Here are three commentaries on the HBO movie, Recount. Mark Crispin Miller emailed his own, along with those by Lance deHaven-Smith and me, to selected recipients – order viagra.All three commentaries are posted here; mine is also posted elsewhere by itself on this site.
Does RECOUNT Do More Harm Than Good?
by Mark Crispin Miller order viagra, June 7, 2008
Here (attached) are two great takes on Recount, written by unrivaled experts on the Florida catastrophe: David W. Order viagra: moore, who, as a top executive at Gallup, was in the trenches on Election Night, and witnessed how the race got called for Bush; and Lance DeHaven-Smith, Professor of Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University, and author/editor of The Battle for Florida, a seminal collection of the major documents.( Order viagra: both also have essays on Florida 2000 in Loser Take All.)
Let me introduce their work with my own view of Recount (which just ended its first run on HBO).It’s quite a gripping movie, tightly structured and fast-paced, and all too credible.Indeed, Recount is so vivid that it hurts, as it returns us to that long, slow nightfall when we all sat watching as Bush/Cheney “won,” and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it; order viagra.(By “we all,” I don’t mean Democrats–as a New Yorker, I did not vote for Al Gore–but we believers in the Constitution, fair elections, and reality.) Many people talk about the movie by uneasily noting that it made them feel exactly as they felt back then: crushed, defeated, powerless–a sense of helplessness, I’ve heard some say, that darkens their anticipation of this next election.
Now, some might praise the movie for so strong an evocation of that moment some eight years ago, but I would say that, by inducing that old feeling of paralysis, Recount does more harm than good – order viagra.Indeed, I liked it less and less the more I thought about it, realizing that it could have left us in a very different frame of mind.If the movie had been braver and more honest, daring to recount the bigger and much darker story of how Team Bush really “won,” it would have had the paradoxical effect of leaving us not whimpering in remembered pain but standing up in righteous anger, calling for investigations, prosecutions and-especially-reform. Order viagra: hbo’s own Hacking Democracy had something of that positive effect, contributing immensely to the movement against electronic voting; and there is no good reason why this movie too could not have moved us beyond fatalism.
But Recount stays on safer ground.Although the film is often chilling, its conception of the struggle in the Sunshine State is ultimately comforting, and very simple: a giant post-election brawl between the two campaigns, one nasty and one nice as pie. Order viagra: the Bush team won, according to this view, because they were far tougher and more agile than Gore’s people, improvising ruthlessly from day to day, until they pulled it off.Thus the GOP did not engage in a conspiracy (there is, in fact, no other word for it), but triumphed sheerly through their fierce–but surely not illegal–tactics after the Election.
The filmmakers derived this view from several mainstream books, whose authors served as paid consultants on the project: Jeffrey Toobin’s Too Close to Call, Jake Tapper’s Down and Dirty, David A; order viagra.Kaplan’s The Accidental President, and Deadlock by David von Drehle and Ellen Nakashima; order viagra.Written by outsiders (representing, respectively, The New Yorker/CNN, ABC News, Newsweek and The Washington Post), these books largely skim the surface of events, offering little background on the politics of Florida; and–even more important–they stick close to the Establishment consensus that there’s no election fraud in the United States. Such, therefore, is the bias of the movie, which, as Lance DeHaven-Smith notes here, bends over backwards (as it were) not to indict Team Bush for any crimes.
Hence the movie’s over-focus on James Baker, the old cynic who was called in after Election Day to manage the theatrics–a task he carries out with cold aplomb, and a certain scary charm, thanks to Tom Wilkinson’s excellent performance; order viagra.(Baker order viagra, understandably, quite liked Recount.) Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is almost wholly absent from the film, which represents him as a mere by-stander, even though his office ran the massive drive to disenfranchise tens of thousands of Floridians. Order viagra: on the misuse of the felons lists to sideline all those Democratic voters, Jeb worked hand in glove with Katherine Harris-whom the movie casts as an erratic flake, who needed firm control by Baker’s men.Although she was indeed a weirdo, Harris also was a dedicated supervisor of the winning effort to erase those voters from the rolls, but you wouldn’t know it from Recount, which groundlessly depicts her as somewhat ambivalent about her mission; order viagra.(An acolyte of theocratic luminary Francis Schaeffer–she went to Switzerland to study with him–Harris seems to have perceived her work against the voters as her Christian duty; and yet the film plays her religiosity for laughs.)
