January 29, 2003
Earl Katz, Co-Executive Producer of the Documentary "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
"Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election" is a riveting documentary about the battle for the Presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America. Filmmakers Richard Ray Pérez and Joan Sekler examine modern America's most controversial political contest: the Election of George W. Bush.
What emerges is a disturbing picture of an election marred by suspicious irregularities, electoral injustices, and sinister voter purges in a state governed by the winning candidate's brother.
George W. Bush stole the presidency of the United State -- and got away with it.
movie highlights those on the front lines -- from the African-Americans
who were turned away from the polling booths for assorted reasons. ...
In one memorable scene the filmmakers freeze-frame a 'protest' against
the ballot recount, identifying participants as staff members of Republican
Recently BuzzFlash.com interviewed Earl Katz, who along with Robert Greenwald are Executive Producers of the documentary.
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BUZZFLASH: Tell us a little bit about "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election." Why did you produce this film?
EARL KATZ: Joan Sekler, the documentary filmmaker, came to see me -- we know each other from environmental work -- and showed me some very, very rough footage that Richard Perez had shot. Joan had cashed in her retirement funds because was so indignant about what was then happening in Florida during the 2000 election process that she and Richard went down there five times to document what was unfolding. I was struck and moved by the footage. I shared it with Robert Greenwald, and we decided to document a history of what was happening to our electoral process in Florida, which we thought was abhorrent.
BUZZFLASH: The film takes the campaign for the presidency in the state of Florida back a few steps. It starts with the story that Greg Palast broke on the purge of the so-called felon list in Florida. And that takes up a nice chunk toward the beginning of the film and sets up the framework for the voting itself. Can you talk a little bit about the so-called felon purge and its implications for the casting of ballots in the infamous Florida election of 2000?
KATZ: Well, we actually refer to it as a false felony list because it was set up to cast as broad a net as possible. Tens of thousands of non-felons -- people whose votes should have been counted -- were not counted. And most of these "false felons" were from African American communities in Florida, which mostly vote for Democratic candidates. So it was a way of intentionally disenfranchising people.
BUZZFLASH: Now there was one scene that had a remarkable statistic in it -- where you interviewed a Florida county election supervisor where they did a survey of the people listed on their county felons' list and found that virtually all of them were eligible to vote. Out of 900 and some people, there were very few actual felons on it. But they were required by Katherine Harris to deny the right to vote to anyone who was on that list.
KATZ: These were the mandates and the criterion for creating the false felony list -- excuse me, the felon list. The criterion were really created to cast as broad a net as possible. So most of the people who were put on that list were really legitimate voters who were disenfranchised.
BUZZFLASH: And just in one county, the statistic was that there were enough eligible voters on that list -- which is not to say they all would have voted -- but if they had all voted, and assuming they had voted for Gore, Gore would have won the election. This played a potentially crucial role in the election.
There's this great scene in the documentary. I had heard Greg Palast talk about it. But then to see it in the film itself was shocking. Greg confronts the director of the Florida Division of Elections with proof that the criteria for putting people on the felons' list was overly broad, and that indeed the company that was responsible for assembling it had notified the State Board under Katherine Harris that they were going to get a lot of "false positives." And the state of Florida, under Katherine Harris, said, well, go ahead. We want as broad a list as possible. Keep the false positives in, in essence.
BUZZFLASH: Greg Palast confronts the Florida Division of Elections head and this "public servant" just takes off the microphone and leaves when he's confronted with Greg's evidence.
KATZ: That's pretty much an indictment and shows that he did not have a defense.
BUZZFLASH: Why do you think it's important for people to see this documentary?
KATZ: We made this film with the intention of simply telling the truth about the travesty that took place in the Florida Presidential election. This film speaks truth to power. Invariably, people have the same response to this film -- it makes them angry and moves them to action. This cannot be permitted to become the way our electoral process is carried forth. We have to implement more checks and balances.
BUZZFLASH: What can people do? OK, they see this film, which is very unnerving, to say the least, in its documentation about how there was so much disenfranchisement in Florida. And yet in the news media -- the mainstream news media nowadays -- the conventional wisdom is it's over. Gore's not running now. It's completely over. And people -- BuzzFlash readers -- wonder, well, what can I do? It's done. It was horrible, and no one seems to care about it.
KATZ: It is over. It is history. And it's important that we are familiar with history so we don't repeat it. Our intention is to have this film actively utilized during the next presidential election, and to remind people of how important their vote is. Not to be discouraged -- that is one of the points stressed in our film -- and not to throw in the towel, because that's just what the opposition desires. It's essential that we get out there and vote, and it's essential we make sure our vote gets counted.
