Today's Papers

Court Gives Gore a Hand

All the leads review yesterday’s principal developments in the continuing election wrangle: the failure of the Bush campaign effort to get a federal court injunction against further hand recounts in Florida; the declaration by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, that state law requires her to certify Florida’s election returns at 5 ET tonight, which would render moot any subsequent recounts; two mainly Democratic counties and the Gore campaign going into state court to contest that move, with the judge’s ruling expected this morning.

Everybody has Al Gore’s brief statement yesterday about the situation, in which he said, “I would not want to win the presidency by a few votes cast in error or misinterpreted or not counted, and I don’t think Gov. Bush wants that either.” The Los Angeles Times describes this as Gore’s attempt to “stand apart from the increasingly bitter legal battle,” noting that he made his remarks in front of the White House. And bitter it is–with the Washington Postpassing along this reaction to Harris’ decision from Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani: “George Bush will have the most tarnished presidency in American history right off the bat. … This is an outrageous attempt by Bush to steal the election.” Several papers have Gore honcho Warren Christopher’s take calling Harris’ move “arbitrary and unreasonable.” And every lead but the New York Times’ has George W. Bush’s spokeswoman Karen Hughes saying that Gore “basically said we should ignore the law so that he can overturn the results of this election.”

The NYT says Harris’ decision is a “line in the sand,” and the coverage notes that although she suggested Florida law gave her some leeway for discretion about certification deadlines, the NYT and WP coverage reports she says that would only apply in the case of unforeseen events like hurricanes. The NYT lead has the day’s best details from last night’s state court hearing, the highlight being a Gore campaign lawyer’s statement that “This is not only a hurricane, this is a bark-splitting North Florida cyclone with a hurricane tailing on the end of it. … The issue is, does Florida stand up for an honest vote, that people in other countries can look to and say that the United States has honest elections, or are there elections where some bureaucrat writes a letter and says, you lose, your vote doesn’t count.” The papers’ consensus is, based on the judge’s comments during this hearing, that he will probably let county manual recounts proceed, the position supported by editorials at USA Today, the WP, NYT, and LAT.

The papers zero in on Harris’s Republican bona fides, noting that she was active in George W. Bush’s campaign. The NYT Harris front-pager says she picked Bush supporter Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to be the spokesperson for the state’s publicly financed be-sure-to-vote commercial. The WP Harris story has this too, and reports that although her job has traditionally been supposed to focus on domestic matters, Harris has spent more than $100,000 in state funds on travel, promoting the state’s interests in such locales as Barbados, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney. The Wall Street Journal says that a member of Harris’s family has given $25,000 to the Republican Party this year.

Just wondering: ex-O.J. defender Alan Dershowitz, who argued in Monday’s federal court hearing on behalf of some voters suing for a recount, is nowhere to be seen in the leads. Coincidence?

The WP front reports that the armed sentries in position on the Cole in Aden harbor before it was bombed were carrying unloaded weapons, (although they also had ammo on them) and were under orders not to fire at anyone unless they were fired upon first. Relevant to this important disclosure but not mentioned: An investigation of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut revealed that sentries there were operating under similar constraints.

While the U.S. seems intent on replicating Philippine election procedures, the compliment is being returned: The WP and LAT front yesterday’s impeachment of President Joseph Estrada on bribery and corruption charges. Estrada’s alleged womanizing will probably also come up during his trial.

The papers go inside with the latest Palestinian versus Israeli clashes. The WP insider says the fighting there has entered a new phase: not violent daytime street protests but afternoon and evening sniping attacks, apparently directed against Israeli civilians as well as soldiers.

The NYT, WP, and LAT go inside with stories stating that the person at the Fox News decision desk who election night recommended calling Florida and the election for George W. Bush is Bush’s first cousin. The stories add that John Ellis was also periodically on the phone during the evening with his cousins the Republican candidate and the Florida governor. Everybody credits the story to this week’s issue of TheNew Yorker. But yesterday’s WP op-ed by the paper’s director of polling had this too, with nary a mention of the mag.