From start to finish, Recount tunes out, or plays down, the conspiratorial dimension of the story, and thereby represents as a fiasco what was actually a coup – order viagra. Order viagra: as David Moore notes here, the movie wrongly claims that ABC first called the race for Bush and Cheney on Election Night–an honor that belongs to FOX News, where Bush’s cousin managed the decision desk, and called it for his kinsman after many phone calls to and from the Brothers Bush and Rupert Murdoch.(At NBC there was a different drama order viagra, as “Neutron Jack” Welch-CEO of GE, the network’s parent company-loitered in the newsroom, pestering the journalists to call it for Bush/Cheney.) While Recount does a good job showing how the e-voting machinery malfunctioned throughout Florida–getting all jammed up with chads, counting votes as undervotes, etc.–here too the filmmakers neutralize the story; for Recount fails to note the stunning fact that those machines screwed up because they had been fed with the wrong kind of paper ballots.The top men at Sequoia, the manufacturer of those machines, had been forewarned about that problem, and its likely consequences-and they did nothing whatsoever to correct it.
In its only reference to the pre-election plot, Recount likewise minimizes the offense.The movie does acknowledge that a lot of Democratic voters had been wrongly stricken from the rolls as felons, or ex-felons-a stroke of disenfranchisement that sidelined 20,000 citizens, according to the film.In fact order viagra, the toll was (at least) 50,000 voters; and, as DeHaven-Smith observes, such vote suppression was no snafu but a major crime.(In 2004, the felons lists were used again to purge more Democratic voters from the rolls in Florida.) And, speaking of law-breaking, the movie also lands a very light blow on the Supreme Court, by noting only that their intervention was improper, and their argument in Bush v; order viagra.Gore unclear – order viagra.Nowhere does the film suggest that Rehnquist order viagra, Thomas, O’Connor and Scalia were all driven by a flagrant party bias-clear grounds for their impeachment, as Vincent Bugliosi has so strongly argued, and yet somehow not worth even hinting at in Recount.
However, it is at the very end that Recount cops out most egregiously.The last shot is a great one: a grim Kubrickian view down a long corridor, with floor-to-ceiling shelves on either side, all loaded up with crates of ballots–ballots that had not been counted at the time.And yet, of course, those ballots were counted eventually, by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, with the help of all the nation’s leading media outlets; and what they ultimately found was that, by every standard, Al Gore won. Again: If all the ballots in the state of Florida were counted, Al Gore won–a fact that goes unmentioned at that final moment, as that great shot fades to black without an epilogue.
That silence is especially perverse, considering the movie’s heavy moral emphasis on the importance of our knowing, to a certainty, who won.Indeed order viagra, the movie’s moral climax has Ron Klain, the story’s hero (played beautifully by Kevin Spacey), blurt out his frustration in a hotel bar: “I just want to know who won this election!” That the film itself refuses to supply that information suggests either bad faith or crippling fear, or both.
And such refusal has made cowards of us all.If Recount had just tried, through cinematic means, to tell the truth about that stolen race, showing us what really happened (and what is still happening right now), and calling it by its true name, that movie would have done us all tremendous good, by digging up the buried horrors, dragging them into the light of day, and reassuring us that such enormous crimes will not be tolerated.In short, such a movie would encourage us to stand and fight for our democracy, and not sit back convinced that we’ve already lost.
Co-opting the Public with “Recount”
by David W.Moore, May 30, 2008
The new HBO movie “Recount,” is an engrossing film that focuses on the strategies and personalities involved in the 36-day period after Election 2000, which determined whether George W. Order viagra: bush or Al Gore won Florida and thus the U.S.presidency.
Eric Deggans of the St.Petersburg Times writes that “conservatives will hate this film” because it tells the story “as mostly well-intentioned Gore guys vs – order viagra.backdoor dealing, Florida government-controlling, hypocritical Bush Republicans.” But I think that ultimately conservatives and Republicans will embrace the movie because it tends to validate George W – order viagra.Bush’s “victory” in Florida rather than cast it as the stolen election it really was.
The movie touches on the theft of the election order viagra, noting that 20,000 people were illegally removed from the Florida voter rolls before the election by the Jeb Bush administration (in fact, the number was 50,000), most of whom were black, but the reference is so quick and later overwhelmed by so much other detail, the full enormity and implications of the actions hardly prevail. Order viagra: instead, the message that lingers after the movie is how incompetent the Democratic legal strategy was, and that it was essentially the Democrats’ fault for losing Florida because they simply didn’t do as good a job fighting for the presidency as did the Republicans.
