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Film on Florida vote counted out

November 05, 2002|Donna Perlmutter | Special to The Times

Los Angeles will see it. The same goes for San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and many other U.S. cities. But PBS stations in most markets won't be showing "Counting On Democracy," a pointed documentary on the 2000 presidential election mishaps in Florida that is being shown tonight on those select PBS stations.

PBS chose instead to carry "Who Counts," featuring "Saturday Night Live's" Darrell Hammond and others, hosted by former CNN bureau chief Frank Sesno. It explores the election breakdown by making light of it.

And this preference rankles Danny Schechter, who, together with Faye Anderson, wrote and produced "Counting On Democracy," airing at 10 p.m. on KCET.

But PBS' decision didn't stop him or Independent Television Service -- which partly funded his low-budget film and licensed it for airing on public television -- from going station-to-station with it as a way of getting screenings.

He believes it's what's on the film that enticed those stations.

"Our film ... is not about Gore or Bush," he says. "It's about the still-outraged voters of Florida and all Americans who watched what happened there with disgust and embarrassment.

"Everyone knows who won, officially," says Schechter, a veteran of left-wing politics and media who makes no effort to hide his beliefs on the election confusion. "But few realize how many voters lost, or that a whopping 175,000 Florida ballots went uncounted in an election that turned on 537 votes when the Supreme Court stepped in. Even fewer know about the 25,000 purges from the voter rolls or how the recount in key counties was undermined, if not deliberately delayed, and, in effect, sabotaged."

Schechter's comments notwithstanding, PBS senior vice president and co-chief program executive John F. Wilson says that the network didn't need both, "and we had accepted the one ['Who Counts'] before the other was even offered to us."

"Counting On Democracy," which is narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, uses as context the fight for black voting rights. The husband and wife were chosen in part because of their work in the civil rights movement.

Schechter is an Emmy-winning television producer and independent filmmaker who has made more than 200 magazine shows for PBS stations, 50 segments for ABC's "20/20" and was on the start-up team at CNN.

"I wanted to show the failures across the board," he says. "The media's failure to investigate and expose what really went on. The Democrats' many failures, in how they bungled the situation. The institutional failures, in not looking at obvious voter intent on a ballot, for instance, which Florida law prescribes."

All this was abandoned, he claims, when the Bush administration advised everyone to "move on." As Congressman John Lewis says in the film: "People died for the right to vote. And we should forget about it? We shouldn't make too much of it? How can you sweep it under the rug like it didn't happen?"

But Schechter puts the biggest share of the blame on the media, which he says gladly agreed to move on, "because once it is announced that a story is over, no one wants to be thought of as stepping outside the consensus."

Included in the documentary is a report from Greg Palast, an investigative journalist for the BBC, the Guardian and Observer, who went to Florida immediately after the election. According to his reporting, the process of purging voters from the registration rolls in largely black, Democratic counties was flawed, inaccurate and needed further follow-up.

Schechter maintains that Americans were not exposed to this depth of information. His disappointment, though, lies not just with commercial media mired in "all-Monica-all-the-time or all-sniper-all-the-time" reporting -- but with public broadcasting, "which is supposed to be serving the public interest."



`Counting on Democracy'

Where: KCET

When: Tonight at 10

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