Times Snubbed Miami Herald as Chad Orgy Reopens in Florida

After weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, six national news heavyweights, including The New York Times , finally agreed on Tuesday, Jan. 9, to work together to examine all the uncounted Florida ballots from the2000 Presidential election.

Hopping into the Florida hot tub with The Times are The Washington Post , Tribune Publishing (owners of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday , among others), The Wall Street Journal , CNN and the Associated Press. They are joined by two Florida dailies, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post .

The primary motivation for this unprecedented “media consortium,” as it is being called, is, saving dough of course. The re-re-count project is expected to cost more than $500,000–but may approach $1 million, sources said–with the news organizations splitting the tab. But participants also think the joint agreement will give the ballot investigation added gravitas. Times managing editor Bill Keller said the consortium effort will “probably have a bit more weight” than would solo efforts by each of its members.

Well, don’t tell that to The Miami Herald . The pesky daily, which has been doing its own ballot analysis, may wind up shooting a torpedo into the bigwig national media’s high-falutin’ consortium. In fact, The Herald is on schedule to finish its counting within a month–at least six weeks before the consortium announces its returns.

“The reason we didn’t join the consortium is that we wanted to run our own show,” said The Herald ‘s executive editor, Marty Baron. The editor said his paper didn’t want to attend “big committee meetings” where the role of the state’s largest newspaper would be unclear.

And now it’s pretty obvious that The Herald would like nothing better than to upstage the consortium’s ballot investigation–particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post , which had approached the Miami daily shortly after the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide re-count of untabulated Presidential votes on Dec. 8.

At that time, top officials from the three papers, including Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Post publisher Bo Jones and Knight Ridder ( The Herald ‘s parent) chief executive Tony Ridder, jointly discussed aligning forces for a ballot examination. But fairly quickly, said The Herald ‘s Mr. Baron and The Times ‘ Mr. Keller, it became obvious that The Herald , armed with a decisive home-court advantage, was content to count alone.

“We felt we could be more nimble acting on our own,” Mr. Baron said.

Indeed, The Herald soon proved to have the fastest feet in the post-election forest. Barely one week after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dec. 12 ruling essentially awarded George W. Bush the election, The Herald had made requests to the supervisors of elections in all 67 Florida counties, and a third of them had already granted the paper access. What’s more, The Herald had hired a large national accounting firm, BDO Seidman, to examine the ballots, and that work, too, had begun.

Meanwhile, The Times and The Post and other consortium wannabes (a final consortium deal had not yet been struck) were having trouble finding an independent firm to assist their ballot-examining effort. Like The Herald, the fledgling consortium had approached the “Big Five” accounting firms to do the job–and, like The Herald, they had been turned away because of the firms’ fears of stirring controversy and taking on such a massive project just as tax season began.

So once again, the national media heavies shot an affectionate glance southward to The Herald, which was making impressive headway in its count. Talks between the would-be consortium members and The Herald resumed, and though these conversations were longer and more detailed, they eventually unraveled again.

Participants said the points of contention involved the methodology of the investigation, the cost, control of the process, and final credit when a result was achieved. The Herald , having already done much of the initial legwork in Florida, wanted its name attached to the final result, a stipulation that Mr. Baron freely acknowledged. “Yes, we did want some credit for the Miami Herald ,” he said.

But John Broder, The Times ‘ Washington editor, who also participated in the consortium negotiations, believed the breakdown of the second go-round with The Herald was prompted by issues of control, not credit.

“The credit thing was negotiated back and forth, and there was a lot of ego and institutional pride involved, but I think we worked that out eventually,” Mr. Broder said. “The control, the scope of the thing and the research design–those were the real sticking points.”

So once again, the bigwig media consortium and The Herald went their separate ways. And now, with the consortium finalizing its agreement in the second week of January, the Miami paper has a substantial head start. By Jan. 12, Mr. Baron said, The Herald will have either started or completed counting ballots in 35 of Florida’s 67 counties.

