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Re Recount: Remiss!

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When I read last week that James Baker III hosted a preview of the HBO film Recount at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, I knew that this dramatic interpretation of the 2000 election would disappoint those who long for historical accuracy.

And it did.

Not in all ways, mind you, but in some extraordinarily essential ones.

On Sunday morning, I wrote in an email that a true telling of the 2000 election had to include at least two points. An excellent telling would include a third. I finished with "Let’s see how HBO does."

Within minutes of the start of Recount, I yelled out, "NO!" That’s not right!" They blew it coming out of the gate.

The film showed that at 2:16 AM, the vote in Florida, which would be the deciding factor for the entire country, was called by ABC News for George W. Bush, immediately followed by the NBC, CBS and CNN.

But that is simply not the case. History has shown that the first call at 2:16 AM came from Fox News – conveniently omitted by HBO. The person who made that call was John Ellis, the son of former President George H.W. Bush’s sister Nancy, first cousin of both Texas Governor George W. Bush and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He later reported to The New Yorker how "cool" it was to be on the phone with his two powerful cousins, going over the numbers all night and into the morning, until the moment the numbers showed that George had won and Ellis made the fateful call for Bush. Though Ellis claimed he had done the calculations, the actual election projection expert at Fox, Cynthia Talkov, sitting with him, has since reported that Ellis simply gave the call on Jeb’s say-so.

Some may remember this tidbit from the beginning of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, but the detailed review of this moment and its consequences can be found in David W. Moore’s book The News Media and Theft of the 2000 Election, and recently adapted as the opening article "Because Jeb Said So: What Really Happened on Election Night in Florida" in the outstanding book of essays edited by Mark Crispin Miller, Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008.

So, on my first point, the HBO film utterly failed.

My second point was the riot at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center on November 22nd, where the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board was attempting to complete a review of over 10,000 disputed ballots. While the film showed that a particular group entered the building, got past the police, and then became actively accusatory, aggressively intimidating, and succeeded in causing the 3-person Board to quit the recount, Recount did not do justice to the truth. The identity of these thugs was left to a throw-away line about Republican operatives flown down in an Enron jet from Denis Leary’s character, Michael Whouley over a drink in a bar. It didn’t event warrant a response from Kevin Spacey’s Ron Klain.

But in truth, the identity of those people has long been documented, especially those featured in an infamous photograph, and many went on to positions in the Bush/Cheney White House or even more profitable jobs with lobbying firms and government contractors.

One would think that the celebration of the success of these efforts, a Thanksgiving banquet in Ft Lauderdale, complete with Wayne Newton singing "Danke Schoen", would have added an entertaining nuance to the film’s story.

As for the third story element I’d mentioned, it was entirely missing. The truth would have been much better served if we could have seen the upset long-time employees of Sequoia Voting Systems, responsible for the production of perfectly successful punch card ballot cards for decades, who were suddenly ordered by the newly-sold company to change the parameters for certain Florida precincts, for the first time, to adjust for humidity, and who witnessed the acceptance of sub-standard paper products that their experienced quality-control managers had rejected. For this revelation, we have]">Dan Rather and HDNet to thank.

As for James Baker, and his win for the "best man", it was James Doty, a lawyer from his law firm in Texas, Baker Botts, who had written the contract for W’s highly profitable purchase of the Texas Rangers using the money he got when he suddenly dumped his Harken Oil stock. It was also that same lawyer, newly hired by Papa Bush’s appointed head of the Security and Exchange Commission, Richard Breeden, another Baker Botts lawyer, who closed the investigation into George W. Bush’s sudden dumping of that same Harken Oil stock, sold after discovering that the company was failing but before reporting to stockholders the corrected Profit/Loss statement.

It was also James Baker who brought Papa Bush to the Carlyle Group, and the investment income that has multiplied well with government and military contracts.

In the film, Baker recounts why he became a Republican, how a good friend called him up and asked him to join his campaign for Congress knowing that Baker needed to step away from his grief over the death of his first wife, and that friend was none other than George H.W. Bush. How touching. How ironic. Because of James Baker III's actions, there are now families who grieve over the deaths of up to a million Iraqis and Afghanis and over 4,000 American soldiers – to say nothing of the victims of the mismanagement that caused the deaths after Katrina, the high rate of suicides in the U.S. military, and the untold number of victims of policies that have corrupted the EPA, OSHA, MSHA, etc., etc., etc.

So, in retrospect, is the much-publicized telling of the story of an historical decision -- using respected actors and an occasionally daring network, without revealing key plot points that reveal the dark misuse of power, scheming and theft -- still useful?

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