Final Recountdown?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 8 2000 7:41 AM

Final Recountdown?

Everybody leads with yesterday's hour-plus of oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court. Bush and Gore lawyers were there on the question of whether the lower court judge who tried Al Gore's contest lawsuit erred when he rejected Gore's request for a manual recount of some 14,000 disputed ballots. The USA Today lead notes right away that the hearing came one month after Americans voted. The Washington Post front has its hostage-crisis-style counter set at "Day 30."

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The WP lead says in its first paragraph that several of the court's seven justices appeared "open to Gore's argument" that he was unjustly denied the recount. The New York Times lead, in its first paragraph, refers to "repeated skepticism" from several justices about whether the court should get involved at all. The NYT says that the lead Bush attorney, Barry Richard, "left somewhat less battered" than his Gore counterpart, David Boies. The headline over the Wall Street Journal story, referring to the late November session leading up to the court's previous unanimous ruling that Gore had a right to some recounting, reads: "THIS TIME, FLORIDA HIGH COURT CASTS COLDER EYE ON GORE'S QUEST."

The Times' and WSJ's main stories on the hearing note that early on when one justice asked Boies why the Florida Supreme Court should even be able to review the lower court's ruling, Boies seemed surprised. After a pause, they report, he replied that the U.S. Constitution did not intend for legislatures to act as judicial bodies, and hence that election case rulings could be appealed like any others.

Everybody notes that in their questioning, the judges expressed concern about their powers to order a recount in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling admonishing the Florida court to be sure not to tread on the Florida Legislature's primacy in making voting law. And the coverage also notes they expressed concern about there not being enough time to conduct a recount anyway.

The papers also report another point where the judges pressed Boies hard: Why, some wondered, were they being asked to authorize a recount only of some ballots? Boies responded that the contest statute entitled the losing candidate to make such choices. But (especially in the NYT lead) reading to the very end reveals plenty of pressure from the bench on the Bush position, too, especially regarding the trial judge's decision not to look at the ballots entered into evidence and his related view that a recount was permissible only if there was a reasonable probability that it would change an election's outcome. Very near the bottom, the Times lead quotes one judge saying she was "really having a problem" with that standard.

The coverage says that the Florida high court could issue a decision today, and ditto for decisions in two Florida county trials about the status of absentee ballots, which might radically switch the state's vote totals. And it's widely reported that the Florida Legislature meets today to begin working on its alternative slate of electors. Although the papers generally reflect the idea that therefore, the end of Gore's case might be today, the Los Angeles Times lead says that one of Gore's Florida attorneys did not rule out further legal action, even though early in the week Gore and Boies had suggested otherwise.

Bush attorney Richard gets appreciative profiles on both the WP front and inside the NYT, both of which note with amazement how many Bush cases he's handling simultaneously. But it's the Times piece that wryly notes the risk he runs: He has to make sure he remembers which case he's on since in some cases Richard has argued that votes that violate a technical rule should not be counted while in others he's argued that they should.

The WSJ fronts a long feature about the difficulties Procter & Gamble has experienced trying to build an overseas market for tampons. Despite their ubiquity in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, tampons are, the story says, used by only 100 million of the world's 1.7 billion potential customers. Biggest problems: 1) the fear of toxic shock syndrome, which was connected with one discontinued high-absorbency product and which the company says can be avoided when using others by replacing a used tampon after 8 hours; 2) especially in predominantly Catholic countries, the fear that through using them, a woman "might lose her virginity." The story reminds that when tampons were first introduced in the U.S. in 1936, some priests objected to them.

The NYT goes inside with a clarification made by Rolling Stone about its Bill Clinton interview. Seems the magazine got it wrong when it quoted Clinton as referring to "this dumb-ass 'don't ask, don't tell' " policy about gays in the military. After the White House complained that Clinton had not used the vulgarism, the magazine discovered that a stenographer had taken "don't ask" to be "dumb-ass." (Read here how Slate's Chris Suellentrop discovered the truth.)

The LAT lead says that Al Gore watched the televised court proceedings and George W. Bush did not. Then the paper describes Bush as "saying he was too busy to pay any mind to the proceedings in Florida." But this is a rather sweeping and unjustified description of Bush, who merely said he was in meetings during the hearing. And one which is immediately refuted by the story's next sentence: "He did acknowledge getting a briefing later from James A. Baker III, his Florida point man."

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