Publishers note: I was contacted by Dr. James Beverley, and was honored that he sent me some of his writings. He told me he wished to study and publish a review of the PBS piece that appeared about our movement and me a couple-few months ago. I told him I would be honored to publish anything he wrote. Here is Dr. Beverley’s assessment (NB: my own WordPress clumsiness moved certain pieces of this around in oerror, and it all only was straightened out and finalized on the morning of July 28).
FRONTLINE is justifiably famous. As the longest-running investigative series on TV, the PBS show has won numerous Peabody and Emmy awards. Sadly, FRONTLINE should not get any awards for its March 29 report “Plot to Overturn the Election.” This documentary is another example of mainstream media’s general inability to get things fully accurate when it comes to Donald Trump in general and the 2020 election in particular.
Thankfully, reporters A.C. Thompson, Doug Bock Clark, Alexandra Berzon, and Kirsten Berg do some things right. First, they recognize Patrick Byrne as one of the key leaders in protesting the election of Joe Biden. They allow viewers to hear Byrne’s voice and film him receiving praise from his many fans. This is a lot better than ignoring him (as mainstream media basically did through 2021) or dismissing him through cheap attack. Second, the FRONTLINE piece has interviews with other significant figures, including Sheryl Guy (Antrim County clerk), Professor Alex Halderman (expert on voting systems), Joshua Merritt (computer analyst) and Mark Finchem (Arizona House rep). Third, while General Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Phil Waldron, and Doug Logan refused to be interviewed, FRONTLINE captures some key public quotes from them.
Also on the positives, FRONTLINE producer and director Samuel Black does an adequate job in the number of voices heard and there is an even-handedness in the time given to opposing views. Black also provides powerful news clips and takes the viewer to some interesting locales across America (Michigan, Texas, and Arizona, for example).
Most importantly, the FRONTLINE report deserves praise for legitimate points against aspects of the Antrim County case. Here, the critique by Professor Halderman raises significant lapses in the analysis by various people connected to ASOG. This means that the burden of proof has shifted on some matters to election critics to defend their case.1
The above positives are offset by minor irritations but also some major miscalculations, omissions, and logical failures.
Lesser but telling matters
There is some sleight of hand in the posturing by FRONTLINE to make it seem like their discoveries about the meetings at Lin Wood’s plantation in 2020 are super significant. This might have been the case if FRONTLINE had brought the material to the public in late 2020 or early 2021. Even then, a search of articles from November and December 2020 would have shown all the players mentioned by FRONTLINE.2 Further, why did the reporters not mention the bitter falling out between Lin Wood and others on the team? That would certainly alter the perception of a powerful, unified organization.3It is also annoying that FRONTLINE adopts a double standard on descriptions of the opposing teams, making sure that only proponents of election fraud are dinged with negative addons. Thus, Flynn lied to the FBI,4 Joshua Merritt and Mark Finchem were once Oath Keepers, and Byrne dated a Russian spy. Related to this, Byrne is right to complain about “cheap shots” to make pro-Trumpers look bad, including Wendy Rogers, the Arizona senator. Why no mention of negative elements in people on the other side? Are they angels? Why no video shots that make anti-Trump forces look unhinged?It is really stretching things for Sheryl Guy to argue that having a team arrive in Antrim to investigate possible election fraud is “shocking.” No, what would be shocking is if Republican operatives failed to show up in their quest to respond to the alleged Biden victory. Further, FRONTLINE is grasping at straws to leave in her claim that team arrival by private jet is threatening. What, if only they had arrived by car? Of course, my points here are made with recognition that Guy and other civic officials have been subject to vitriol and hate which is deeply troubling. I don’t think this came from the ASOG members.Like other media, the FRONTLINE documentary often adopts the annoying practice of using loaded language to describe the views of election skeptics. Do we really need to hear “stolen election myth” six times in the documentary? Likewise, is there a rule in mainstream media that reports about November 3 must use the word “baseless” to describe theories of election fraud.5 Thankfully, FRONTLINE uses that only once.It is disturbing that FRONTLINE seems to imply that Byrne and Flynn taking to the streets on January 5 and “riling up the crowds” led directly to the violence of January 6. This is not fair to both leaders, given their calls for protestors to be peaceful.
