On the day after the presidential election of 2000, the news on ABC World News Tonight was anything but routine: candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore disputed the election results. Victory addresses and concession speeches were postponed, as the arduous process of challenging the vote in the pivotal state of Florida commenced.
As anchor Peter Jennings noted at the outset of the evening broadcast, “Uncertainty, intrigue and partisan politics make for a volatile mix.” But he ended the broadcast with a reassuring note, much as anchors had done following previous elections: “Finally, this evening, a very brief personal note. A colleague and I who have covered the transfer of power in many unfortunate parts of the world, very often at the point of a gun, agree today on the marvel of this democracy. For all the turmoil last night and today and perhaps tomorrow, Americans, unlike so many others, take the peaceful and orderly transition of power, ultimately, for granted. A gift from the founding fathers.”“World News Tonight” transcript, November 8, 2000, quotations on pp. 1 and 9.
Jennings reiterated the conventional wisdom and reinforced public opinion about the wondrous design of American government contained in the Constitution. Yet his praise of the founders was misleading: in fact, the Constitution helped produce the “turmoil” of the 2000 presidential election. Presidents are selected by an Electoral College, a process whereby the winner of the popular vote in a state usually takes all of its electoral votes. Bush was able to win a scant majority in the Electoral College, even as more people voted for Gore nationwide.
The media have long been enthusiastic about the Constitution. They provided crucial assistance in the processes leading up to its adoption in the 1780s. They continue to venerate it today.