October 9, 2002
Narco News '02
the Big Story
Florida 2002 Election
too Hot for "Alterna-Media"
By Danny Schechter
to the Narco News Bulletin
Narco News Publisher's
Commentary: Many sincere
people who seek alternate sources of news and information have
given their good money to "alternative" media outlets
like the Public Broadcasting Corporation, its affiliates, and
through "premier" membership subscriptions to Salon.com
Those good people, who
wanted more authentic news, have been cheated and defrauded by
those two news organizations.
At Narco News, in part
because we don't charge our readers a cent or a peso for any
of the news we report, we are not in any financial competition
with those two organizations. So we're in a clean position to
say, after reading authentic journalist Danny Schechter's
weblog report today,
that two "alternative" media organizations are behaving
abhorrently regarding one of the most important ongoing stories
in the United States: The Stealing of the Presidency in Florida,
There is a stark contrast
between the news about authentic democracy and elections this past week in Brazil - where 115 million voters went
to the polls on Sunday - and elections in the United States.
Although Brazil's population is smaller than that of the United
States, the Brazilian election system fosters more participation
than that of the so-called "democracy" to the North.
In 2000, only 105 million U.S. citizens voted in the presidential
elections. In Brazil last Sunday, 115 million.
One of the reasons for
that is the paucity of serious and authentic political reporting
in the United States, including from the consumer-supported sources
like Salon and PBS, where the public has a right to expect more
and better coverage.
The U.S. media often covers
Latin America as a collection of "banana republics,"
mocking the more authentic and participatory democracies in countries
like Brazil and Venezuela, as a kind of shield that keeps the
problems in their own houses hidden from public view.
In the current story,
Schechter has also raised serious issues of conflict-of-interest
- at very least, the appearance of conflict-of-interest - regarding
Salon.com and PBS refusal to report an important story.
Danny Schechter is an
experienced authentic journalist with more depth and breadth
of experience and demonstrated success as a journalist than most
of the producers allowed airtime on PBS and most of the writers
who are allowed space in Salon.com - the high-budget, low-quality,
effete snob's corner of the Internet (I'm not dissing all
Salon writers here, heavens, there are some very good ones, but
the general political zeitgeist of the online magazine is quite
intentionally milquetoast; a simulation of boldness without assuming
the risks of actually being bold, as
occured last week when Salon censored its own story on the Enron scandals and removed
Schechter has been executive
producer on major network news programs, a beat reporter for
decades, an experienced foreign policy reporter who filed dispatches
from Vietnam in the 1960s, perhaps the leading U.S. journalist
to uncover and report on the tragedy of South Africa during the
apartheid regime, and is the author of various books on the subject
of the media. Although Narco News ceased its affiliation with
Schechter's The Media Channel in April this year and adopted
a policy of no permanent affiliations with any other English-language
news organization, we would never deny that Schechter is an authoritative
voice on the beats that he writes frequently about.
If you, kind reader, already
gave your good money to Salon.com and to PBS, it doesn't seem
to us like you've gotten your money's worth. But not to worry.
Today, Narco News gives you the story that Salon and PBS did
not want you to see, gratis, because a free press means you don't
pay. It will probably get more attention here anyway than it
would have gotten if Salon had cloaked it in its "paying
customer's only" premier service, as it tends to do with
the works of writers of Schechter's caliber.
And if the Grand Pooh-bahs
at Salon.com, PBS or that pathetic phony Mr. David Horowitz wish
to respond to anything I've said here, or that Schechter has
reported, we of course offer them every opportunity to respond
on our pages, by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, I'm very happy
that I never wasted a cent supporting either of those two hapless
and simulator media organizations. The "alternative media"
movement they claim to represent is dying anyway... just ask
the laid-off "alternative weekly" journos this week
in Los Angeles and Cleveland.
The Authentic Journalism
Renaissance is thriving, South of the Border, precisely where
Authentic Democracy is on the rebound while, in this same era,
democracy dies in the United States - in a large part because,
up at those heights, not even the "alternative" media
dares to fully report the whole truth about the electoral coup
d'etat of 2000, and the illegitimacy of the "government"
and "free press" in a regime with house organs that
dishonestly propagate the myth of the world's leading democracy.