The Greater Failures
The FRONTLINE documentary basically treats November 3 election critics as horribly mistaken, followers of myth, and promoters of careless and misleading views, even lies. Thankfully, FRONTLINE does not question Byrne’s sincerity, but this does little to lessen the absolute dogmatism of the FRONTLINE take on November 3. For them, it was a fair and honest election, no doubt at all.
I was hoping that the documentary would add a substantial body of material to the election debates and finally settle many of the issues. Again, FRONTLINE missed the ideal and here are the major reasons.
1. Unwarranted dogmatism
First, their dogmatism against election critics gives no recognition to the possibility that November 3 was fraudulent, even in part. This stridency ignores the fact that various figures on the left have often expressed alarm at the potential (and reality) of election equipment being hacked.7 As well, the suspicion that the election was stolen is completely rational given what the Democratic establishment, mainline media, and big tech did to promote lies about Donald Trump,8 including the view that Trump colluded with Russia.9 As well, FRONTLINE should have taken its investigative role seriously enough to probe the Hunter Biden laptop scandal as part of their coverage of election fraud theorists. It is appalling that the Biden laptop debacle was not covered in October 2020 by the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, etc. Big tech joined in the censorship, as did former National Security personnel.10
On the bottom line, it looks like FRONTLINE reporters were blinded by their unwarranted confidence in their own presuppositions, as Byrne argues in his claim that they are guilty of “begging the question”.11
2. Missing Elements
Second, the alleged certainties in the FRONTLINE perspective are belied by crucial missing dimensions in the reporting. At first glance, their analysis of Antrim seems thorough until you learn about Patrick Byrne’s response, where he claims that the FRONTLINE team failed to address why the Antrim computer logs were deleted on November 4 at 11:03 p.m. Bryne stated that he “jumped up and down with them” over this.
He also objects to them not probing why there were allegedly no Adjudication files in Antrim’s election machine for 2020. Beyond these two items, in his pre-show rebuttal to FRONTLINE Byrne lists many serious reasons to question the 2020 election. These seem to have been ignored as is important analysis from other major players, like Seth Keshel,12 Peter Navarro, Patrick Basham, Hans A. von Spakovsky, and Rich Baris, among others.13
Further, I wonder if FRONTLINE dogmatism would have lessened if the reporters had pursued the rumblings about 2000 Mules, the documentary from Dinesh D’Souza (the well known filmmaker), Gregg Phillips (founder of the OPSEC Group and researcher for True the Vote) and TTV founder Catherine Engelbrecht. The film provides stunning evidence of ballot stuffing.14 While the FRONTLINE documentary came out five weeks before the release of 2000 Mules, even minimal attention to the D’Souza enterprise would have shown that there was a bombshell in the making, one that blunts the dogmatic skepticism of FRONTLINE.15
story is one among the myriad of ways in which the election was shaped by factors beyond computer hacking and outright criminality. On this, see Molly Ball’s controversial Time magazine article “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election” (February 15, 201). Some of Ball’s critics argue that she unwittingly paints a picture of election influence that is alarming, if not criminal. Joy Pullmann critiques Ball at The Federalist as does Jeff Carlson at The Epoch Times. Readers should also note the new documentary Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.
There are also missing voices in the reporting on the Maricopa (Arizona) audit. Elizabeth Howard mocks the use of spinning wheels to count and record ballot results plus she ridicules checking ballots for bamboo fibers.16 We don’t know if FRONTLINE asked Jovan Pulitzer for a reply or Ben Cotton or Doug Logan or Patrick Byrne. I asked Pulitzer for a reply to Howard’s cynicism about the use of spinning wheels at the audit. He wrote me on May 13. “Arizona law requires – when a RECOUNT is done, that 3 people must do the recount of each ballot. The RECOUNT was demanded by the Senate. But at the same time, people are NOT ALLOWED to touch the ballots. Only single approved person. Thus to enable 3 people to look but only 1 to touch, we had to innovate a way that we could situate the people and not have them trying to look over the shoulder of each other and to stay covid distanced too, Thus the lazy susan turn table solved these issues. Easy peasy.”