And while its membership list is gaudy, the consortium’s deal does not include several major media outlets which had also discussed joining the arrangement. Time , USA Today and the New York Daily News had all deliberated hooking up with the consortium, but dropped out for various reasons. However, the consortium is allowing additional media groups to join the ballot bandwagon late–so long as they agree to share the costs. ( Newsweek , which is owned by the Washington Post Company, will also have access to the ballot data, it was announced.)

And good news: The consortium finally got itself an independent auditor. The actual responsibility for examining the 180,000 ballots will be placed in the hands of the National Opinion Research Center, a survey firm affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The consortium estimates that the project will take eight or 10 weeks to complete. And while they got a late start, consortium members believe that they will have, when all is said and done, the official post-election bully pulpit.

“It’s hard to imagine a group that includes The Times , The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press and all the others is not going to have a tremendous historic authority,” said Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker. “More than any individual organization going out on its own.”

Down in Miami, however, Mr. Baron didn’t sound like he was quaking in his boots.

“This,” he said, “is our backyard.”

In his Dec. 28 column, Jeff Jacoby, the conservative Boston Globe columnist who was suspended earlier this year for borrowing material from an oft-circulated Internet e-mail, expressed indignation about an incident last summer, when CBS Late Late Show host Craig Kilborn aired a picture of George W. Bush with the caption “SNIPERS WANTED.”

What if, Mr. Jacoby asked, “you’re watching The O’Reilly Factor , Fox News Channel’s popular interview show. The host is commenting acidly on the presidential campaign. To illustrate his point, he airs some video of Al Gore addressing the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. And as you watch, amazed, the words ‘Snipers Wanted’ appear on the screen as Gore speaks.”

Mr. Jacoby continued: “It never happened, of course. But imagine the reaction if it had. If O’Reilly ever pulled such a stunt, he would be pilloried from coast to coast.”

But four months earlier, on Aug. 16, Richard Roeper, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist who moonlights as Roger Ebert’s new movie buddy on Ebert & Roeper, wrote: “Imagine if a right-wing pundit such as Rush Limbaugh went on network television and delivered a tasteless visual joke about Al Gore–something that would cross anybody’s boundary of fair play. Something like showing a photo of Gore at the podium at the Democratic National Convention along with a flashing graphic proclaiming, ‘SNIPERS WANTED.’ Gee, you think ol’ Rush would take some heavy heat for that?”

Pretty similar, huh? Turns out, though, that Mr. Roeper wasn’t the first to use this device, either. Five days before his column ran, on Aug. 11, the New York Post published an editorial about the Kilborn incident, too. It began, “Suppose conservative radio and TV talk-show host Sean Hannity aired a video clip calling for someone to step forward and assassinate Al Gore. How long would it be before he was yanked off the air? Minutes? Seconds?”

Both Mr. Jacoby and Mr. Roeper said they were unaware of the previous iterations of their meme. Mr. Jacoby said the first place he heard about the Kilborn remark was from a report by the conservative media-watchdog group Media Research Center. “Yeah, I can certainly see the similarity in his opening, is that what you’re talking about?” Mr. Jacoby said when he read Mr. Roeper’s column at Off the Record’s request. “I can’t pretend it was the most, you know, brilliant insight–but I can tell you this is not something I’ve ever seen before.” He added that when Mr. Roeper’s column and the Post editorial were published, he was on suspension after his Globe bosses decided his July 3 column about the signers of the Declaration of Independence borrowed too heavily from material in a well-traveled e-mail (Mr. Jacoby and his supporters contended the punishment was far too severe).

Essentially, Mr. Jacoby copped to end-of-the-year hackery instead of borrowing anyone’s stuff. He said, “The whole theme of this column–and it’s the seventh year I’ve done a column on what I call ‘liberal hate speech’–is how come liberals get away with saying things about conservatives that conservatives would get crucified for if they said it about a liberal? Each year I write it and make exactly the same point, and generally I’ll start off with something like this: ‘If a conservative said X, Y or Z, there would be an uproar.'”

