Monday, July 05, 2004

Foolishly, I've decided to take on a herculean task... analyzing and, where necessary, debunking Dave Kopel's Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 911. (Yes, 59; he's added three more.) (And yes, the title of the piece says '911', not '9/11'. If anyone out there feels like starting a 'Some Number of Spelling and Grammatical Mistakes in Dave Kopel's Work', consider that a freebie.)

The impetus for this effort was a) seeing the film a second time, and having a bit of an epiphany on why Hitch got it so badly wrong, and b) remembering Hitch's 'nauseating' comment about the Lila Lipscomb sequences, and needing to do something more constructive than tracking him down and punching him in his soulless face.

This'll be in many, many parts.

Here we go:

Deceits 1-2

Fahrenheit 911 begins on election night 2000. We are first shown the Al Gore rocking on stage with famous musicians and a high-spirited crowd. The conspicuous sign on stage reads “Florida Victory.” Moore creates the impression that Gore was celebrating his victory in Florida.

Actually, the rally took place in the early hours of election day, before polls had even opened. Gore did campaign in Florida on election day, but went home to Tennessee to await the results. The “Florida Victory” sign reflected Gore’s hopes, not any actual election results

This is probably going to come up a lot. 'Creates the impression...' It's important to keep in mind (this is the epiphany part) that Moore did not create the film for NRO writers, or for political bloggers, or for pundits or wonks. He created it for all the Lila Lipscombs and Sgt. Michael Petersons of the world.

That knowledge is absolutely crucial for debunking maybe 95% of the attacks on the film. When Michael Moore mentions, say, the Unocal natural gas pipeline plan, that reference will dreg up a whole wealth of related info in the mind of a political junkie, info that isn't actually in the film. It's important to focus on what Moore actually includes, not what a Google search on what he includes might turn up.

Anyway, back to Kopel. First off, I only saw one famous musician on stage (unless, like Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck has started a band... shudder), but that's just nitpicking. The Florida rally footage is part of Moore's 'dream sequence', and is separate from his election night coverage. If he 'creates an impression', it's that a Gore victory celebration is what should have happened, not what did happen. It is, after all, Moore's dream, right?

The film shows CBS and CNN calling Florida for Al Gore. According to the narrator, "Then something called the Fox News Channel called the election in favor of the other guy... All of a sudden the other networks said, ‘Hey, if Fox said it, it must be true.’"

We then see NBC anchor Tom Brokaw stating, “All of us networks made a mistake and projected Florida in the Al Gore column. It was our mistake.”

Moore thus creates the false impression that the networks withdrew their claim about Gore winning Florida when they heard that Fox said that Bush won Florida.

I was going to debunk this, but then I kept reading and found that Kopel had already done it himself!

In fact, the networks which called Florida for Gore did so early in the evening—before polls had even closed in the Florida panhandle, which is part of the Central Time Zone. NBC called Florida for Gore at 7:49:40 p.m., Eastern Time. This was 10 minutes before polls closed in the Florida panhandle. Thirty seconds later, CBS called Florida for Gore. And at 7:52 p.m., Fox called Florida for Gore. Moore never lets the audience know that Fox was among the networks which made the error of calling Florida for Gore prematurely. Then at 8:02 p.m., ABC called Florida for Gore. Only ABC had waited until the Florida polls were closed.

The premature calls probably cost Bush thousands of votes from the conservative panhandle, as discouraged last-minute voters heard that their state had already been decided, and many voters who were waiting in line left the polling place. In Florida, as elsewhere, voters who have arrived at the polling place before closing time often end up voting after closing time, because of long lines. The conventional wisdom of politics is that supporters of the losing candidate are most likely to give up on voting when they hear that their side has already lost. (Thus, on election night 1980, when incumbent President Jimmy Carter gave a concession speech while polls were still open on the West coast, the early concession was widely blamed for costing the Democrats several Congressional seats in the West. The fact that all the networks had declared Reagan a landslide winner while West coast voting was still in progress was also blamed for Democratic losses in the West.) Even if the premature television calls affected all potential voters equally, the effect was to reduce Republican votes significantly, because the Florida panhandle is a Republican stronghold; depress overall turnout in the panhandle, and you will necessarily depress more Republican than Democratic votes.

At 10:00 p.m., which network took the lead in retracting the premature Florida result? The first retracting network was CBS, not Fox.

Over four hours later, at 2:16 a.m., Fox projected Bush as the Florida winner, as did all the other networks by 2:20 a.m.

CBS had taken the lead in making the erroneous call for Gore, and had taken the lead in retracting that call. At 3:59 a.m., CBS also took the lead in retracting the Florida call for Bush. All the other networks, including Fox, followed the CBS lead within eight minutes. That the networks arrived at similar conclusions within a short period of time is not surprising, since they were all using the same data from the Voter News Service.

So Moore said the other networks called it for Gore, then followed Fox's lead in calling it for Bush. Which part of Kopel's account disputes that, exactly?

Kopel also glosses over Bush first cousin John Ellis' role in starting the 'Florida goes for Bush' dominoes falling under the cover of the VNS. Kopel fails to explain how the data could have changed so much between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. -- or why networks, having made one mistake already, would be so eager to make another unless there was a little competitive peer pressure involved.

And oh, incidentally, those 'thousands' of disenfranchised Panhandle voters?

There are only nine counties in Florida entirely on Central Standard Time, and one (Gulf) which is split. The total voting age population of all 10 of those counties was 672671. Given a turnout rate of 50.6% in Florida in 2000, that leaves 340,397 Panhandle residents (statistically) who would have voted. How many 'thousands' of those, do you figure, would have waited until the last 10 minutes -- no, wait, less than that, since they haven't even left the house yet if they're watching election coverage on TV -- to vote, instead of going to the poll before work? Or on the way home from work? Or on their lunch hour? Or any time in the middle of the day, if they weren't working?

Who's dreaming now, Mr. Kopel?

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