Missing from the film altogether is the fact that a post-election recount, sponsored by several media organizations and conducted by NORC of the University of Chicago, found that if a full recount of all the ballots had been conducted in Florida, Gore would almost certainly have won the presidency.i Indeed, at the end, the movie allows the Republicans to have the final spin, showing former Secretary of State James Baker telling his group of attorneys that they must remember – “in all the vote counts, George W.Bush never trailed.” Ultimately “the system worked order viagra,” he says, and there is nothing in the film that disputes this conclusion.
The film barely touches on the media circus that existed in Florida that undermined Gore’s efforts to obtain a fair recount.It was exacerbated to an immense degree by the miscalls of the networks in the early morning after Election Day, when they all projected Bush the Florida winner, and thus the next president of the United States, only to retract their calls two hours later; order viagra.Those miscalls prompted Gore to call Bush and concede the election, then retract the concession when he realized the race was still too close to call; order viagra. Order viagra: but that retraction caused outrage among Republicans, with the conservative media outlets accusing Gore of being a sore loser and, ironically, of trying to steal the election.Even Tim Russert of NBC called for Gore to concede, only a day after the election, when the vote recount efforts in Florida had barely begun – order viagra.Yet, it was Gore who had won the national contest by half a million votes.
The networks’ miscalls early in the morning after Election Day was the second erroneous projection in Florida – order viagra. Order viagra: at ten minutes before eight the previous evening, which was the closing time in the Florida panhandle, all the networks projected Gore the winner, then retracted the call two hours later.That error had little impact on the coverage order viagra, because so many states were still in play that no one knew that Florida would be the key state to decide the election.But by a little after midnight, everyone knew that if Bush won Florida, he would win the presidency.
The film shows ABC projecting Bush the winner at 2:16 AM, followed two minutes later by CNN and CBS, thus completely covering up the controversy over the networks’ miscalls.In fact, Fox –which was blatantly biased in favor of the Bush candidacy – was the first network to make the projection, followed quickly by the other networks – order viagra.Even more telling is the fact that Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, was Fox Network’s decision team leader, the person responsible for making the projections – and that Ellis admitted in a New Yorker interview, that he had been on the phone with his cousins frequently during Election Day and Night – order viagra.This was all information widely published in the media.That “Recount” didn’t get this right is inexcusable – order viagra.
What is less well known, but which I have meticulously documented,ii is that when Ellis made the call, he did so after talking with Jeb Bush on the phone, and then excitedly announcing to his decision team members, “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” A couple of minutes later, Fox made the call.At that very moment, the NBC decision team leader, Sheldon Gawiser, was talking on the phone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director of Voter News Service, which provided all of the voting data to the networks – order viagra.When Gawiser saw the Fox call on television, he said, “Sorry, Murray, gotta go, Fox just called it.” A minute later, NBC made the projection for Bush; order viagra. Order viagra: i was with the joint decision team for CBS and CNN, with Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, and I was taking notes for the book I was writing about the election.When the Fox projection was announced on TV, Mitofsky dismissed it because “Fox has an agenda,” but when NBC made the call, Mitofsky immediately announced to the CBS and CNN representatives, “We’ll call it, too.” ABC was the last network to make the call – order viagra.John Blydenburgh, a long-time ABC consultant, told me he had advised Carolyn Smith, the decision chief, not to call the race – “I wouldn’t touch it” – because the data were unreliable.“ Order viagra: i know she agreed with me,” he said, but shortly thereafter ABC called it anyway.A network executive had over-ridden the decision team so that ABC would not look foolish by being the only network not to call the race.
After the election, the networks all blamed VNS for providing bad data, but VNS never called the race, nor did the Associated Press, which was looking at the same data.Contrary to the implication in the movie order viagra, the VNS data did not justify a call by any of the networks.Instead, they all succumbed to the competitive pressures and to Fox’s call, prompted by Jeb Bush.Blydenburgh is convinced that if Fox hadn’t called the race, no other network would have either; order viagra.
If the networks had never projected Bush the next president of the United States, but had continued to show Florida as too close to call, the political environment would have been more conducive to Gore getting a full recount – a procedure that George Bush had signed into law in his own state of Texas – order viagra.And the full recount would have given Gore the presidency order viagra, despite all the illegal efforts before and after the election that deprived Gore of tens of thousand of votes.
