Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
Donald Trump supporters have been defending the presidential nominee’s warnings about a “rigged” election and refusal to say he will accept the results in November by claiming Trump is merely doing the same thing former Vice President Al Gore did in 2000. But reporters who covered that year’s Florida recount tell Media Matters that the people pushing that comparison either “haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous.”
During Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, Trump sparked widespread criticism by telling moderator Chris Wallace that he will “keep you in suspense” over whether he will accept the outcome of the election.
Immediately following the debate, Trump surrogates, media allies, and campaign officials quickly went to work pretending that Trump’s assertion -- which journalists and experts have called “horrifying” and “disqualifying” -- was actually no big deal, because he was merely doing the same thing Gore did following the 2000 election.
But for reporters and editors who covered the Florida recount, there is no comparison.
“The two situations are not even remotely similar," recalled Martin Merzer, a former Miami Herald senior writer who was among the lead recount journalists at the time. "In 2000, the recount was mandated by the state because of the narrowness of the margin. They haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous. At no point before, during, or after that election was voter fraud an issue and at no point three weeks before the election did any candidate refuse to accept the result.”
He also had a warning for journalists who might try to compare the two this year: “Any reporter who just does a he said/she said on this is not doing his or her work because the cases are not similar and a little bit of research could show how dissimilar they are.”
Trump, echoing his conspiracy theorist media allies, has spent months warning his supporters that the November results might be “rigged” against him.
Tim Nickens, who was the St. Petersburg Times political editor in 2000, agreed that the situations are not similar.
“I don’t think it’s the same at all,” Nickens, now editorial page editor at the renamed Tampa Bay Times, said. “Gore was never claiming the election was rigged as I recall, certainly not right out of the box. You may remember in the pre-dawn hours he was heading to concede.
“As the things unfolded, Gore raised questions in specific counties, not the entire state,” Nickens said. “And then after 36 days of this and the court ruled, he could have continued to dispute it then in a P.R. sort of a way and he didn’t do that. Trump has no evidence or anything other than saying, ‘If I lose, I should have won.’”
Adam Clymer, a former New York Times political reporter who covered elements of the recount, points out that Gore never questioned the validity of the process and certainly not in advance.
“He didn’t announce in advance that he didn’t trust it,” Clymer remembers, later adding, “I don’t think it’s comparable. People have always challenged results when they thought there were irregularities. What is different about Trump is announcing in advance he may not accept the results.”
John Zarrella, a former CNN correspondent on the Florida recount, said there was no pre-vote claim of rigging as there is with Trump.
“In 2000, the result was not called into question until after the votes were cast,” he said via email. “And only after an automatic machine recount was triggered in Florida. So at this point, what is there to compare?”
George Bennett, a Palm Beach Post reporter who was on the recount story, said that was only disputed afterward and because it was “freakishly close.”
“There was a lot of dispute over what the rules would be over recounting ballots,” Bennett said. “It was contested after the fact and not beforehand. Trump is saying something three weeks before. The 2000 recount was hotly contested, but it was after the election.”
Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald political editor and editorial page editor in 2000, said anyone seeking to compare Trump’s actions with Gore is displaying “either an ignorance of the facts or a deliberate attempt to distort them.”
“The Gore campaign never alleged that the system was rigged or the outcome in any way unfair,” Fiedler added via email. “Again, the entire series of lawsuits and court hearings was about the determining voter intent on the uncounted ballots.”