a very close correlation with election turnout to the false or early reporting of election results while the polls are still open.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I will now introduce Congressman Cliff Stearns from Florida to discuss with you what we believe may have been the serious impact upon a decline in Republican voter strength in the panhandle occasioned by the call of the network, all of the networks, in fact, except ABC, of Florida to Al Gore, even while people were still deciding whether or not to cast their votes in the counties of the panhandle.

Mr. Cliff Stearns?

REP. CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: I thank my colleague and I just want to compliment him for having this press conference to explain these anomalies.

I represented the University of Florida for many years, and we used to have a Florida State-Florida game and the game would go back and forth even into the fourth quarter. And I think the best metaphor of what we have here is the networks calling that Florida State won the game with about four or five minutes left, and many times Florida came back and won the game. And I think that metaphor was illustrated in the letter that the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, put out on the 30th of October.

And I think we have a copy of this. If staff will hand this out.

And let me just remind you and tell you again for edification exactly what she said. In this, she gave to all the networks, it's a press release, so everybody had this, and they understood exactly what was implied by her statement. She requested that the media delay predictions of the outcome of the election until after 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Now, Florida had six counties in the central time zone and the secretary wants all Floridians to vote and have their votes cast prior to predictions on the winners by the networks. With several races too close to call, full voter involvement is imperative for all of Floridians to participate in the electoral process.

And this is what she said, quote -- I think this is the core meaning of what she was doing here -- quote, "The last thing we need is to have our citizens in the central time zone think their vote doesn't count, because it certainly does," end quote. So this letter that she sent out specifically asked for them to hold off, talked about the time zone. And for that reason, the networks have some bit of culpability here, because they did not follow what she requested.

Now, in the panhandle where this discrepancy became more apparent, we've had, since the election, many voters have called different members of Congress, particularly Joe Scarborough in the Pensacola area and that area where the votes were suppressed.

And I want to give you some examples of actual voters who have called us and what they've said. And I can give you their phone numbers, if you'd like to call them to talk more with them. One is Gail Harris (ph) who called. She is a precinct worker who wanted to talk about how hardly anyone came to vote after the TV networks made the announcement that Gore had won Florida. If you'd like to call her, she can be reached at area code 850...

TAUZIN: I don't think you ought to give out...

STEARNS: OK, OK.

Gail Jacobson (ph) called, and said that she's been a regular volunteer at the polls in the last few elections.

She said normally they get a rush between 6 and 7 p.m., from people getting off work late from Eglin Air Force Base. This year, when the networks called Florida early, the poll workers didn't have the rush they normally have.

Bob Glass (ph) just stopped by the office, and he indicated that one of the voters did not go to the polls as a result of the hearings, and he said some of his friends didn't go. His daughter has set up a web site to collect all this information, and we'll have this web site for you in the future.

Mr. Kirk Ritig (ph) just called this morning to let us know that he's one of those who didn't vote; he did not vote because the networks had called the Florida election for Gore before the ballots closed.

We've got many more examples of this. So I think between what the secretary of state said and the actual voters that have called us, there is, indeed, as the study has shown, voter suppression in that area.

TAUZIN: I wish to add to what Cliff has told you. This is just a sample of the e-mails that are pouring in to our investigators as this investigation continues. These are from voter election officials all over the country, including the panhandle of Florida, particularly in California and Washington state.

And again, there is actual evidence of actual voters and actual witnesses who witnessed voters leaving the polling places, polling volunteers, workers volunteers going home at 5 o'clock in California when the news was that Gore had essentially won the election, and therefore some pretty serious effect on not only local races, but as Mr. Chris Cox will point out, perhaps on the national election as well.

Congressman Chris Cox?

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Chairman Tauzin.

As Chairman Tauzin has pointed out, the data that we have assembled make it plain that there was bias. But he was careful to add that it is not at all clear whether this is intentional bias. There is, nonetheless, bias as a matter of fact, in as much as states were called in one set of circumstances for Gore whereas, in the same circumstances, they were not called for Bush.

