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Bill Hemmer: Election Reflections

December 21, 2000
8 p.m. EST

Bill Hemmer is co-anchor with Daryn Kagan of CNN Morning News. He spent 37 days in Tallahassee covering the Florida recount.

CNN Moderator: Greetings and welcome to Election Reflections, Bill Hemmer.

Bill Hemmer: Thank goodness it's over, and we move on. But wow, what an amazing story!

CNN Moderator: When did you get your marching orders to go to Tallahassee, and how many changes of clothes did you pack?

Bill Hemmer: Many people ask that. I received marching orders on Nov 8th at 9:30 a.m. I packed two suits, three shirts, and four ties. Thinking this would be a two or three day trip. How wrong we were!

Question from Who: Who was the most interesting person you met during the election coverage in Tallahassee?

Bill Hemmer: We met endless numbers of people in 37 days. A few stick out. David Boies, the attorney for Al Gore. His intellect was so impressive. I was also impressed with Barry Richard, lead attorney for George W. Bush. Richard was not well known across America, but he is now.

Presidential Transition

CNN Moderator: What did you find most fascinating about being there and covering this election story as a whole?

Bill Hemmer: I found this to be a very intellectual story. At times it was a real brain-drain. We were dealing with so many different moving parts-- the courts, the politics, election law, the U.S. Constitution-- all of these items were on the plate every hour of every day. That was a true challenge.

Question from Buck: How do you react when you hear people talk about the liberal slant in the media?

Bill Hemmer: As human beings we are raised in different environments. Those environments shape the people we are. However as journalists, it is our duty to bring objectiveness to our reports. If we fail, it is our responsibility to make sure it does not happen again.

CNN Moderator: What was the whole media scene like in Tallahassee at "ground zero"?

Bill Hemmer: The mayor of Tallahassee stated that more than 100 satellite trucks were located within a five-block area. I have never covered a story in 16 years with so many trucks in one place. We journalists were crawling in Tallahassee, but so were the attorneys and campaign workers. This story lived and breathed in Tallahassee.

Question from americanbeauty: Bill, did you find that some people were using the media as propaganda?

Bill Hemmer: Clearly in politics so much of the message is spin. Many times we are used for one purpose or another. But it is also our duty to see through the spin. Sometimes we are good at it, and sometimes we are not.

CNN Moderator: There were so many surprises and twists to this election plot. Which one or ones surprised you the most during your Tallahassee coverage?

Bill Hemmer: I felt there were five key moments. In the interest of time, I will tell you the moment most indelible to me. On the Saturday when ballots were being counted in Leon County and the U.S. Supreme court said "drop it, come to Washington, and let's talk," it appeared to me that the observers were operating in slow motion. Literally looking at a ballot, hearing the news from Washington, and slowly placing the ballot back on the table. And then tiptoeing out of the room. That was a turning point in the story and a moment I will not forget.

"This story changed every 15 minutes. It was demanding. It was tiring. And it was exhilarating."
— Bill Hemmer

Question from oldie: Bill, is the "slamming" of Florida by some fair? I mean, couldn't this have happened in ANY closely contested state?

Bill Hemmer: Your point is well taken. Florida helped display the problem with American elections nationwide. Someone said we were not voting before, just estimating. Clearly the system nationwide is not able to handle an election this close. There will be changes, and Florida may lead the pack.

Question from Bell: Overall, did you enjoy the experience? Being in the front lines of history?

Bill Hemmer: It was the single most significant professional experience of my life. This story changed every 15 minutes. It was demanding. It was tiring. And it was exhilarating. We knew also that history was in the making. And when one realizes that, the experience becomes that much more special.

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?

Bill Hemmer: I'm exhausted. And I am going on vacation tomorrow. My last day off was October 28th. I will spend Christmas with my family, and I can't wait! Happy holidays to everyone! And thanks for the questions today.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Bill Hemmer.

Bill Hemmer: Thank you very much for having me.

Bill Hemmer join the chat via telephone from CNN Center in Atlanta, GA. provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Thursday, December 21, 2000.

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