BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone with a story that scores high on the news media's "ick factor." The 2004 presidential election, part two, the vote count. It seems that a sizable number of people, fueled in part by internet-generated outrage, are clamoring for vote count news. I mean we've got mail -- and not just us. [TAPE PLAYS]
PETER JENNINGS: So, it is now a week since the country re-elected President Bush, and we've been a little surprised by how many emails we've had suggesting that maybe, once again, the country got it wrong. Now, we're not particularly disposed to conspiracy theories. As you know, Mr. Bush won by a very comfortable margin of more than three million votes. We did think it might be a public service, and quite frankly cut back on the emails, if our ballot watch correspondent Jake Tapper, took another look. [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Tuesday, after Peter Jennings' somewhat disdainful intro-- Jake Tapper offered a report called "Conspiracy Theories Abound after Bush Victory." A Boston Globe headline read "Internet Buzz on Vote Fraud is Dismissed." The Washington Post ran a story about the conspiracy theories; so did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The New York Times had a piece Friday titled "Vote Fraud Theories Spread by Blogs Are Quickly Buried." The papers are seeing more conspiracies than stories here, but even though none of the alleged ballot shenanigans would change the outcome of the presidential election, to some, they suggest that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. In fact, you can find a list of ballot irregularities at a website called RottenDenmark.BlogSpot.com.
MICKEY KAUS: If there were a Mission Impossible sort of task force assigned to steal an American election, fiddling with it behind the scenes, it would look very much like what we experienced last week, so-- if you're a rational paranoid, that says "Hmmmm. Uhhh, you know, maybe we just better make sure this was kosher."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mickey Kaus, writer of Kaus Files on Slate.com, says the mainstream media have been a mite slow off the mark, but not because they're afraid of charges of bias.
MICKEY KAUS: I think the press has already been accused of being biased for the Democrats. They've learned how to handle that, and I don't think that's the reason. You know, they don't want to seem to be spoilsports, and they don't want to seem to be sore losers, but mainly, like everybody else, they want to put Florida behind them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They want to put Florida and Ohio and maybe New Hampshire behind them, but for the time being, they can't quite make them go away.
MICKEY KAUS: I don't think we have closure yet. We haven't had the definitive, convincing investigative piece. Maybe it came out today and I haven't read it, but I haven't seen a piece that convinces me that everything was on the up and up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's because some incidents still defy explanation and aren't being examined, as of Friday anyway, except by one stunningly enthusiastic news anchor. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is the newly-appointed hero of the left, recipient of some 20,000 grateful emails just this week for running a series of investigative pieces about the vote count on his news show, Countdown. [TAPE PLAYS]
KEITH OLBERMANN: Our fifth story in the countdown tonight. There is a small but blood-curdling group of reports of voting irregularities and possible fraud, principally in Ohio and Florida, and that group of reports is moving from that end of the spectrum, in which believers are also likely to be wearing hats made out of Reynolds Wrap, to the other end of the spectrum in which the believers are going to the General Accounting Office and perhaps the FBI. [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mickey Kaus.
MICKEY KAUS: He's been totally transparent about what he's doing, and he hasn't gone that much beyond where the facts have led him, and he hasn't pretended he's doing anything other than investigating the story. So, I think he's behaved responsibly, and he can back off now if it turns out not to be true, without any egg on his face. That's what the press is supposed to do. It's supposed to do -- it's supposed to raise questions and answer them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Keith Olbermann.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Believe me, I didn't start out on a crusade to be the only person who was covering this story, and I did not think this is Edward R. Murrow bringing down Joseph McCarthy. I have no illusions about it. I thought it was a story that merited coverage. I don't really have to worry about what other people are doing or not doing. Just looking at it from a point of view of there's a story here; I happen to have a newscast. Maybe I should cover it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As for why his colleagues, for the most part, haven't he also doesn't buy the argument that they're scared. He thinks they're probably just tired.
KEITH OLBERMANN: When John Kerry announced his concession, there were -- I don't know -- hundreds, thousands of full time political reporters, perhaps, whose first human reaction to that probably was -- Great. All I have to do is write this up and then I get four days off, [LAUGHTER] and for many of them, I would think that would be the first consecutive days off since this campaign really got going, which is in March, which made it the longest in American history, and people were dropping like flies. I mean you saw reporters on television who were literally hoarse, and countless newspaper reporters who looked worse than usual, and I think that the primary reason this didn't get any traction, the reason there was a silence to some degree was that people were just off.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another intriguing reason for what he called "a deafening silence" earlier this week --contempt for blog-generated news.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Any established form of journalism gets really angry when there's [LAUGHS] a new form of journalism put in, especially if it doesn't play by the rules that the old-fashioned version does, and clearly the internet does not play by those rules. That's the primary problem with the blogs, as such.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But his most convincing explanation, to me, anyway, is that this story isn't going to change the big story.
KEITH OLBERMANN: In mainstream media, we are very goal-oriented. We don't talk issues or policy or long term effects -- it's okay, this is not going to impact the outcome of the election, because Kerry already conceded. End of story. Let's start talking about the 2008 primaries.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what story broke through Olbermann's election-weary, blog-leery, goal-oriented defenses? It was about a vote-counting facility in Warren County, Ohio, locked down and closed off to the media on election night due to "national security concerns." Reportedly, the FBI said it rated a perfect 10 for danger. The FBI has since denied it ever made that call. What gives? For Olbermann, one suspicious event led to another. [TAPE PLAYS]
KEITH OLBERMANN: Gaston has become the sixth North Carolina county to revise its vote totals from election day. Turnout was not 45 percent there. It was 57 percent. They were off by nearly 12,000 votes. "Someone," said county elections director Sandra Page, "forgot to follow the point and click procedure." [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It probably doesn't matter. Kerry isn't complaining. In fact, Friday's New York Times piece ends with a quote from David Wade, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, who says "I'd give my right arm for internet rumors of a stolen election to be true, but blogging it doesn't make it so." Still, the Times reports that lawyers for the Kerry campaign are on a fact-checking trip in Ohio just to erase doubts about the legitimacy of the Ohio vote raised by the blogs. Six Democratic Congressmen have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate irregularities involving touch screen voting machines. North Carolina may have to re-elect some state officials. Ralph Nader may actually -- who knows? -- be able to pull off a recount in New Hampshire. A slow drip, drip, drip that wouldn't fill a bucket. But maybe if we just stare this thing down, it will work better next time. I don't want a tin foil hat; just please, God -- give me some closure. [MUSIC]