- Al Giordano
ARTICLE SALON WON'T RUN
A FILM THAT PBS WON'T
By Danny Schechter
I first wrote this article in late
August, I submitted it to the online mag SALON which expressed
genuine interest, then forgot about the piece, then found it,
then was considering it, and then was not responding to my various
attempts to elicit a decision because of my feeling that it should
run before the election.
Their initial response involved concern
about assuring that David Horowitz, their commentator on the
right, who is mentioned in the piece, had a chance to respond.
I agreed, but sought assurances that it would not be given to
him in advance of publication. They agreed. But then, as the
weeks went by, I began to suspect that it was going to be axed.
Finally, in early October I was told by a NY-based editor, first,
that he didn't have "time" to edit it, and then that
Salon wanted to do "more reporting," as if this piece
was being offered as a tip for them to run with, not a story
based on my experience. I was asked again about Horowitz's views
as if the on-line mag afraid to stir the cannons of his quick
to ignite polemical broadsides. While he is part of the story,
he is only a tangential part.
But, again, I suspect, his presence in
it led to them finally "passing" or killing it after
I called the editor from Singapore. Happily, I can publish it
I am furious about PBS's decision to refuse
to distribute this film on bogus grounds, but hardly surprised.
Fortunately, some Americans will get to see it because ITVS,
the independent television service that filmmakers fought for,
is distributing it to PBS stations and some are carrying it.
Find out if it will be on where you live. For more info, visit
to order copies.
The Story Salon.com
Refused to Tell...
Old Story With a New Twist
FLORIDA FIASCO CHANGED THIS COUNTRY:
WON'T PBS SHOW THE UNTOLD STORY?
By Danny Schechter
a typical understatement, the New York Times called the
2000 vote in Florida the most "flawed
and fouled up election in American history." Everyone knows
who won, but few realize how many voters lost, or that a whopping
175,000 ballots went uncounted in balloting which turned on 537
votes when the Supreme Court stepped in. Even fewer know about
purges from the voter rolls or how the recount in key counties
was undermined, if not deliberately delayed, and, in effect,
When it was over, the new Administration
asked Americans to forget Florida, to "move on" or
"get over it." Much of the media did just that - never
fully investigating the charges of voting irregularities and
claims of disenfranchisement by minorities. (Even the Justice
Department sued three Florida counties on voting rights issues)
But on September 11th, the "newspaper of record" quipped
that the Florida debate shifted from "who won?" to
In truth, millions do care. Many were
shocked when new ballot machines misfired in Florida once again
during the 2002 primary. Other commented that voter turn out
had fallen to 30% nationwide. One TV journalist suggested that
there might be a "voter boycott" underway. Many of
these problems surfaced for all to see during the 2000 election
that was covered and mis-covered only as a horse race as if only
the main candidates had a stake in its outcome. Later, the networks
were forced to apologize to Congress for their "serious
mistakes" in their screwed up, deceptive and inept election-eve
forecasting. When it was over, they dropped the story like a
hot potato with no follow up. Their long delayed "media
review" was an incomprehensible mishmash that was interpreted
in some, but not all, newspapers as validating a Bush verdict.
Many media analysts criticized the big media consortium for misrepresenting
their findings and "burying the lead" which showed
a narrow Gore victory.
course since then, over a year after the election, the federal
government sued three Florida counties
for voting rights violations. Other cases were heard in the Florida
courts. At the end of August, a tiny item moved on the Associated
Press wire: "The NAACP's lawsuit over Florida's disputed
2000 presidential election appears headed for a close as the
state and two counties the only remaining defendants have agreed
to a settlement, attorneys said Tuesday. Attorneys would not
discuss terms of the settlement. The class-action lawsuit filed
by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
and other civil rights groups argued voters were disenfranchised
during the on Nov. 7, 2000 election; it included allegations
that blacks were kept from voting in some counties."
Since then, the primary voting in several
counties was fouled up when the new machines intended to replace
the old discredited system "mis-fired."
These developments were reported but not
widely followed up on. They were hardly bathed in national television
attention. The media had moved on.
