KPBS, the San Diego affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System, should be applauded for airing the documentary film, Counting on Democracy, which is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 24-but jeered for picking 1 a.m. as the program's time slot.
Not too many people are watching public TV at 1 a.m. Makes us wonder if that's the reason the slot was chosen.
Counting on Democracy, produced by veteran documentary filmmaker Danny Schechter, examines the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida. It looks at what happened before the Supreme Court stepped in and handed the presidency to George W. Bush by a 537-vote margin over Al Gore. It tells how 175,000 ballots went uncounted, how large numbers of people were purged from the voter rolls, how voters in areas heavily populated by African Americans were turned away from the polls and how some voters were mortified to learn that they had accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Gore.
The Florida fiasco was an abomination-the most embarrassing event in U.S. election history-and the full story deserves to be told. Well, it has been told, by Schechter, but thanks to PBS, relatively few Americans will ever see it.
Schechter hurried to get his film done in time for this year's midterm election. The idea was for PBS to buy the documentary and feed it to its affiliates around the country, but PBS rejected it, arguing that it was a one-sided piece of work by a leftist journalist. This despite the reality that the film was based on the facts. Schechter says numerous Republicans turned down his requests for interviews. The film includes interviews with two GOP sources, and it shows testimony from Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Elections Director Clayton Roberts.
In any case, Schechter says, talk of a Democratic bias misses the point. He says it's the mainstream media that bares the brunt of the criticism in the documentary, not the Republicans. The film discusses how the media dropped one of the biggest political stories of the century almost as soon as it happened. They eagerly complied when Bush, after having been handed the presidency, told us all to let go and move on.
Truth is, Al Gore likely won the election, not only the popular vote but also the Electoral College count that the tainted Florida result gave to Bush.
How would things be different with Gore in the White House? For starters, John Ashcroft wouldn't be the U.S. attorney general and long-standing environmental protections wouldn't be in such grave danger. Ashcroft, using the events of Sept. 11 as a shield, is running roughshod over our basic civil liberties while Bush and his buddies are hard at work systematically dismantling regulations aimed at protecting air quality and water quality.
We think those two Bush Administration policy choices are reason enough to want to take a look back at how Bush managed to change his address to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Fortunately, people in some large markets got to see Counting on Democracy. It has already aired on PBS stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco-at times of the day when people can be reasonably expected to be watching TV. Many other stations refused to air it at all, including, incidentally, almost all the PBS affiliates in Florida.
We're glad San Diego's KPBS is running the program, but we can't help but wonder if station officials are doing so not because they want people to see it but instead so they can avoid being criticized for not running it.
CityBeat urges people to call KPBS and tell the program director Keith York to air Counting on Democracy at a reasonable time. The number is 619-594-6983. Failing that, stay up late and watch the film-and see for yourself what happen to this country two years ago.