FRONTLINE quotes Howard stating that the Maricopa audit was “just theatre.” So, Patrick Byrne, spent millions to fund the audit, all for just theatre? That is a rather strange suggestion especially given the announcement from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich that his office has found election fraud, based on records from the Arizona audit.17 The “all for theatre” view also fails to give any weight to the testimony from those who took part in the audit and are deeply upset by evidence of election cheating.18
3. Leaps in Logic
Third, there are gaps in logic throughout the documentary. Here are three examples: (a) It is contradictory to say that the Maricopa audit is a sham and then use that same audit as proof that Biden won. (b) Doug Logan’s credibility as the main cyber figure in the Arizona audit is not disproven simply because he was a participant in meetings at Lin Wood’s plantation. It is possible to believe the election was stolen and yet still run an objective audit, just like it is possible to believe the 2020 election was fair and know how to do an accurate audit (as is the case with Elizabeth Howard and Alex Halderman). (c) It is also a leap in logic to resort to name calling as a means of dismissing someone’s view. It looks like FRONTLINE wants to attack credibility by saying that this or that person or organization is right-wing, as if that settled the debate. (Yes, of course, the same faulty tactic is used by conservatives who think by saying someone is liberal proves error.)
4. Lapses on Byrne coverage
Fourth, there are also serious weaknesses in the FRONTLINE material directlly on Bryne. The transcript of the program amounts to over 7900 words, but Byrne’s many quotes only add up to 812 words. This is a rather paltry amount given his significance. The producers should have given him more time in the documentary. Even more disturbing than the modest total is the fact that Byrne is never quoted on the many reasons he believes the election was stolen. Viewers should have heard him on at least some of those.
5. Missed Opportunity
Fifth, and by far the most important critique of FRONTLINE is the fact that the producer- director and reporters missed the chance to focus on the most significant way to solve the divide over the 2020 election. Simply put, FRONTLINE failed to back the idea from Flynn, Byrne, and others that a truly impartial and bipartisan audit should be done in enough counties to figure out what really happened on November 3.
It is disappointing that President Trump did not go for that option or something similar before January 6 and tragic that Mike Pence failed to push for it on that infamous day. FRONTLINE should have expanded on the call to “open the boxes”19since it is not too late to get to the bottom line on the most disputed election in American history.
A Final Disturbing Accusation and Partial Improvement
On March 27 Patrick Byrne wrote what he titled: “Doug Bock Clark Goes Full Baghdad Bob (A Preview Review of ProPublica’s C-Grade Propaganda). This was done without having seen the FRONTLINE documentary and two days before its release. Byrne correctly predicted that the documentary would not go very deep on the topic of election fraud. His preview review outlined an array of material supporting election fraud that Byrne gave to Clark. Bryne then states: “There was a day that materials as these might entice an enterprising young journalist with ambitions to get past the “Baseless!” genuflections of his contemporaries and “go deep” (as Mr. Clark promised). Not, however, at today’s ProPublica. Instead, Doug Bock Clark has informed me that the clever strategy of Pro Publica is going to be that none of it exists.”
In a later article from April 8 Bryne returned to this theme: “a couple weeks before publication Doug Bock Clark let me know that ProPublica and he had decided to handle this entire mountain of evidence by pretending it did not exist. He did not utter it, but he said it, and so confident was I that I had read him correctly that I decided to publish my review of his work before he even published.”
This is obviously a stunning accusation. To make sure I was reading Byrne correctly I wrote him on April 22. Here are my questions and comments with his replies in bold.
Patrick, this makes ProPublica and Doug look terrible.
“They are terrible.”
Can you clarify what you mean by writing that Doug “did not utter it, but he said it.” This sounds contradictory. What do you mean: he did not utter it, but he said it?
“He said words that let me know that is what they were doing without coming out and saying precisely the words. he let me know it but with hemming and hawwing and pauses so I got what he was saying.
In any case, I guessed correctly. the PBS piece omitted all of that material.”
Further, why would Doug say or write or imply anything as bad as to let you know “that ProPublica and he had decided to handle this entire mountain of evidence by pretending it did not exist.” This is such a damning admission. If he felt close enough to you to admit it, then surely, he would have the brains to say: not to be repeated, for your eyes only, etc.”
“Nope. he gave it to me as an answer as though it made sense.”
“I remember now. after a week of silence, after them chewing on all the evidence I sent them, Doug came back and told me that ProPublica and he had decided to handle it by only discussing the claims that had been made in November 2020 and not going past that into any evidence that accumulated since then. Really.”
On April 11 I wrote Doug Bock Clark about what Patrick Byrne claimed in his published pieces. I forwarded the email to A.C. Thompson on the same day (with a copy to Doug). I got no reply from either reporter, so I wrote them follow up emails on April 14 and June 4. So far, no response.