QUESTIONS THAT REMAINED
some time, big questions nagged at the national conscience. Like the ones my colleague Faye Anderson, a one
time Republican and now an African American political consultant
and I investigated for a new film called "Counting on Democracy"
which takes a new look at the untold story in the context of
the fight for voting rights.
The film is narrated by the gutsy actors
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee who worked on earlier films with Martin
Luther King on the struggle of the 1960's civil rights movement
for voting rights. Our film is not about Gore or Bush but the
still outraged voters of Florida and all Americans who watched
what happened there with disgust and embarrassment.
In making the film, we tried very hard to avoid strident voices
and conspiracy theorists, instead elaborating on the argument
that a "tyranny of small decisions" was responsible.
We sought out credible figures including civil rights leaders,
and top journalists with Newsweek, and the New York
Times. We even feature the President of the Associated Press.
We tried to interview leading Florida Republicans too, but they
all refused, perhaps believing (correctly it may turn out) that
the film would be perceived as "biased" if they were
not part of it. We told PBS before the decision that they refused
to respond. It didn't matter. Their absence just proved "bias"
on our part.
did manage to get interviews with two top officials of the GOP including the man who ran the Bush Campaign's
recount-stopping strategy, and a GOP former Governor. We also
showed an interview with Florida Elections Director Clayton Roberts
and testimony by Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris.
On the Democratic side, we spoke with members of Congress, the
lawyer who argued in the Supreme Court and the head of the Gore
campaign, among others. She admitted that they had made big mistakes
that cost them the election. The main characters were voters,
labor organizers and civil liberties union monitors. The film
indicts Bush and Gore equally for compromising their commitment
to small "d" democracy to get elected.
After a year-long battle of our own, we
raised the money to make the film. We did so in the spirit of
a call by Alex Jones of Harvard University's Center on the Press,
Politics and Public Policy who wrote in the New York Times:
"The answer is tough investigations of what happened in
the voting and the vote counting, uncompromised by the false
notion that avoidance of controversy will be healing. The answer
is also tough reporting on what happened in Florida that does
not confuse fairness with the unsatisfactory practice of quoting
one strident and then its opposite in every story."
on Democracy was hailed at a film festival.
"This tale of race, political payback, voter fraud and justice
deferred could have come out of a Hollywood thriller. But no-this
is the story of the 2000 Presidential election in Florida, "
wrote the Taos Talking Picture festival that screened it to an
enthusiastic SRO crowd. It was praised in the Palm Beach Post
in Florida, a paper that knows the story well, and then licensed
by the Independent Television Service for airing on public television.
The ITVS, born out of the fight by US
producers to get funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
when PBS was spending a small fortune overseas to buy shows from
BBC enthusiastically embraced "Counting On Democracy."
They paid for its completion and offered it to PBS for airing.
Films with an ITVS imprimatur often have an inside track because
they have gone through a due diligence process by public television
professionals. We had rushed to get it done in time to be seen
before this year's election. The film is timely, with updated
information about reform efforts in Congress and Florida to fix
our broken electoral system.
SAYS: NO WAY
has now spoken. In early August, they
decided they will NOT screen Counting on Democracy. They
gave it a resounding "no:" no broadcast, and, then,
a second no to distribution by the PBS "Plus" feed
that gives local stations the option to air the show or not.
Here's what ITVS told us they said:
"They felt strongly that the program
was not journalistic in that it tried to appear to be unbiased
by including a Republican, but he was mocked and made to look
silly. They felt it was 'full of cheap shots' and the narration
was overly simplistic. They felt that 'due to the subject matter,
care needed to be taken to present a more balanced look at the
subject matter' even if the show ultimately had a point of view
- and that wasn't the case."
It is hard to respond to this type of
a vague attack. As someone who has made over 200 magazine shows
that aired on PBS stations, produced 50 segments for ABC's prime
time 20/20 newsmagazine and directed ten major documentaries,
I think I know something about journalistic standards, and would
beg to differ. Suffice, it to say, we have "creative differences."
As for only featuring three Republicans, we told PBS before they
make their decision that other Florida Republicans refused to
be interviewed. It didn't matter. To them, their absence just
proved "bias" on our part.
I must admit that I was not surprised
by their mechanistic thinking and nit-picking which one political
insider I know rightly labels an "alibi." It felt like
that scene from the Shawshank Redemption where inmates line up
for parole hearings to collect their annual rejection, knowing
full well that the decision to reject them has already been made.
