Article published Monday, July 12, 2004, at New York Post.


By John R. Lott Jr. and Brian Blase

July 12, 2004 -- AMONG its many errors, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is poisoning our political debate with its fictional account of the Florida vote in 2000.

Perhaps his distortions have gone unremarked because they've been repeated so often. (Jesse Jackson, for one, still speaks of Florida as "the scene of the crime" where "[blacks] were disenfranchised. Our birthright stolen.") But still, Moore's "documentary" seems to set a new record for political dishonesty.

Consider a few of the movie's assertions:

The Fox News Channel played a major role in Bush's victory in Florida: The film shows CBS and CNN calling Florida for Gore, followed by a voiceover uttering, "Then something called the Fox News Channel called the election in favor of the other guy."

First off, Moore leaves out the fact that Fox first called Florida for Gore and didn't call it back until 2 a.m.

Indeed, all the networks, Fox included, helped Gore by calling the Florida polls as closed at 7 p.m. Eastern time and quickly declaring a Democrat the winner of the state's U.S. Senate race, before also saying the state had gone to Gore.

In fact, polls in the 10 heavily Republican counties in the state's western panhandle, located in the Central time zone, were open until 8. But why bother trying to vote when a trusted newsman says the polls are closed and you've already lost?

After surveying voters, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel claimed that the early call cost Bush a net loss of up to 8,000 votes. Another survey conducted by John McLaughlin and Associates, a Republican polling company, put Bush's net loss at about 10,000 votes.

"Under every scenario Gore would have won" the Florida vote if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't stopped the count. In making this claim, Moore chooses to ignore the most definitive post-election examinations of the ballots.

Two large news consortiums (USA Today and The Miami Herald headed one; the other included The New York Times) conducted massive recounts of Florida's ballots. Both reached very similar conclusions, and neither supported Moore's claim. To quote from the USA Today group's findings (May 11, 2001):

"Who would have won if Al Gore had gotten manual counts he requested in four counties? Answer: George W. Bush."

"Who would have won if the U.S. Supreme Court had not stopped the hand recount of undervotes, which are ballots that registered no machine-readable vote for president? Answer: Bush, under three of four standards."

"Who would have won if all disputed ballots including those rejected by machines because they had more than one vote for president had been recounted by hand? Answer: Bush, under the two most widely used standards; Gore, under the two least used."

Unless all these news organizations are part of Moore's vast rightwing conspiracy, his claim that the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of the Florida Supreme Court's decision cost Gore the election is based only upon his own wishes, not facts.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stole the election for his brother by removing African-American voters, who were likely to vote for Gore, from the rolls. Again, Moore ignores documented fact.

Some background: Florida bans felons from voting (unless they've been granted clemency). Before the 2000 vote, the state hired Database Technologies to purge rolls of felons and dead people. Some non-felons were erroneously removed from the rolls but the errors didn't "target" minorities.

The liberal-leaning Palm Beach Post found that "a review of state records, internal e-mails of [Database Technologies] employees and testimony before the civil rights commission and an elections task force showed no evidence that minorities were specifically targeted."

The law against felon voting does have a racial impact, since African-Americans make up the greatest share of felons (nearly 49 percent felons convicted in Florida). But the application of that law in 2000 skewed somewhat the opposite way whites were actually the most likely to be erroneously excluded.

The error rate was 9.9 percent for whites, 8.7 percent for Hispanics, and only a 5.1 percent for African-Americans.

* Michael Moore has been honest in one regard: He freely admits he hopes his film helps defeat President Bush this fall. It's hard to find much else that he's been honest about, however including calling "Fahrenheit 9/11" a documentary.

John R. Lott Jr. is a resident scholar and Brian Blase a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.


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