Down For the Recount

Ride with us through a subtropical wonderland where troops rally for a new ballot

A young man clad in blue jeans powders and repowders the reporter between feeds. As soon as the camera light blinks on, the pintsize reporter greets viewers in various cities in stentorian tones. He keeps his hand in his pocket to appear casual. Just before the New York feed, he calls his coordinator, who is standing beside the cameraman.

"HEY! Is it CATHleen or CHRISteen in New York?"

After a hissed reply, he goes live. "Thanks Christine," he says with a smile, "as you can see behind me, here in Palm Beach County tonight..."

W. Kelley Lucas

To his left, two other newscasters stand in front of their crews. "How much time to the feed?" one calls. When not on camera, they rehearse like actors, muttering their lines over and over. They check and recheck their hair; they check and recheck their ties.

A few minutes later, the miniature reporter gets on the phone. "We've booked all the 1:40 seats to Tallahassee," he tells someone. The person on the other end of the line asks a question. "Oh, I slept a couple hours on the plane, but no, not since Tuesday morning."

Then one cameraman walks by, talking with a companion. "I filed a $10,000 expense report, and they never even blinked," he says.

A few minutes later LePore takes a break from the recount and heads for the TV lights. Almost 20,000 of her butterfly ballots were double-punched and discarded, she says. She'll never design such a ballot again. "Hindsight is 20/20," she adds.

It's midafternoon on WQAM-AM (560), and radio personality Hank "The Hammer" Goldberg is for once not talking sports. Caller after caller testifies to uncounted ballots, egregious violation of law, and Bush clan conflict of interest.

Caller: I may be called a bigot for this, but here goes. Is it possible that we had a significant number of noncitizens voting? Because all you have to do is say yes to the fact that you're a citizen when you register. You no longer have to prove it.

Hank: Eh. I don't know. The Hispanic vote went pretty much for Gore this year.

Caller: Oh. I didn't realize that.

A few minutes later, an even more interesting call comes in.

Caller: I felt like I was watching a mile race where none of the closes were closing. Then Bush comes out of the clear blue. Gore cries foul. And then you've got the drug question. You know, was he hopped up on something? But the other thing is...

Hank: Where was that question? I didn't hear that one.

Caller: Heh. Yeah. well, another thing...

Live television has an inverse effect. The real-time world seems oddly slow by comparison. So here, as everywhere, it's later than you think. Tomorrow is Japan's today and Adam Yamaguchi's viewers are waiting to watch Florida tow the nation to a Republican-led future.

"I don't even need to be here," he mutters. In a way, he's right. Yamaguchi, who is 21 years old and lives in Los Angeles, flew to South Florida just to film the site of the Broward County recount, a warehouse on Southwest Second Street near a yoga studio, around the corner from bail bondsmen and a 24-hour pizza joint. He works for Asahi, a television network that covers American news for the Japanese, and admits he could have trained a camera on an office park in the San Fernando Valley. Viewers wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. "In Japan, you know, they're not looking at specifics. They just want to know, you know, that they're still counting."

And they want to see that other networks' cameras are rolling, too: "It's not going to make a difference, but I just want to have them in the background."

In the background a stream of camera people, blue-blazered network reporters, and sheriff's deputies in forest green polyester wander in and out as receptionist Joan Sykes blithely licks the last drop of Dole fruit cup syrup from a plastic spoon. "This is just a flukey thing," Sykes says, tossing the spoon and cup into a trash can under her desk and launching into a rambling tale of the real election story the stations never tell. Sykes' scoop, a description of how the warehouse works, is about as scintillating as a segment on a bread factory. But she insists it's compelling. Besides, it's an exclusive; "I picked you," she brightly tells a reporter, "because you kinda look like my daughter."

Camera crews from NBC affiliates, ABC affiliates, and CNN crowd the place. Most media people look bored. They don't speak much to one another but talk into cell phones, sometimes two at once. A middle-aged member of the Bush contingent is gabbing away. "There were shenanigans to the north of us and to the south of us, but I think we're OK here."

If the liberal press is worried about a Republican administration, no one shows it. Even though he's inside, a CNN reporter keeps putting on and taking off the wraparound sunglasses that hang from his neck on a cord. Folding tables are littered with takeout food along with liter upon liter of broadcasters' ubiquitous elixir, Evian. A female TV producer offers up the remaining half of a gargantuan sandwich. There is no taker.

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