News

May 12, 2008

Update: Mitchell Berger ’77 and Jeffrey Robinson ’80 Discuss ‘Recount’ in National Media

They are portrayed in film dealing with aftermath of 2000 presidential election in Florida

Update: Jeffrey Robinson ’80 discusses Recount in a May 21 article in U.S. News & World Report. Mitchell Berger ’77 and Ben Ginsberg, national counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, talk about the 2000 presidential election and the accuracy of Recount in a National Public Radio segment available online (choose Listen Now).

It’s Dec, 8, 2000. Mitchell Berger ’77 and Jeffrey Robinson ’80 are riding in a van, chatting idly about the recent Lafayette-Lehigh football game. They seem oblivious to the television cameras trained on their every movement.

That night, footage of the conversation appears on ABC’s Nightline—sans sound—accompanying a story about how the Supreme Court of Florida had ordered the Circuit Court of Leon County to tabulate by hand 9,000 presidential election ballots in Miami-Dade County.

Berger, who at the time was senior adviser for the Gore 2000 campaign, and Robinson, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Baach Robinson & Lewis, were key members of the team representing then-Vice President Al Gore in a recount of votes in the contest between him and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Hanging in the balance during the five weeks following the Nov. 7, 2000, election were Florida’s 25 electoral votes—and the presidency.

More than seven years later, the attorneys’ roles during that grueling time are being reprised in Recount, an HBO original home movie starring Kevin Spacey. Scheduled to debut at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 25, the made-for-TV film strives to chronicle the weeks between the election and the December Supreme Court ruling that upheld Florida’s count and gave Bush the White House. It will also air at 9 p.m. May 26.

Berger is played by Bruce Altman, Robinson by Raymond Forchion.

  • HBO Films — Recount: The Story of the 2000 Presidential Election

Spacey plays Ron Klain, Gore’s chief of staff as vice president and one of the lead attorneys challenging the Florida voting results. Ed Begley Jr. plays David Boies, the lawyer who appealed the results and argued for the Democrats in court; John Hurt is Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Laura Dern plays Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

For Berger, who met and spoke with Spacey, Altman, and writer Danny Strong, the making of the movie has been by turn fascinating, amusing, and a little frustrating.

“I had a wonderful experience and learned a lot, I think,” he says. “It was clear that Kevin Spacey and Bruce Altman and the others were very much attuned to the legal issues, that they had studied them.”

Berger also found himself bemused as Altman, known for appearances on TV shows such as Law & Order and The Sopranos, transformed himself into “Mitchell,” complete with glasses and flyaway hair.

After reading the screenplay, Berger knows that not every point has been covered as he would have liked.

“There are things in the movie that I would take issue with, but it is, as they say, a dramatization,” he says. “You take 36 days and you try to put it into two hours. . . . I thought they were still missing important parts of the history. But we live in a digital age. It’s better than not getting any information. “

While Berger was involved in the Gore recount effort from the start, Robinson joined later in November, participating both in trial-court proceedings in Tallahassee and as a spokesman to the media.

“It was as big a legal matter as one is ever likely to be involved in,” he says.

Robinson spoke with, but did not meet, both Strong, who is better known as a television actor who appeared as a regular in series such as The Gilmore Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Forchion, who has appeared in a number of television shows, including Will and Grace and Ellen, and played O.J. Simpson in the made-for-TV movie An American Tragedy.

“At some point in the scripting and drafting process, I was contacted by the author and had a number of conversations with him,” he says. “It would be fair to say he got my take on the events. I gave him how it was from my perspective. I also gave them my license. I said, ‘It’s not a book, it’s a movie. I understand that. It’s supposed to be entertaining.’”

Robinson says both Strong and Forchion seemed intent on getting the details as correct as possible.

“I felt like they listened carefully and reacted well to the things I had to say,” he says. “They seemed quite serious about trying to capture people’s real experiences of what happened.”

Robinson says that when he learned Forchion would be playing him in the movie, he couldn’t connect the name with a face.

“The name didn’t mean anything to me,” he says. But after he did a bit of research, Robinson realized he had seen Forchion on television.

“He seems a person of substance and interest,” Robinson says, adding that in addition to taking an interest in the events of 2000, Forchion offered to speak to Robinson’s son, who is interested in acting.

While Robinson hasn’t read the script, he plans to see the movie.

‘It’s pretty cool,” he says. “I anticipate it will be an unusual experience.”

For Mitchell, the experience will be bittersweet.

“There was one part that I particularly feel that history is going to lose,” he says. “We’re always asked about the tactics of why you did this or why you did that. We were dealing with a group of very arcane election laws. It was impossible under those election laws, which require county-by-county recounts, to get a statewide recount.”

Berger says that early on, Gore asked Bush to agree to a full recount, and Bush refused.

“The world’s greatest democracy should honor democracy, and statesmen do that,” he says. “It’s clear the machines broke. It’s clear that the machines didn’t tabulate the election results. Once that happens, how do you fix it as citizens? It’s pretty serious business. It’s really not a blood sport. It’s not a James Carville-Karl Rove experience. It needs to be a John Adams-Thomas Jefferson experience.”

Berger insists that Gore’s team didn’t regard the recount effort as simply an attempt to win.

“Whatever your political philosophy is, it’s important to have the rule of law be paramount,” he says. “It’s not about might making right. It’s not about the tyranny of the majority. “

Berger adds that has another bone to pick with the movie as well.

“I don’t like the word ‘recount’ because there never was one,” he says.

Still, as he laments what has been forgotten, or glossed over, Berger finds much to praise about the movie—and is clearly enjoying his enhanced status with his four children, especially daughters Meredith and Amanda ’09, who are both Kevin Spacey fans.

Plus, he says, his current “fame” has come in a respectable package.

“As I said to my children,” he remarks. “I’m going on 52 years of age and I’m part of a movie – and it’s not because I killed or stole money.’”

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