Most notoriously, the state of Florida was called for Al Gore before the polls were even closed. There was a high nationwide turnout expected. On the West Coast, we, too, expected a high turnout. In California, predictions were that we would perhaps have record high turnout.

What in fact occurred was record low turnout. The Los Angeles Times noted in a headline that the turnout in Orange County, California, one of California's 58 counties and heavily Republican, was the lowest since 1954. The turnout statewide throughout California was the lowest in 28 years, the lowest since 1972.

Several congressional races decided in the state of California were themselves of a hair's breadth.

Those races undoubtedly were directly affected by the depressed turnout.

As Chairman Tauzin noted, this isn't the first time that America has experienced this, and the shoe has been on the other foot in modern history.

He mentioned the study done by the University of Michigan by political science professor John Jackson, which is well-known now because the 1980 election is certainly history. Early calls in that race prompted President Carter to concede before the polls were closed. I remember it well, because I was very interested as a California voter in following the election returns throughout the evening. And before the close of business in California, it was all over, let alone before the close of the polls.

Here's what Jackson said in his study. Quote, "What we definitely found, both in terms of magnitude and in statistical significance, was a very definite difference in turnout between those who heard that Reagan won and those who didn't hear." Jackson pegged the drop in voting at about 20 percent, as you've heard.

The fact that voter depression follows from knowledge that the race is over is what motivates our concern about early calls, certainly calls when polls are still open, and inaccurate and mistaken calls. In the Florida panhandle, unlike for example Palm Beach County, the vote for George W. Bush was 2-1 over that for Al Gore. There are one-half-million voters in 10 counties who were told that their state was already decided for Al Gore before the polls were closed.

The estimate that you have heard of some 10,000 votes, based on statistical modeling, that might have been suppressed for George W. Bush as a consequence of this, makes it clear enough why, in the teeth of this national dilemma where we have a congressional and a presidential race on the wire -- I should say a senatorial race and a presidential race hanging by a thread, why we must concern ourselves with fairness at the same time that we are trying to protect the First Amendment.

And let me say, in conclusion, a word about that. What media organizations tell the country about elections is as central to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy as anything that we can think of here.

We all understand that our rights to speak about public affairs, merely unlimited as they are, come with responsibilities and sometimes consequences. So while there is an unabated right without any prior restraint to say whatever in the world you want, the concomitant responsibility, particularly now after the fact when we can see the damage that negligence, misfeasance, if not malfeasance, have caused, the responsibility is to repair the damage that you've caused and to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I hope that we can all learn something from this. The hearings that our committee is going to hold will be opened long after this immediate problem is solved, long after the presidential race is decided.

But it's hard to miss the fact that there are lawsuits over these very questions. Indeed, a lawsuit seeking, at least one lawsuit seeking a re-vote in the panhandle, just as there are lawsuits seeking a re-vote in Palm Beach County.

The notion, as CNN put it, that it was a mistake that we didn't know that there were time zones in Florida, is as unacceptable as the CIA saying they couldn't get a street map. There are responsibilities for important institutions in the United States to uphold and fulfill, and we expect in the exercise of our oversight that with the 1980 example and now with the 2000 example, we might make some progress on finding out how we can better meet those responsibilities.

TAUZIN: Thank you, Chris.

Let me conclude by thanking, first of all, ABC for agreeing to do an internal investigation; by thanking CBS for, now, this week, agreeing to do an internal investigation; and for thanking CNN for reversing their initial position, which was that we had no business looking into this. CNN today has now said that it is most appropriate that Congress look into the manner in which this reporting occurs and how it may affect our national elections.

Let me finally say that Chris said it right: This shoe was on another foot in the 1980s. Democrats were severely affected by the early calls done in those years, even before the polls had closed anywhere in the country.

If you recall then, exit polling was being released in the middle of the afternoon, in the morning.

And the networks agreed in 1985 to a new agreement that they would not release exit polling data until most of the polls had closed in a state.

