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Recounting the Recount

It was predictable enough that Recount, HBO’s retelling of the disputed 2000 election, would raise all kinds of partisan hackles simply by revisiting that contentious moment in American democracy, much less dramatizing it on TV.

But ABC News chief national correspondent Jake Tapper says the reality on the ground in Florida back then was often stranger than fiction.

Tapper, who covered the recount for Salon, was a consultant on the film—his book Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency was among the sources used by screenwriter Danny Strong—and found the result to be more or less factual.

For instance, Warren Christopher, who oversaw the Gore legal effort during the recount, will be glad to know that Tapper doesn’t recognize the pushover portrayed in the movie by John Hurt.

“My reporting does not square with the idea that Warren Christopher wanted to throw in the towel early on,” Tapper says.

But he says Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Chistopher’s Republican counterpart, James Baker, as a ruthless steamroller was closer to the mark: “If you are ever in that situation, you will want Jim Baker. He is tough.”

Then there’s Laura Dern’s hysterical portrayal of Katherine Harris, the much-maligned Florida Secretary of State.

“If I was Katherine Harris I wouldn’t be happy,” Tapper says. “But it is how many Democrats and Republicans viewed her. She was a very controversial figure, and she was picked upon very unfairly in a lot of ways.”

Or maybe not so unfairly. She apparently fancied herself the modern embodiment of Queen Esther, the Old Testament heroine who saved the Persian Jews from peril.

In fact, many of Harris’ character ticks, perhaps deemed too odd to be believed, were not included in the film. In the thick of the real-life recount drama, says Tapper, Harris walked into a sky box at a college football game and announced that she had dreamt she entered a grand arena on horseback with the American flag in one hand and the certification of the election for George W. Bush in the other?

“You would think that was over the top,” says Tapper. “That happened. A lot of stuff that happens in politics would ring false in a movie because nobody would believe it.”

By Marisa Guthrie