Mr. Jacoby, in fact, took the Post editorial and Mr. Roeper’s column as flattery. “Frankly, I’d like to think that after so many years of banging on this liberal-hate-speech theme … others have started to pick it up,” he said. “So I look at this as vindication that some of the stuff I’ve written has had an effect.”

The columnist’s boss, Renee Loth, didn’t have too much to say about the similarities. “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention, but I really feel this is the annual roundup he does every year,” she said. “So I don’t see much cause for concern–and as you know, I can be hard on these things.”

Mr. Roeper contended that he, Mr. Jacoby and the Post all arrived at the similar phrasing independently. “I just read the New York Post editorial for the first time,” he said. “Given the fact I wrote my column without seeing the Post editorial, it’s certainly possible that he wrote his column independently of mine. I wouldn’t accuse him of ripping me off,” he said. Post editorial-page editor Bob McManus said the whole thing came down to a cliché: “This is almost a no-brainer in terms of structure. We use it all the time.”

After getting eighty-sixed at The New Yorker , pot-stirring illustrator Art Spiegelman has found a home for his latest controversial drawing at The Nation .

Mr. Spiegelman’s illustration, entitled “I Had a Dream …”, depicted a tormented Martin Luther King Jr. in bed, feverishly gripping his pillow, with a beatific George W. Bush in a thought balloon above, wrapping his arms around his two black foreign-policy officials, Secretary of State-designate General Colin Powell and future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The piece was submitted for The New Yorker ‘s “Back Page” with the idea that it would run in the Jan. 22 issue, which hits newsstands on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 15.

But no dice; The New Yorker rejected the picture shortly after New Year’s Day.

Once New Yorker editor David Remnick passed, Mr. Spiegelman started shopping the art around town–to The New York Times ‘ Op-Ed page, where, unfortunately for the artist, Op-Ed art director Peter Buchanan-Smith was on vacation and never saw the submission, and to The Nation , which snapped it up for its Jan. 29 issue, which will go to press on Jan. 10.

Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel was thrilled to land the Spiegelman art. “This symbolism of Bush on race and some of these appointments will more than likely be used to cover policies that harm the overwhelming majority of minorities,” Ms. vanden Heuvel said. And she accused The New Yorker of short-sightedness in passing on the art. “I think this is a moment for magazines that see beyond the smiling faces of this administration and the kind of up-tone bipartisanship, and in that sense The Nation plays a role at these times,” the editor said.

A New Yorker spokeswoman said that Mr. Spiegelman’s piece was bounced because of “an editorial decision.” “This is a magazine that turns down submissions all the time,” the spokeswoman said. She denied that the piece was seen as too controversial and in the past, it should be noted, the magazine has run Spiegelman covers like a Hasidic man kissing a black woman and a cop at a shooting gallery where the targets look like civilians.

In fact, another picture by Mr. Spiegelman will run on the “Back Page,” and this one will also lampoon Mr. Bush. Said the New Yorker spokesperson: “It’s just something we thought more appropriate to run.”

The day after Vanity Fair’s Hollywood , that thick and glossy compendium of movie-star photographs from the Vanity Fair archives published just in time for Christmas, was dubbed a “bomb” in this column, the magazine’s P.R. staff–which had been contacted for comment before the item went to press–whirled into action.

They would like you to know that the fact that the celebrity coffee-table book is being hawked half-price all over town does not mean it is not selling well. Christopher Sweet, the editor in chief of Viking Studio, which published the title, got on the phone with us to let you know that this is all part of a master plan, whereby the publisher will sell the book at half-price during January in order to keep it at the front of bookstores during the Christmas-returns season and hopefully right on through to the Oscar season, when Mr. Sweet hopes units will continue to move.

So far, the book editor said, out of a print run of 100,000, U.S. sales of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood have hit between 60,000 and 65,000, and overseas sales (mainly in Britain and Australia) have disposed of 20,000 more copies. The book–even while selling for half its cover price–rose to No. 19 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“This is not being marked down and put out of print,” Mr. Sweet said. “We don’t often get on the best-seller list. This is a great book for us,” he added. So there you have it: 21st-century bookselling. Swing , baby.