BUZZFLASH: Now you have a scene in there that many people have read about and heard about: Congressional staffers -- some of them working for Tom DeLay or apparently recruited by him or his staff -- actually conduct an intimidation riot in Miami-Dade County, which shuts down the voting recount there at a critical time. And you identify these people in the film -- who they are and who they are working for in Congress. And it's kind of chilling to see these relatively young Republican shock troops conducting of a mob action in a voting place, which I thought was illegal.
KATZ: I'm not certain about the legality. I'm certain it's clear for anybody who sees the film that this was orchestrated. This was a riot orchestrated by the Republican Party, financed by them, to shut down a critical ballot counting place in Miami-Dade. That particular scene is a scene that people find indelible.
BUZZFLASH: In the same relative time period, back in Washington, supporters of Bush and Cheney were creating a sort of mob scene outside of the Vice President's house at the Naval Observatory in D.C. -- again chanting and yelling "Get out of Cheney's house" to Gore. And it seemed that there was a lot of very visible bullying going on during the election. And this mob scene in Miami-Dade was probably the most visible and most widely known symbol of that effort to intimidate the vote recount.
Your film does a very good job of interspersing clips of Bush spokespersons, like Jim Baker, and pointing out the hypocrisy of the Bush campaign not wanting a recount in Florida when Bush had signed a bill in Texas that required manual recounts in exactly these circumstances.
Do you have any comments about how the Gore campaign strategized? Was there anything they could have done to turn the recount around? Or was it just simply out of their control because the state of Florida was under the thumb of Jeb Bush?
KATZ: Well, speaking for myself, had Gore done a full statewide count, which, if requested, the law demanded in Florida, and not opted for the four county vote recounts, and had the Republicans permitted that to occur, then the outcome might have been different. But, as it was, the Supreme Court decided the election by a 5-4 vote.
BUZZFLASH: Instead of by the 540,000 votes that Al Gore won the election by.
KATZ: I believe the title of our film -- "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election" -- reflects that stark truth in many ways. I believe that the Supreme Court decision was also unprecedented. The Supreme Court has never made a decision like that, which, they said, would not create a standard for future decisions.
BUZZFLASH: The Bush campaign, I mean, deserves some credit. Forget the issue of democracy -- for which the Bush Cartel has complete disdain -- but as a public relations campaign, they did this incredible job of framing the issue in a way where it looked like Gore was trying to steal votes, when, in effect, the Bush campaign was not allowing the counting of some legal votes. while demanding the count of many illegal postdated votes from armed forces people overseas.
Maybe it's a biased media, or maybe it's the effectiveness of the Bush campaign, or maybe it was the ineffectiveness of the Gore campaign in getting their message out, but for whatever combination of reasons, the Bush spin, as they say, prevailed: "Gore was trying to grab votes that weren't his" became the conventional wisdom, even though the precedent in most states, including Texas, was that you need to count and include the intent of the voter. Otherwise, you're disenfranchising the voter.
As the movie discusses, it turned into this issue where the Republicans were claiming that the Gore campaign was trying to steal the election by counting chads that weren't valid. And they made fun of the chads. And pretty soon, Gore was on the defensive rather than taking the high ground of saying it's not about stealing votes, it's an issue of allowing people to vote as they should be allowed in a democracy. But it seemed Gore lost that spin game.
KATZ: He really lost that spin game. And that brings me to another critical area of consideration, the current move to deregulate the media, which sounds good at first blush, but really means media consolidation and domination by a few mega-corporations. This is something that really needs our attention, because without a diverse and free media, all we will ever get is pure spin. Sure, the election was stolen. The recounts were shut down, and the Supreme court made their Presidential selection. To say that Gore was trying to steal the election that he really won in terms of the popular vote nationally, is doublespeak. Again. if there were a full state recount, Gore would have been the winner.
BUZZFLASH: How do people purchase the film or see the film?
KATZ: Well, the simplest thing to do is to go to our Web site: www.unprecedented.org.
BUZZFLASH: And I also noticed that people can go there to see if it's going to be showing in their area.
BUZZFLASH: Are you going to continue trying to promote the film through showings in various parts of the country?
KATZ: Yes. And we are coming out with the DVD, which will have some additional information. There has been a tremendous response to screenings in cities around the country. And we'll be in high gear to bring "Unprecedented" to the public prior to the next presidential election.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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purchase a VHS copy of "Unprecedented," go to
of the documentary are available on the homepage: http://www.unprecedented.org.
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