Networks scramble to decipher ruling

By Frazier Moore, Associated Press, 12/13/2000

EW YORK - In a dramatic live television scene repeated on network after network, correspondents standing in the cold night air outside the US Supreme Court tried to make sense of a complex decision whose ink was barely dry.

After more than a month of bewildering, and sometimes bewildered, coverage of Florida's recount dispute, this may have been the most remarkable display of newscaster improvisation.

''Nobody should be embarrassed about trying to work out a Supreme Court ruling on the fly,'' said anchor Peter Jennings, as ABC's correspondents, Jackie Judd and Jeffrey Toobin, scrambled moments after getting the decision that potentially could determine the winner of the presidential election.

''Jackie, why don't you start?'' said Jennings, cutting to the pair.

''I'm gonna turn it over to Jeffrey Toobin,'' Judd said.

''I was hoping to turn it over to Jackie,'' Toobin said, before asking Jennings for a few more moments to figure it out.

The court's complicated decision, awaited since Monday afternoon, was released at 10 p.m. last night. All the networks and cable news outlets went on the air immediately to try to tell viewers what it meant.

If only they could have been sure as they tried to digest the information in seconds. ''Seem'' seemed to be the operative word.

At first several of the reporters seemed to find hope for the Democrats in language that ''remanded'' the matter back to the Florida Supreme Court.

On CNN, Roger Cossack told Judy Woodruff he thought a recount was still possible.

CBS's Dan Rather speculated that ''the Al Gore forces are saying, `Whew, it may not be everything we want, but at least we're still breathing.'''

But as the correspondents read further, the prevailing view became more pessimistic that a further recount would be possible.

''This would seem to strike a note of finality for Al Gore,'' NBC's Tom Brokaw said.

NBC's Tim Russert was handy with his now-famous grease-pencil slate, in figuring Bush the victor with 271 electoral votes to Gore's 267.

''The more you look at it, the bleaker it looks for Al Gore,'' CNN's Jeff Greenfield concluded.