In media circles, the phrase “reckless disregard” resonates deeply. It comes up in libel cases involving public figures. They have to prove not just that a report was false but that it was published or broadcast either with the media organization’s knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth.
The phrase is resonating with me in the wake of the Supreme Court’s well-telegraphed decision Tuesday night, in which it all but awarded the presidency to George W. Bush. In the five weeks since Election Day, 2000, I’ve seen all kinds of reckless disregard from practically every participant who mattered in this sick national soap opera.
With a few honorable exceptions, the politicians on both sides have shown disregard for the voters and the truth, and regard only for their electoral chances or opportunity to be on television. Clearly, the Republicans have been more cynical and ruthless than the Democrats, but no one should doubt for a second that had the situation been reversed the Democratic leadership and its hard-core acolytes would have been just as slippery and mean-spirited.
Many judges have shown disregard for something we pretend is sacred in this nation — the notion that every vote not only should count, but be counted. Judges have given the appearance of blatant partisanship even as they cloaked their rulings in high-minded concepts.
The news media, for the most part, have continued to focus on the horse race and not the underlying questions that the post-election gyrations suggest about the republic and its future. We have served as well-paid stenographers, not serious journalists trying to get at the truth. We have spun and been spun.
It looks as though Al Gore will give up his quest for the White House today. Look for a gracious concession speech, an absolutely necessary aid to the healing of a badly torn nation. But Gore won’t be likely to note his political and legal teams’ disregard for the voters’ will in all but the three Democratic-leaning counties the campaign thought might tip the statewide count into the Democratic ledger.
I expect George W. Bush, hypocritical to the end, will make a victory speech as pious and cynical as his once-insistent claim to be a “compassionate conservative,” a skin he expediently shed when he needed the votes. Most recently, by working feverishly to stop any recounts that might suggest, even prove, that he didn’t actually prevail in Florida, he showed utter disregard for the wishes of voters.
So. Bush seems to have captured the presidency. The election was a tie, and he won — however sleazily — in a tiebreaker.
But he, and we, will never know if he won legitimately. It will be difficult to disregard that.
Streaming Media Gets More Real
And I’m not just talking about RealNetworks, the leader in the field. Streaming audio and video are moving into the mainstream in a fairly serious way.
More in my Wednesday column.