Well, we're going to have these hearings. It will be incumbent upon, I think, the networks to explain these anomalies to us, to explain why these biases were not intentional, and then to work with us to see if we can't come up with a better system. I want to conclude with that.

The purpose of our investigation will not be, again, to punish anyone. We don't want to punish anybody or put anybody in the dock or embarrass anyone. Our purpose is to find out what went wrong. And if there was bias, to uncover it. If it was intentional, to call it like we see it. If it was not intentional, to find out what went wrong and fix it. And maybe to think about some national solutions. Perhaps a simultaneous poll closing date for our country, a time when all elections cease and an agreement there will be no exit poll data released until that time. Perhaps some other solutions. We'll discuss a lot of them before we're through.

But our purpose will be to uncover the truth of these anomalies, to discern as much as we can about the effect it had upon this election, because it would well have affected the total vote outcome. If voters in California and Washington state and other Western states had not been suppressed by the early news that the election was lost to George W. Bush, it is no telling what the final count might have been.

In fact, George W. Bush may well have won the popular vote in this country. We'll never know because of what happened.

But we'll document as much as we can, we'll learn as much as we can. We're going to give the networks the benefit of the doubt and ask them to come to us and prove that these obvious biases were not intentional and to establish for us why this happened, and for the American people.

And then we will engage in, I hope, a very bipartisan and, I hope, a very productive dialogue to make sure this doesn't happen to Democrats again and it doesn't happen to Republicans again and it doesn't happen to America again.

We'll take questions now.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The erroneous call for Gore was made at 7:52. That's eight minutes before the polls closed in Palm Beach. Are you suggesting that 10,000 people turned around and went home within eight...

(CROSSTALK)

TAUZIN: No, the first call was made at 7:48 by one of the networks. CNN reported it as 7:52. The first news came out 7:48. We're using CNN numbers in this analysis. But the first network call was at 7:48.

And in fact, we are told that people waiting in line to vote actually turned around and went home when they heard that George Bush had not carried Florida. We have evidence, and we're documenting that evidence as we speak.

Can we identify 10,000 voters? No, I doubt that we will be able to do that. I can only tell you that the statistical evidence developed in turnout for Republicans in those counties since 1988 to this election year, which was supposed to be a very hotly contested election in Florida, indicates according Mr. Lott's study -- that's the only one we have right now -- that as many as 10,000 voters may not have chosen to vote in those last 15 minutes of voting when the news came out that, in fact, the state had already gone.

We are told, for example, in California, from various candidate campaigns -- I'll give you some examples. Rodriguez in the Cal Dooley race, indicates that one-third of his volunteers quit at 5 o'clock. Brian Bilbray reported the same thing in his race. Volunteers quit at 5 o'clock when they realized that Gore had already taken all the battleground states according to the networks.

We heard the same thing in the Kuykendall race. In the race, in the open seat for Tom Campbell, volunteers quitting, going home discouraged, dissuaded, voters walking away from the polls. People getting in their cars to go home at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, either go home or go to the polls, and learning on the radio that the networks had already called essentially the election for Al Gore, because all of the battleground states including Florida had fallen.

QUESTION: Congressman, excuse me, the numbers you are suggesting, they were not falling at 5 o'clock. It's 8 o'clock...

TAUZIN: The Florida call at...

QUESTION: Twelve minutes before 8, that's one state.

TAUZIN: The Florida call came at 5:40. And I think if you'll go back and look -- you go back and check the record.

(CROSSTALK)

TAUZIN: I'm sorry, it was at 4:50. It was at 4:50 western time. It was 7:50 eastern time.

QUESTION: So that's one state, all the battleground...

TAUZIN: Now, let me finish. The reports prior to the election was that if Florida went for Bush, Bush was going to win this election. If Florida went for Gore, he'd have a tough time; he'd have to sweep everything else. In successive order, the battleground states fell to Al Gore. With Florida already counted for Al Gore, the evidence we have from people on the ground is that the impression was left that the election was essentially over.

Beginning at 4:50 in the afternoon, when Florida supposedly fell for Al Gore, the volunteers began leaving their positions and going home because they felt the election was essentially over.