But that’s not the message of the film.Instead order viagra, it makes palatable what was criminal, and it insidiously blames Democrats for not being as “tough” – ruthless – as the Republicans. Order viagra: the idealistic words of Warren Christopher come across as naïve and stupid, while Baker’s cunning comes across as admirable and effective.Baker is the really cool anti-hero.American democracy be damned.
HBO’s Recount Got the Facts Right But the Story Wrong
by Lance deHaven-Smith order viagra, Ph.D., June 4, 2008
The HBO movie Recount is well acted and fast paced, but it is bad history and even worse political commentary. In trying to tell the story of the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida, the movie never seems to recognize that public officials who use their offices to subvert American democracy are doing something much worse than playing political hardball – they are committing high crimes. The movie also fails to make clear that a full recount of all the uncounted ballots would have shown that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received more legally valid votes in Florida than George W.Bush and Dick Cheney. In short, although Recount appears to be critical of some of Florida’s partisan public officials, especially of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the movie fails to make clear that the wrong person ended up in the White House, and that this was because partisan public officials committed a series of high crimes.
As drama, Recount depicts the election dispute in Florida as a contest between, on the one hand, well prepared and politically sophisticated Republicans, and on the other hand politically naïve Democrats who were totally outmatched. In the movie, the Republicans’ sophistication is personified by former Secretary of State James Baker, the spokesperson for the Bush campaign. As Recount accurately indicates, Baker and his team worked in concert with some of the highest officials in Florida government to block legally mandated recounts, create the impression of a Constitutional crisis, and draw in the U.S.Supreme Court to secure victory for Bush.
This take on events is true as far as it goes, but Recount leaves the impression that the tactics of Bush-Cheney supporters were just normal partisan politics when, in fact, many of the actions it describes clearly qualify as serious crimes. For example, the movie reports correctly that the General Counsel to Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Florida’s top law firms on the day after Election Day, urging them not to represent the Gore-Lieberman campaign. To its credit, Recount recognizes that these calls would have been perceived as veiled threats because the law firms in question depended on business with state agencies and their lobbying activities required access to the Governor. But Recount fails to mention that the General Council’s actions amount to the use of public office for coercion, which in Florida is a felony.
Another criminal act that was depicted but not decried in Recount was the failure of Katherine Harris to enforce Florida laws requiring mandatory machine-recounts in very close elections. The movie accurately reports that, in defiance of state statutes, 18 Florida counties failed to run their punch-card ballots back through the tabulating machines in the immediate aftermath of Election Day. The reason the counties balked at the machine recount was because local officials expected machine recounts to add more votes to Gore-Lieberman than to Bush-Cheney.
This expectation was based on experience. The first county to conduct a machine recount was Duval, where the city of Jacksonville is located. Duval County has long been a Republican stronghold, but the county’s machine recount nevertheless produced a net gain of 185 votes for Gore-Lieberman. Duval’s supervisor of elections said that, when the punch-card ballots were rerun through the tabulating machines, chads “fell like rain” as partially punched chads broke free. The implication was that, for some reason, Democratic voters were more likely than Republican voters to punch their ballots only partially through. Therefore, running the ballots back through the punch-card scanners would salvage more votes for Gore-Lieberman. Presumably, this is why the 18 counties chose to defy the law.
Another crime that Recount covers without criticism or comment was a telephone call on the night of the election between Katherine Harris and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W.Bush. In the movie, this conversation is alluded to when Gore calls George Bush to withdraw his initial concession. George Bush tells Gore that Jeb has confirmed that Bush has won Florida. The problem with Jeb Bush discussing this with Katherine Harris on the night of the election is that Jeb and Harris are both members of Florida’s Election Commission, which must certify the election returns. Florida’s open meetings law prohibits public officials from discussing public business in private. If Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris discussed the election returns on election night, they committed a second degree misdemeanor which is punishable by imprisonment and removal from office – order viagra.