The failures in the FRONTLINE documentary, noted above, along with Clark’s admissions to Byrne, add up to very weak journalism. Thankfully, Clark has redeemed himself somewhat by writing (along with Alexandra Berzon and Kirsten Berg) a major investigative piece called Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth, published on April 26. This new report was co-published with FRONTLINE. It is far more extensive and richer than the March 29 documentary. Byrne went public to express appreciation for the better work revealed in the latest effort.20 This does not mean that the weaknesses in the March 29 documentary should be glossed over. Rather, with these failings in mind, there can be a more honest and balanced response to critics like Patrick Byrne.
A Hopeful Change
On the bottom line, the FRONTLINE documentary did not provide a definitive critique of those who question the November 3rd election. Thankfully, despite the weaknesses and blunders in the March 29 FRONTLINE documentary, Byrne has left open the door to continued interaction with PBS.21 To that end, here’s to hoping that FRONTLINE and ProPublica will have a front row seat if the political leaders in America have the courage to unite in holding the kind of audit that would reveal the total truth about the vote in 2020. “Open the Boxes.” After all, it is the truth we want, isn’t it?
1 Future research on Antrim County will also have to note the critique of ASOG given in the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee “Report on the November 2020 Election in Michigan”, chaired by Senator Edward McBroom, along with Senators Lana Theis, Leff Irwin, and John Bizon. The Atlantic has an interesting profile of McBroom on June 20, 2021.
2 The Washington Post has two major pieces in December 2020 that deal with Patrick Byrne, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, and Joshua Merritt, for example. See here and here. As well, in May 2021 the same paper had an even deeper analysis of the earliest proponents of election fraud. It centers on Texas businessman Russell J. Ramsland Jr. and ASOG. See “The Making of a Myth” by Emma Brown, Aaron C. Davis, Jon Swaine, and Josh Dawsey (May 9, 2021). Donald Trump tweeted about Ramsland in November 2020. Ramsland authored, for example, one Antrim Forensics Report, dated December 13, 2020. This was for attorney Matthew DePerno who was representing his client Bill Bailey.
3 There were divisions as early as November 2020 between various proponents of election fraud. These increased through 2021, as noted in various news reports. Patrick Byrne speaks about the continuing divisions along with some reconciliations in his talk on April 11, 2022.
4 Flynn continues to be attacked in the present. For example, Jim Stewartson compares him to David Koresh and Jim Jones, and argues that Flynn is currently working on a fifth column in the U.S. Stewartson writes that Flynn “is now overtly and publicly working on behalf of Vladimir Putin and recruiting new members into his death cult.” While Flynn has expressed reservations about Biden’s handling of Ukraine, he has also said he is no apologist for Putin. I raise Stewartson’s views as an example of the hatred sometimes generated against Flynn.
5 Ironically, one website uses the baseless theme to present evidence of election fraud. See https://baselessaudit.com/
6 See also endnote i at https://www.deepcapture.com/2021/09/letter-to-congress/#_ednref1
7 See Kanekoa The Great and essay providing links to 110 articles that show “America’s Computerized Voting System is Online, Compromised, and Vulnerable to Hackers.” Of more direct importance, see Patrick Byrne’s reporting on the research of Professor Alex Halderman and the supression of his concerns from 2018 about voting machines. Byrne, Curling v. Raffensperger and the Halderman MacGuffin (October 17, 2021) and The Halderman McGuffin Money-shot (April 27, 2022).
8 That mainstream media often lie about Trump is not meant to suggest that the former President is always a bastion of truth. Donald Trump hurt his own political and moral capital through his own deceptions and lies, as noted by Glenn Kessler and his team at The Washington Post. Of course, one must add another layer to this topic by noting that sometimes the fact checkers at The Washington Post need checked. See, for example, Miranda Devine’s critique on Kessler concerning Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
9 The details about collusion against Trump were exposed early on by Devin Nunes and then covered by Lee Smith in his book The Plot Against the President (1919). A documentary with the same title and subject came out in 2020, directed by Amanda Milius. There were complaints that Amazon slowed down release and Facebook blocked ads for the movie before the election. I recognize there are those who argue Trump did collude with Russia, regardless of the ways in which the Mueller report failed to prove the point. On this, see the work of Seth Abramson, lawyer, journalist, and author of three major books on Trump. Abramson is also a harsh critic of Patrick Byrne. On the bottom line, however, I believe mainstream media erred significantly against Trump about Russia. On this, it is no wonder that Hans A. von Spakovsky asks: “Will New York Times, Washington Post Return Pulitzer for Misleading Russia Collusion Stories? (December 13, 2021).