Now, I don't know whether you believe that, but many Americans were led to believe that Florida was the key state. And, indeed, it turned out to be the key state. And when Florida was called at 4:50 -- let me get it correct -- western time, many Americans in California, according to what we're learning, also believed the election was over.

COX: If I might add, many local election officials require that the officials overseeing the voting maintain hourly logs of turnout. Orange County is such a place. The local election rules there require that you monitor turnout by hour. And it is a fact that voter turnout predictably goes in peaks and valleys, and one of the peaks is poll opening and another one is poll closing. People rush to make the deadline. And if you're in your car, as many people are, trying to get to a polling place and you hear news on the radio that there's really no point because the thing is over, then your rushed to make the poll closing is aborted.

And that's the model, that's one of the consumer models -- voter models here -- that the academics who look at this think may well have been followed.

And insofar as this is concerned in the additional handout, I would just add that in the first one hour after the polls closed on the east coast, the networks called for Gore such key swing states as not only Florida, but also Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, whereas...

TAUZIN: The battleground states.

COX: ... key states for Bush, Ohio, West Virginia and Georgia, which he won by very strong margins, were not called so soon.

And that's the kind of information that is assembled here. And it's the reason that one can only infer that some dramatic difference in approach and methodology was applied to the calls for Bush on the one hand and Gore on the other.

TAUZIN: Let me read to you from one of the e-mails received from California. The e-mail is coming from John Pishong (ph), campaign operations chair of the Los Angeles region; it includes Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. "I can attest to the fact on Election Day we were poised to record the largest Republican turnout in history." He goes on to talk about all indications of the turnout, and how it was, indeed, happening all day long.

"On Election Day, when the news came out that we lost Florida, after the press made it clear that we could not win the election without Florida, our balloon burst. My phone rang off the hook. People were in disbelief. People refused to go to their assigned phone banks or to walk their assigned precincts. Everyone who called said, 'What for? We lost.'" And he goes on to describe some of the conditions.

This is a sample of what we're learning from actual campaign headquarters and voters in the California area.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, just for the sake of argument, if someone is standing in line and a race is called, why would the fall- off not be equally -- if somebody was there to vote for Al Gore and they didn't -- he didn't need their vote anymore.

TAUZIN: I can only tell you that both the evidence and the studies done at Michigan and the other studies we're getting indicate the contrary, that when you learn your candidate is winning, you're waiting in line, you get excited, you want to vote for him.

But, also, the camps we talked to, the Brian Bilbray camp and the Rodriguez camps and the Kuykendall, other camps we've talked to, who were in their headquarters watching the election and getting results, indicated there was a surge of optimism, excitement in the Gore voters waiting in line there as they got the news, the news was spread around that Florida had fallen for Al Gore.

So the evidence of the studies is that when you're in the process of voting and your candidate is winning, you get excited. You want to make sure you get your vote in there, you want it to be as big as possible for your candidate.

On the contrary, when you've heard your candidate's already lost, it is not unusual for people simply to turn around when they're on their way to the polls, or even in line in the polls and go, not vote.

You asked me about the time in Florida, in the panhandle, for example. You know, if you're in line, polls stay open until everybody in line has voted who wants to vote. And so the election generally goes on for another 25, 30 minutes without a special order as they got in St. Louis. Everybody in line gets to vote.

But if you leave the line and go home, of course, that's vote not recorded. That's someone disenfranchised, as I said, rather suddenly by the awkward belief that their candidate's already lost, a belief that was occasioned because of a wrong call.

Now, look, there may be -- there may be real good explanations for why VNS blew this one, and why CNN and the other networks were so anxious to call Florida, which was so close and so careful not to call the other states for George Bush until many, many minutes, in some cases hours, after it was clear that was George Bush was winning by landslides in some of these states.

But the common-sense view of the evidence we've seen so far indicates that something bad went wrong that night, that there were people out there ready to call states for Bush a lot less fervently than there were people ready to call states for Al Gore.