PBS is not known for courage in broadcasting. Activists have
fought for years against the banning of many independent documentaries
that take on controversial issues. Rather than offer an outlet
for hard hitting independent work, PBS invariably features blander
fare built around "story telling" or high priced films
about history rather than topical muckraking, save for Bill Moyer's
new fine NOW series that even many PBS stations will not carry.
Our company Globalvision has experienced
PBS's rejection mania over the years when our award winning human
rights series Rights & Wrongs (that aired on selected local
PBS stations, not nationally) was rejected because, get this,
"human rights is an insufficient organizing principle for
a TV series" (unlike cooking!) Some stations considered
our work "not corporate friendly." Others branded us,
falsely, as one-sided left-wingers while continuing to broadcast
right-wing fare with no such hesitations. Even Bruce Springsteen
was denounced by a PBS exec as a self-promoter when they rejected
a non-profit film I produced on the making of the anti-apartheid
song Sun City in l986. It later won the Independent Documentary
Association prize, the top in the industry. PBS later aired another
"making of documentary" on, but on a commercial project,
Raiders of the Lost Ark: That program was produced by the for-profit
company that made the blockbuster movie.
turns out PBS also has another idea for how to treat the Florida
issue too. No, not with a competing
investigation or an expose that shares our focus. Oh no! PBS
has opted instead, literally, to treat the issue as a joke, with
a satirical show about Florida. "Counting on Democracy"
is out; counting on comedy is in.
Again, here is what ITVS told us: "CPB
did commission a documentary on the Florida recount. It is completed
and will be on the PBS national schedule in October. The title
is WHO COUNTS? ELECTION REFORM IN AMERICA. The show is very,
very different from COUNTING ON DEMOCRACY. Here is a short description:
"Comedian and "Saturday Night
Live" cast member Darrell Hammond and former CNN Washington
Bureau Chief Frank Sesno headline Who Counts? Election Reform
in America, to be broadcast on Thursday, October 17, 10 p.m.
on PBS. "Who Counts? will combine original comedy and reporting
on the 2000 presidential election -- with balloting issues in
Florida as a key element -- in looking at election reform today.
Darrell Hammond will portray Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton
and himself in all-new material written and produced especially
for the one-hour program. He will be interviewed in character
by Mr. Sesno, who will also narrate."
(A reporter for the Orlando Sentinal
told me that fully one third of the PBS stations in Florida will
not even carry this (PBS approved) film. One third will "bury
it" in off times and one third will run it. ONLY ONE STATION
IN FLORIDA (Fort Myers) IS CARRYING "COUNTING ON DEMOCRACY."
Only one, and despite a powerful endorsement in the Palm Beach
Post. Overall only 17 of more than 300 PBS stations are presently
committed to carry the program.)
FUN OF FLORIDA
their false characterization of our documentary
as biased and the surrealistic logic that prefers to make fun
of Florida rather that explain what happened there, is the possibility
of a more insidious scandal like the one that came to light in
the very week that we learned that our film was being censored.
It is an episode, just coming to light, that shows how PBS operates-in
the shadows. It concerns an earlier PBS financial payoff to an
aggressive conservative zealot who a decade ago crusaded against
our South Africa Now TV 156 week series that critiqued apartheid
every week. According to the Los Angles Times he was successful
in getting the PBS affiliate in Los Angeles, KCET, to drop the
show and, then, later claimed a victory in his own publication
for muzzling it. (Protests by the black community there later
forced it back on the air.) He had labeled Nelson Mandela a "Marxist,"
and baited us with similar language for our tough reporting on
South Africa's fight for freedom.