10 On the Hunter laptop and media, see Gerard Baker, “Hunter Biden’s Laptop and America’s Crisis of Accountability” at Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2022. Baker writes: The one way in which real accountability is supposed to work in a democracy is at the ballot box. But how can that even work when the people we want to hold accountable decide what information the voters are allowed to see?” The suppression of the Biden laptop
11 The same unwarranted dogmatism is often on display in the workings of the January 6 commission. For a powerful response to an aspect of their work, see Patrick McSweeney and Christopher Kachouroff’s letter on behalf of Kurt Olsen.
12 Keshel has written a lot of material about 2020, some quite technical. One of his more general pieces offers ten guidelines to reach election integrity.
13 On November 30, 2020 Baris teamed up with Robert Barnes to cover anomalies in the 2020 election. Baris also did an interview with Eric Hunley on November 6. For more material on election fraud, go to https://hereistheevidence.com/ For contrasting analysis, I recommend that readers consult Isaac Saul. He wrote, among other things, an extensive Twitter thread in early November 2020 plus a major essay mid-month on “The real fraud is election fraud.” Saul is the founder of @TangleNews.
14 See Paul Bond’s article “Film Claims It Has Video of “Mules” Stuffing Ballot Boxes in 2020 Election” in Newsweek (March 2, 2022). Charlie Kirk interviewed the True the Vote leaders about their discoveries regarding November 3 on April 7, 2022. They employed 12 people, working 16 hours a day for 15 months to track ballot stuffing. The company spent over two million dollars on their investigation.
15 I was given a media screener of the film before it was shown in movie theatres. I gave my initial positive assessment of the documentary on Michael Brown’s national radio show The Line of Fire on May 2.
16 The group doing the Antrim audit heard a rumor that paper from Asia had been infiltrated into the election. Given this rumor, it was entirely reasonable for the auditors to check that issue. This was turned into the accusation that the auditors are so stupid that they actually looked for bamboo fibers. The news reports mocking the auditors for simply investigating on the topic are very telling. The election specialist John Brakey of AUDIT-USA mentioned the search for bamboo but his remarks were truncated in a news clip so that he became falsely targeted as John “Bamboo” Brakey. He was actually very critical of the audit and mentioned the search for bamboo simply as an item he was reporting as an outside observer. The distortion about Brakey has been covered by Brad Friedman, a very critical observer of the Arizona audit.
17 See A.G. Mark Brnovich letter to Senator Karen Fann on April 6, 2022. The A.G. states that his review “has uncovered instances of election fraud by individuals who have been or will be prosecuted for election crimes.” The final word has yet to be said about Maricopa since currently there are two contradictory positions: (a) the A.G. has found no fraud or very little, versus (b) the A.G. report indicates fraud and there will be criminal trials.
18 One source claimed that the Maricopa audit involved over 1500 volunteers who donated over 100,000 hours to process the 2.1 million ballots by hand. That’s a lot of theatre.
19 Patrick Byrne mentions opening the boxes twice in the documentary while Michael Flynn states it once. Byrne is glad the documentary gave voice to the idea but, sadly, the notion of a full audit gets lost in the overall message of the FRONTLINE show. None of the advertising on the documentary gives “opening the boxes” any weight as an incredible step in sorting through views on November 3. For example, one tweet from ProPublica on March 29 promotes the documentary by noting: “A group of people working from a plantation in South Carolina spread misinformation about the November 2020 election.”
20 See Patrick Byrne, “Preliminary Thoughts on Baghdad Bock’s New Pro Publica Article” at Byrne’s Locals channel. Byrne writes: “I must acknowledge that my appraisal of Mr. Clark gets a modest uptick. Yes, he blew the smoke I expected him to blow. But there are a few moments in it deserving of praise.”
21 Many of Byrne’s admirers believe that he is far too generous to PBS/FRONTLINE and ProPublica. Of course, his evenhandedness is a welcome alternative to the toxic commentary in debates about November 3.
James A. Beverley, PhD, is Research Professor at Tyndale University in Toronto and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Woodway, Texas. He is the author and editor of nineteen books, including The QAnon Deception, Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions, and The One Page Guide to the Christian Faith.