And if it was because of the modeling, we need to learn that. If it was because of intentional bias, we ought to know that, too, because we ought not permit that in our election system. And if it does exist, we need to find a way so they can't influence the results of an election.

Let me say it again: Coverage of an election ought to be reporting the news, not making it.

And when the coverage of an election affects voter turnout and affects the result in a close race like this one, we all, Democrats and Republicans, have to be very careful that we make some changes so it doesn't happen again. We ought to try to do that.

Chris?

COX: I just want to add on this question of why people in some cases don't vote when the election is called early. It's important that we look at this from an objective standpoint; look at the data, look at statistics and so on and not try and do it on the basis of our own experience or the way we feel about it.

For example, if I were standing in line to vote personally, I'd vote anyway. I'm highly motivated. I, in fact, ran for Congress. Not all people behave in exactly the same way. And when you're dealing with samples of millions of people, behavior at the margin is what we're talking about here. And in close elections it can be very, very important and, indeed, material.

I also want to point out that what Chairman Tauzin just said may have been the best summation of what we're after here, and that is that we've got to distinguish between reporting the news on the one hand and making it on the other. In a very subtle way, those things can get mixed up, not just in the news business, but in a lot of businesses.

I'm reminded of the problem that physicists have when they're looking at subtonic particles. They smack into a law of physics here; it's tough to look at something at the same time as you stand back from it without influencing it.

Their observation necessarily influences things.

Maybe we've got a law of political science that works exactly the same way. I'm not sure.

But we need to do everything that we can to try and separate the one from the other, because the influence is very real, the effects are very profound, and in this case, they're very, very harmful to our democratic system.

TAUZIN: Cliff wanted to answer.

STEARNS: What my colleague from California is talking about, I think is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. We'll call this the Tauzin Uncertainty Principle. But let's the gentleman here...

TAUZIN: You know that, Cliff.

STEARNS: Let's take your example, for example.

(CROSSTALK)

COX: Werner Heisenberg is a constituent.

(LAUGHTER)

STEARNS: Let's take your example, when you said, "Well, what about a Gore supporter who's in line?" Well, let's follow your reasoning. Maybe that Gore supporter said, "Well, I don't have to vote, because my candidates winning." But the problem was, it was occurring in areas that were overwhelmingly supporting George Bush, so you had more George Bush supporters in the line than Gore supporters. So if they take your argument and you say, equally are they suppressed the same amount, but if the county, the district, the precinct is majority Governor George Bush, then those people are going to be suppressed more than the Gore. QUESTION: You're talking about the panhandle, now?

STEARNS: I'm talking about the panhandle. And the panhandle is key to this whole election, obviously, because Florida is standing now with 300 votes for Governor George Bush, and we're waiting for the absentee ballots. But if this thing was properly done, I feel the panhandle would have many more votes.

And realize what Chairman Tauzin talked about this 10,000 vote. This isn't extrapolation. We admit that.

It's an extrapolation upon political scientists saying what happened in one county and assume that happened in the other counties.

And so this all estimation on our part. But I think, as Chairman Tauzin talked about, this was a hearing when the Democrats controlled Congress, they looked into it because they felt uneasy about it. And we in the Republican majority also feel uneasy about this. So it's quite likely that we'll come to some different conclusions.

But the important point is that we've got to see what happened here, because we've never had an election quite like this, and it's something we should all look at.

QUESTION: On a slightly different issue, there's apparently a provision in the law that would allow Congress to reject the states' electoral votes (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: Yes, I'm aware of that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: It is something that Congress will hate to face, a question of judging the sanctity of the certification of electors, and I hope we don't have to face that.

I mean, it is our profound hope that, whatever the result in Florida, that the loser will gracefully concede, and, as I think Senator Breaux said, that will probably be the most important speech made this year in America by that loser accepting the result and letting us move on.

Obviously, if that is not true, if we do not have a concession and if there is still a battle, then the process, as under our Constitution, will be honored by the Congress, just as they have to be honored by the courts and the election officials in Florida and throughout the country.