Yet another crime glossed over in the movie involved Florida’s flawed program to identify convicted felons and remove them from the registered voter roles. The Florida Constitution prohibits felons from voting unless they have had their civil rights restored by the state in which they were convicted. As Recount points out, Katherine Harris oversaw the development of a felon purge list that was intentionally designed to include many non-felons. The list was compiled by comparing the list of registered voters to lists of felons from Florida and several other states. Harris insisted on very loose criteria for identifying matches. For example, first and middle names did not have to be in any particular order to match. Order viagra: in other words, John Andrew Smith would be considered to match Andrew John Smith. Matches were also allowed even when the last names of individuals on the list of felons only approximated the last names of registered voters. The spelling needed to be just “90 percent” the same. This meant that John Andrew Smith would be counted as a match with John Andrew Smythe, Andrew John Smythe, John Andrew Smitt, Andrew John Smitt, and so on.The loose match criteria resulted in a highly erroneous list of registered voters who were thought to be felons. Because of name similarities among minorities and the poor order viagra, a disproportionate number of people who were improperly removed from the registered voter roles were African Americans – an essential part of the Democratic base.
The flawed felon purge list not only cut into the Democratic vote, it caused chaos at the polls on Election Day in predominately black precincts. Often, the first time voters learned that their voter registration had been revoked was when they arrived at the polls to cast their ballots in the 2000 presidential election. The efforts by election workers to explain the situation and to direct complaints to higher officials resulted in delays, confusion, and long lines that probably caused many voters to leave before casting a ballot.
Recount referred to the felon purge list several times, and the movie implied that the many errors on the list impacted Democrats more than Republicans. But Recount overlooked two important facts. First, the development of an error-filled purge list may have been a federal crime. If Harris or other public officials insisted on loose match criteria with the intention of weakening the voting power of African Americans—and this certainly appears to be the case—they violated federal voting rights laws. Second, the flawed purge list suggests that the election breakdown in Florida was no accident. Back in 2000, many Americans realized that the presidential election had somehow been sidetracked, and that top officials in Florida, while claiming to be following the law, had slanted their decisions to favor Bush.But with the felon purge list, the supporters of George W. Order viagra: bush in Florida actually set in motion events that culminated in the election breakdown.
In addition to presenting these and other crimes without acknowledging their criminality, Recount also fails to note that any use of public office to improperly influence the outcome of an election is a crime under Florida’s election laws.In this regard order viagra, Recount paints the picture of a number of public officials, including Florida’s governor, secretary of state, and speaker of the house, colluding either directly or through intermediaries to coordinate their official actions with those of the Bush campaign. This amounts to a criminal conspiracy in which all of the participants are equally guilty of all the crimes committed by any members of the group.
Nor does Recount consider matters of honor and ethics. Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, and other high officials in Florida took an oath of office to “support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida,” and to “well and faithfully perform the duties” of their offices. This oath is mandated by the Florida Constitution. In failing to enforce voting laws and in working to block a legally mandated recount, several of Florida’s highest public officials violated their official oath. This may not be a crime, but it is certainly a matter worthy of public approbation.
Many other crimes that were depicted in the movie with little or no comment could be cited, but the important point is that Recount lacks all legal, constitutional, and ethical perspective on the events it dramatizes. In effect, Recount describes the events in 2000 from the perspective a psychopath – a person without conscience or empathy. High crimes are depicted as if they were just ordinary acts of political competition. The legal and ethical responsibilities of public officials are almost entirely overlooked.
Worse, the most honorable and high minded person involved in the election dispute—Warren Christopher—is depicted as a wimp and a fool. During much of the election controversy, Christopher was the strategist and spokesperson for the campaign of Gore-Lieberman. The movie opens with Baker and Christopher each speaking to their respective legal teams. Baker is shown first. He tells his group that they are in a “political street fight.” Christopher’s staff meeting is shown next. Christopher announces to his group that they must protect American democracy by adhering to the laws and the Constitution. In the comparison, Christopher comes off looking like some yokel who lacks the sense to avoid dark alleys and rough bars.
There is great but unintended irony in Recount’s indifference to the requirements of law and duty, for it was this same kind of indifference that fueled the events Recount chronicles. The Bush-Cheney campaign prevailed in Florida because top officials in the state decided that winning was more important than anything else – more important than the laws and Constitutions of Florida and the United States, and more important than their own their own honor. It was also this same indifference that fostered the pervasive criminality of the Bush-Cheney Administration once it took office.
The lesson here is obvious, even though Recount does not see it. When candidates and their supporters appear willing to break laws, ignore the Constitution, disenfranchise qualified voters, and in other ways degrade the political process to gain power, the appropriate response is not to “move on,” it is to investigate, for people who are willing to cheat and lie to win an election will certainly be willing to do the same or worse once they are in office.