His name is David Horowitz, a 1960's revolutionary
leftist turned 1980's revolutionary rightist. He surfaced up
as an activist-advisor in the George W Bush Campaign in 2000.Years
earlier, he was well known for his well-publicized attacks against
progressive PBS programming and even the middle of the road documentary
series Frontline. For years, Horowitz lobbied right wing congressman
and Senators to pressure public television stations. He orchestrated
calls for de-funding PBS, as well, which he denounced as part
of the irresponsible "liberal media." He savagely attacked
Bill Moyers for profiting off of public television.
now turns out, that while he was mouthing off publicly against
PBS, he was privately meeting with
former PBS President Ervin Duggan demanding money to produce
a right-wing version of Frontline. Current, the public broadcasting
trade publication reports this week on "how Horowitz's campaign
against liberal bias on public broadcasting opened the door to
talks with CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) leaders
about corrective right leaning programs." Duggan was posturing
as a man of the middle, writing "Counterpunch" op-eds
for the LA Times denouncing the denunciations of the right and
the militants of the left. At the time he had been considered
a "liberal" because he had worked in the Lyndon Johnson
Administration and was an FCC lawyer.)
Although he had no prior TV experience,
Horowitz says he and his partner received $250,000 for a "treatment"
from CPB. According to his account, CPB and PBS later committed
$1.3 million to the project. Duggan later turned against Horowitz
as many who know him tend to do in the same way he turns on almost
every one he ever worked with. Horowitz still praises Duggan
as "fair minded" because "he brought us into the
Was this payment a pay-off to quiet the
hornet's nest of rightist pressure that he was stirring? He claims
he drew up the project's proposals and was poised to profit personally.
How do we know? No media outlet has exposed this political deal
making and evident cave-in to pressure. PBS never told us about
it either. At the time, Duggan was giving speeches denouncing
both the right and the left to pretend at evenhandedness. He
turned us down when we asked him to support our human rights
We only know about wheeling and dealing
now because David Horowitz himself has gone public about it,
and not simply for purposes of self-aggrandizement. He is suing
his former partner in the venture, claiming that he "enriched
himself at my expense." This story is page one in Current,
out in the very week that PBS kaboshed the broadcast of Counting
on Democracy, no doubt fearing it might rankle the White House,
"due to the subject matter," to quote PBS. Of course,
their rejection was couched in the language of journalistic standards
and concerns about "fairness" as it always is.
its time to call for an investigation of PBS,
starting with the slimy details of this Horowitz affair. At a
time when Americans want transparency and accountability in their
institutions, why not ask how many other right-wingers and Bush
backers were offered similar deals. That probe might start with
queries about programs made by Fred Barnes of Rupert Murdoch's
Weekly Standard who also became an filmmaker overnight
with PBS and CPB largesse. There are many others.
THIS TO FLORIDA
How does what happened in Florida fit
into all of this? It shows how political PBS is, and how unwilling
to carry programs that they thing go too far. How many other
important stories unwanted in the dumbed-down commercial media
are also being axed by PBS, the only TV programming service with
a mandate to serve the public interest? In their first year anniversary
coverage of the fiasco in Florida, the editors of the Economist,
the world's top magazine offered what they later called a "joke."
They apologized to readers for declaring President Bush the winner
in Florida because "the election is STILL too close to call."
No one has apologized to the voters of America for what happened
in Florida, a story that you still may not be able to find out
about thanks to PBS's refusal to broadcast it.
That "joke" is not so funny.
It is an insult.
And in fact, if you want to read something
we used to call "funny business" about this ongoing
story, here's a murky tale just posted on a website in Flori-DUH:
"A car was being dredged up after
sinking in a canal in Miami Dade County on August 9th, 2002.
Divers who found the car also found a locked metal box that when
opened contained uncounted ballots from the November 2000 election.
The large majority of the presidential votes in the lost container
were for Al Gore. Of the approximate 2500 soaked ballots over
1600 were for Al Gore. The election of 2000 just won't go away
Local police spokesperson Jeanne Pierre Dorvil stated that the
matter would be investigated."
You bet that that "investigation,"
if it ever occurs, won't be seen on PBS.
YOU CAN DO
help us get the word out on Counting on Democracy. Pass this story along. Find out if the program
is being aired in your community, and if not, why not. Please
be polite when calling PBS stations because often the last thing
people in public television want is to heat from the public.
. Counting on Democracy will be screened at the Hamptons Film
festival In East Hampton at 2PM on Sunday, Oct 20th. Tapes are
available for screening in schools and communities as well. Screenings
in Philadelphia, New York, and News Jersey have been arranged.
with suggestions and comments.
more Narco News Click Here
on Authentic Democracy