But we have not discussed nor yet considered those options. And frankly, I can tell you, none of us look forward to have those discussions.

Do you want a shot at it?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: No, let me say it again. What I'm telling you is we have not considered at all what we would do under those circumstances. I'm saying, I know of no member who wants to be in a position to have to even consider what our obligations are under those circumstances. We would much prefer that that cup pass.

The problem is that we don't know yet whether or not we'll be faced with that most difficult choice under our Constitution. But, you know, we had not been adverse to carrying out our duties as we see them in the past, and we'll do it again.

So you should not read anything into my statement, other than the fact that I hope we don't have to face that.

QUESTION: For clarification, you would like to sit down and have the network news chiefs and the CEOs of the parent companies, as well?

TAUZIN: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think you might do this as soon as December?

TAUZIN: We're looking at that possibility. I would tell you that this is not quite as awesome a task as Florida faces right now, but it's still an awesome task for us to evaluate all the information we expect to get from VNS. We have not yet received, nor formally requested, the information from VNS, but it's going to be, we think, voluminous.

And so it may not be possible for us to begin hearings in December, but I'm keeping that option open. We may want to start them as early as when we get back in December.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: Chris?

COX: To my knowledge, the Congress -- both the House and the Senate -- are doing everything that you would expect prior to an uncontested election. The House of Representatives is the venue for a joint session under the 12th Amendment, whether there is an issue or not. And it's one of our privileges as new members of the Congress, after we're sworn in on the 3rd of January, to be present, and that's our Constitutional duty, simply to be there as the ballots are opened in the chamber before the joint session.

The Judiciary Committee, the House Administration Committee, the corresponding Senate committees, undoubtedly have, every four years, been fully prepared to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities. I would expect the same is true this year.

TAUZIN: You might have noticed, by the way, that we've gone ahead in the continuing resolution that we passed through December 4 included monies for the inauguration of a president. We believe, we hope, we'll have a chance to spend that money and have an inauguration.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, is the election so tainted by these early calls that you think that some of the electoral votes should be -- should end up...

(CROSSTALK)

TAUZIN: No, I'm not saying that at all yet. What we are doing in this investigation and the hearings that will follow is a continuation of the work that was done in the early '80s, which is a continuing examination of how election coverage effects the outcome of our national elections.

And depending upon what we learn, what the networks and VNS and others are able to teach us in this process, we may want to have some reforms proposed to the House and the Senate.

And out of our report we hope will come recommendations to, number one, fix whatever we can fix legislatively so it doesn't happen again, and hopefully get some new agreements with the networks that are more effective in preventing what we saw on Tuesday night.

Just as an example, I cannot believe the network should not be willing today, after what has gone on this week, to agree not to release any exit polling before all of the polls are closed in the state that they're calling. I think that's a minimum that the networks ought to be willing to give to the American public.

I was on a show with Sam Donaldson on his Internet show, and he posed a question at the beginning of the show whether the participants in the session preferred that the networks not do any exit polling and the second choice was that they report only the actual votes as they occur, they do no projections at all, just report the results of the tallies as they come in. And the third was that they go ahead and keep on projecting but they do a better job of it, fix it up.

Have you any doubt which one? Fifty-four percent choose A. Fifty-four percent of those listening to this discussion said, "Just quit projecting. You're messing up our process when you do that. You're influencing the process instead of reporting on it, so just quit projecting." Twenty-eight percent, I think, just said, "Just report the numbers. Don't even project from the numbers, much less from exit polls." And another 20-some-odd percent said, "Go ahead and do what you're doing now, just do a better job of it."

And then CNN did a poll on whether or not Americans thought that this election coverage had been badly flawed. I think it was like 79 percent agreed that it was a mess. And guess who concurred in that? Most of the anchors. Go back and watch the footage. When you see Dan Rather saying, "You're probably disgusted with us right now, and I don't blame you." When you hear other anchors saying, "We don't have egg on our face, we got omelet." But the omelet was not just on the anchors' faces, the omelet was a messed up election. It was voters disenfranchised in the panhandle and many parts of the country, and perhaps a different result than what the will of the people may have wanted in this election. And that's a shame.

