May 21, 2013
‘Recount’ Gets It Right, Even if America Didn’t
Posted on May 28, 2008
By Brad Friedman
This review was originally posted on The Brad Blog.
I don’t mind admitting it. For an Election Integrity journalist, HBO’s Recount is pure pornography. Anticipation for Sunday’s Memorial Day premiere showing was at the top of last weekend’s holiday agenda. And the excitement grew still more late Friday when the good folks of PDA Florida made my week (my month? my year? my last
Since I have a very difficult time paying the bills around here—- contrary to popular opinion, election integrity blogging isn’t the windfall it might otherwise appear—- perhaps I’ll consider the kind gift a reward for my too-many years on this beat. Though perhaps my consolation prize would be a better way to look at it.
When I first opened it, actual chads (HBO’s film advises the plural of “chad” is actually “chad”) from the 2000 election spilled out of the machine all over the office floor. The gods of democracy and the goddess of the Butterfly Ballot were taunting me. I rather enjoyed it. I learned long ago that I’d have little choice.
So it was with great anticipation that I sat down on Sunday night to watch the film as it premiered, along with the “Diebold Document Whistleblower” (and my new colleague at VelvetRevolution.us) Steven Heller and his wife, and Robert Carillo Cohen, one of the filmmakers of HBO’s landmark documentary, the Emmy-nominated Hacking Democracy which enjoyed a re-airing earlier in the day, as the cable net set the stage for its newest democracy thriller/heart-breaker, Recount.
None of us, including Heller, who anticipated hating the fictionalized re-telling of America’s crushing democratic abortion of 2000, would be disappointed…
As it turns out, HBO seems to have gotten just about all of it right from a factual standpoint. At least from the perspective of someone who followed those extraordinary 36 days incredibly closely both during and since, as the country hung in limbo as if, yes, dangling by a chad. There was quite a bit of nuance packed in to the two fast-paced hours, even down to the dirty machinations of Florida’s corrupt and soulless Rep. Tom Feeney who played a minor, but key role in both the film and the stolen election.
Getting it right, or close to it, is apparently no small feat, since even the New York Times, the “paper of record”, was unable to do so even in their review of the film, seven years after they covered the actual events, and six years after they correctly wrote, “If all the ballots had been reviewed under any of seven single standards…Mr. Gore would have won.”
Never mind history though, now for the Times it’s the revisionistic: “Mr. Bush would have come out slightly ahead, even if all the votes counted throughout the state had been re-tallied.” (For the record, the Times was right six years ago, here’s the evidence [PDF], and wrong last week.)
While time has done few favors for the Times, the historical distance, and time-compression of the two hour film, managed to capture the thrilling, exhausting and disappointing back and forth, up and down roller coaster of the original saga—- while identifying the players who deserve much of the thanks for the failure to count every vote accurately, as per the voters’ intent, or even at all—- in what was finally democracy lost.
Among the players targeted for failing to ensure the proper administration of democracy: then-Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, who the film identifies as having almost single-handedly allowed hundreds of military ballots to be counted for George W. Bush despite any evidence whatsoever that any of them were actually cast prior to the close of polls on November 7th, 2000.
While I had been aware of the Gore campaign foolishly rolling over to the cynical and opportunistic GOP attempts to bully them, by painting them as anti-troop—- based on their eventually-abandoned premise that all counted ballots should actually be legal ones—- I hadn’t drawn a direct bead on Lieberman for blowing that call.
If the filmmakers were accurate in that depiction, then it looks like one of John McCain’s biggest supporters in 2008 had been undermining Democratic White House ambitions long ago.
Given the film’s familiar outcome, no small amount of credit is due the filmmakers who were able to succeed in having a room of jaded (understatement) election buffs still rooting for the good guys to pull it out this time around. (Without giving too much away, they didn’t. Gore was still named the loser, despite having received more votes in Florida in 2000 than Bush [PDF], even after tens of thousands of legal minority voters were excluded from voting at all, merely because their names sounded something like others who had purportedly been convicted of a felony at one time or another.)
The result: a taut, often hilarious, consistently engaging, still-maddening and sick-making political thriller. History would thank you for watching it. Again and again.
While the cast was largely superb, and the casting spot-on, there was one character who we were glad to see named, but who was slightly miscast.
That would be our old friend, the entirely corrupt, then-boss of the FL House, Tom Feeney who was, as history, documentation and polygraph test tell us, just finishing up with an attempt at having a piece of vote-rigging software created by a South Florida computer firm where he worked as general counsel and registered lobbyist, even while serving as speaker of Florida’s Legislature. And, oh yes, he had previously served as Jeb Bush’s running-mate during his first attempt to become the Sunshine State’s governor. So Feeney has been a long time Friend of the Bush’s, and he was in the front lines to award the state, voters be damned, to his Bush pals come hell, high-water or even results showing Bush received fewer votes in the state.
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