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Summary of Interview (November 29, 2001)
Fiedler discusses his position as the Miami Herald's editorial pages editor at time of
2000 presidential election. He details how the newspaper determined its editorial
policies and gives reasons why the newspaper held back on endorsing a candidate too
early in the campaign. He describes how the editorial board made its recommendations
to the Herald's readers, and how the final decision about endorsement was made by a
vote or a "consensus." He recounts the paper giving its support to Judge Sauls's
decision and supporting the dissenting view in the Florida Supreme Court's 4-3
decision. The Herald supported the U.S. Supreme Court stepping in.
Fielder remarks about the Herald endorsing Gore but also considered asking Gore to
concede because the election needed to come to a conclusion. The editorial board's
"guiding philosophy" was to say "let us trust the [legal] process." He describes how
editorials were written--drafts would be circulated for comments. The Herald's lawyer
played a major role in giving guidance about the legal issues. He reports about the
criteria used to select the best candidate and which candidate fit that criteria and set of
values. Gore fit most of those criteria but the paper questioned his leadership abilities.
He refers to Gore as having a "troubling inauthenticity."
Fiedler states that the Herald had three different editorials prepared for whatever
happened on Election Day: one for a Gore victory, one for a Bush victory, and one for
an inconclusive result. After believing Bush had won and publishing its respective
editorial, the editorial board stopped the presses when Gore decided not to concede.
"We looked back and we told people we were not wrong with that George Bush
editorial. We were just thirty-seven days early with it." He describes how every day
presented a new "twist or turn or development" to the ongoing story and "we were in
uncharted waters." He feels that Bob Graham on Gore's ticket would have made a
difference in North Florida, but Lieberman had a big impact in South Florida.
Fielder states that a newspaper's endorsement of a presidential candidate has only a
"marginal" effect on its readers. He feels it is "important for readers to be able to have
an insight into the quality of our thinking." A newspaper's endorsement is "important to
the candidates" although not being endorsed by a paper could be a "rallying point" for
the other candidate. From the time of the nominations, both candidates were not as
"responsive" to the Herald's questions on their positions. He discusses the specific
problem of calling the winner before the polls have closed in the Florida Panhandle, but
it is also a problem on the national scale. He states, "We [newspapers] should not be
calling an election before everyone has had the opportunity to vote and it is over."
Fiedler gives his perspective on the butterfly ballot: "I have no doubt it cost Al Gore the
election. The butterfly ballot will forever stand as an example of how lousy graphics can
affect world events." The butterfly ballot design violated ballot design requirements. He
talks about Judge Middlebrooks's wise decision that this was a state matter, and it
should never have been moved to the federal courts. He feels that Gore should have
followed up on his request for a statewide recount, but realizes that Bush backed off for
"tactical reasons" based "purely on politics." He describes why a statewide recount was
impossible. He takes up the issue of Attorney General Butterworth's advisory opinion
versus Secretary fo State Harris's advisory opinion.
Fiedler examines the Herald's coverage of the confusion in Palm Beach County. He
gives insight into the role of television being able to cover instantaneous events versus
a newspaper not being able to cover continuing developments. He says that at the end
of the day the newspaper could "pull all these different threads together and hopefully in
some way make sense of it for people so that we created at least a daily benchmark."
He talks about the events surrounding the Miami-Dade recount which impacted whether
or not the canvassing board was going to do the recount. He does not feel that the
Republican protesters had any influence on the decision to discontinue the recount.
Fiedler speaks about the controversial overseas ballots in the Panhandle. He says that
"when it served George W. Bush's interests to interpret the rules as loosely as possible,
they [Republicans] were quite willing to take that position," that is, wanting to accept
ballots postmarked after November 7 that were illegal. Because the Gore team
accepted this Republican position, it might have cost Gore the election. Gore was
"politically boxed into" this stance of not wanting to discount military votes. He feels that
Gore should be faulted for having "micro-managed this whole post-November 7
process." Gore looked at this "as a political fight" rather than a "legal fight." He thinks
that the public relations war "came out to be a draw." He talks about how the
Republican Party was organized from the very beginning of this process whereas the
"Democratic response was much more ad hoc."
Fiedler speaks of Katherine Harris as being clearly partisan, especially when she had
opportunities to show bipartisanship. He describes Governor Jeb Bush's role as
"laudable" in distancing himself from the proceedings. He takes up the Florida Supreme
Court's decision to extend the date to November 26 for when these recounts should be
completed. He feels that the Florida Supreme Court was "establishing procedures that
amounted to new law." The Herald found the court's "flexibility to what they [justices]
were doing" to be "troublesome." He viewed the Seminole and Martin counties issue of
letting Republicans add voter identification numbers to request forms for absentee ballot
as "a violation of election law." He adds that "there were enough ballots in question
there that the outcome could have been [changed]."
Fiedler comments on Tom Feeney's role as Speaker of the House of Representatives to
seat the Bush electors: "I think that was a blatantly partisan move that did more to
exacerbate tensions and polarize positions than anything at all." He states that
legislature did not have to act in that way and that there "was certainly no urgency" on
their part to do so, and that Feeney's move "was rather shameless." He thinks that
Judge Sauls made a correct decision in the contest phase. He expresses "surprise"
that the U.S. Supreme Court got involved and adds that "for them [U.S. Supreme Court]
to at this point decide that there were no adequate remedies at the state level was a
surprise." He states that the U.S. Supreme Court "needed to get their hands on this."
Fiedler discusses the 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decision allowing for the vote recount.
He does not think the court was partisan or political. The court was "acting according
to that principle" of "count every ballot." The Herald was "appalled by the obvious
inconsistences among the sixty-seven counties here, by the way they handled ballots,
and the almost capricious way in which some ballots were discounted [and] others were
not." He feels that the "equal protection" clause was "valid" and "that was the core of it
for us." He says that the Herald "could not get comfortable" with the fact that Gore
argued for new standards. He thinks that the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision giving
Bush the election was "troubling." He states that "you had a conservative majority
making a decision that benefitted the conservative candidate." He gives his reaction to
the Miami Herald's study of the election returns. He concludes by saying that "this is an
election where we will never actually know, [and] never actually be satisfied with the