And so, what we do we hope will not just be an examination of what went wrong. We will try to have some recommendations to the House and Senate about how we might prepare for a better election next time.

And, as I said, I'm personally getting closer and closer to the belief that maybe we need a simultaneous closing time, regardless of when we start it. If we start the day before, three weeks before, maybe we can all end it on the same point and have no projections before all the polls are closed at that same point. Maybe we need to start thinking about that as final fix, if you will, to this problem that continues to plague, as I said, Democrats in one decade and Republicans in another decade.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

STEARNS: Well, I think if you take the first two recounts, which were automatic, they're probably not tainted in the sense that they're consistent. Everyone had the standards on which to recount. They used those standards consistently across the 67 counties.

But now when you go into the four Democratic counties we're talking about in which they take the ballot and they look for the chad, that little part that comes through the hole, and they find it's still attached, and they say, "Now, did the machine count that or not?" And then in some cases the chad has a dimple on it and it's not even pushed through. Now, if you handle that again and again, that chad is going to fall through.

So what I'm trying to point out, there's a process that we have to establish for hand counting in Florida before we can feel that it's legitimate or it's fair.

And under the Equal Protection of Act of the 14th Amendment, if you're going to do it in four counties in Florida that are heavily Democratic, with a Democrat supervisor of election and Democrat volunteers, then it's only fair that you do it in all 67 counties.

But we've already had two recounts. In some places, we've had four recounts, because they have done a 1 percent of a precinct and then they went back and did the whole thing again. So you've had four counts in some places...

TAUZIN: Handling the ballots.

STEARNS: So every time you handle these ballots, it's going to have in some way an impact, and particularly it gets so partisan as you move into this. So I think Secretary Harris is correct in saying, we've had a count, two recounts, and as Governor Bush. So to answer your question, I don't think the count that Secretary Harris has given us at 300 is tainted.

Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

STEARNS: Supreme Court, state Supreme Court...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAUZIN: If I might just...

STEARNS: Sure.

QUESTION: ... in this situation?

TAUZIN: Chris, why don't you handle this.

COX: I think it is much more likely -- in fact, I think all of this is unlikely, for starters.

I mean, the notion the Congress is going to do anything other than what Congress always does, which is sit passively and watch as the votes are opened, I think is farfetched.

But if something were ever going to happen in Congress, it would be much more likely that it would be a straight-up 12th Amendment question, and that the members of Congress would stand in the role of electors. And just as we have this exciting political science question of the faithless elector, you know, you might have the same issues presented in Congress for a single state member. You know, other than Mike Castle, I can't think of too many people in that situation -- no, not Barbara Cubin, because Wyoming went for Bush.

But if you're a Republican whose state went for Gore, or you're a Democrat whose state went for Bush, then you've got to ask yourself whether you want to vote your party or whether you want to vote your state. And you're probably not interested in my personal view to the answer to that question.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'll just stipulate that it's the same question that we face with faithless electors, and you can tell by use of that descriptor of the problem what I think of electors who don't vote their states.

I actually would support a constitutional amendment that keeps the Electoral College, but says that the electors are supposed to vote the way the voters want them to vote.

But that tie-breaking mechanism I point out in the 12th Amendment, if you have a too-close-to-call situation that puts you there, operates on the basis of one state, one vote. And assuming no faithless electors, it's very easy to see how that turns out in the House of Representatives. It's a big win for Bush.

TAUZIN: Thank you very much.

KAGAN: We have been listening to Congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, also Congressman Chris Cox from Southern California. Clearly not happy with election coverage they saw on the networks on election night, including the coverage they saw here on CNN, made some very strong allegations.

Let's bring in our CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider to talk about some of the things that they were pointing out.

Bill, of course, the congressmen don't speak for CNN, and I don't think, in an official capacity you do either, but you can help us break down some of the criticism that they were talking about, namely, what happened in Florida? when it was called? and how that state actually stretches across two time zones?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they were talking about two different issues, it's important to keep them distinct. One is the fact that Florida, most of Florida is in the Eastern time zone, and a small part of the Florida in the western part of the panhandle, around I believe Pensacola, that part of Florida is in the Central time zones. And those, when Florida was called, I believe by CNN at 7:52, it was about eight minutes before those far western polling places had closed. So they are protecting the fact that some voters in Florida, where of course every vote is now crucial, and they believe some Republican voters in Florida, because that's a very Republican part of the state, might not have voted when they hard Gore had won their state.

Now that is a serious issue, and we are revisiting the policy, as are other networks, of whether to call a state before 100 percent of the polling places are closed in that state. Our policy in the past has been to call a state when the majority, I think the figure is now 75 percent of the polling places in that state have closed, which would have been the case in Florida at 7:52 p.m.

The second issue is completely separate. That is, when Eastern states have closed and we know how they voted, should that information be withheld from viewers until the entire country has voted, which could be hours later. California is three hours later and, of course, Hawaii and Alaska are even later than that. Should all of that information be held until much later? That is a separate issue.

KAGAN: And so the congressmen saying that there will be hearings in Congress. They mentioned they are in the Commerce Committee, maybe that is in fact where these hearings will be held. They said they are going to call the leaders of the networks to come talk about what happened and what can be changed in the future.

But in fact, as you look into the future, is it really effective to call the leaders of just the networks because we are in this Internet age. You could have every leader of every network say: OK, we promise won't even do anything for 24 hours, but that is not going to withhold the information because the Internet is a free and wild game.

SCHNEIDER: There is no question that it's much more harder to control this kind of information now. The networks have a policy of not releasing any exit poll information, in fact any information about how any particular state has voted until after the majority, and I believe it's three-quarters of the polling places in that state have closed.

But that information does get out over the Internet because a number of people in various organizations have access to exit polling information. So it gets out over the Internet. It's very difficult to control that information even though CNN, like other networks, has adhered to the policy of not releasing any information about how a state has voted until most of the polling places have closed in that state.

KAGAN: We heard Congressman Tauzin say, the purpose of these hearings won't be just to bring these network leaders before Congress and chastise them or punish them. But you wonder how much they can really do because, as we head Congressman Cox mention, there are First Amendment protections in effect here.

SCHNEIDER: That is right. This has been visited in the past, particularly after the 1980 election, when there was a lot of consternation among Democrats that because the Carter loss was announced early, and I should point out that it was done by the concession -- the concession that was made by President Carter early, that it might have affected Democratic turnout in the Western states.

And after those hearings, as I recall, Congress has looked into this, the networks recommended a uniform poll closing across the entire country, and that of course most states would not accept because they thought it was impractical. But essentially, the position then about almost 20 years ago was that the only way this problem could be solved, because this is the only national election for president and vice president, is for all of the states to close their polls at the same time. But that was never acted on, because that would require each state essentially adjusting its poll closing time, and the states were unwilling to that.

KAGAN: Quick political question fro you, in the second that we have left, are these Republican congressmen kind of going into a sticky area to bring this up at this time, when basically they're say, we don't like something that might have affected the race in a conservative area, but at the same time you have Republicans saying to the Democrats: Look, the election worked out like it worked out, and don't come off like sore losers?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the problem is, Republicans are trying to argue, I think they are setting up a case, that because Republican turnout in the very western part of Florida, which is a pro-Bush area, might have been suppressed by the early call of the state for Bush -- I am sorry, for Gore, and Republicans might have gone away from the polls, they're trying to make the case that this could have cost George W. Bush a critical number of votes in far western Florida, and as we know, he is only leading now by 300 votes, and those are subject to challenge.

So I think what they are trying to make the case that Florida's result might have been determined by an early network call for Al Gore. At least it seems to me that that is part of the politics of this.

KAGAN: Bill Schneider in Washington, thank you very much. The beginning of a conversation that I am sure will go many years into future about what happened in Florida in the year 2000. Thank you very much.

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