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July 11th, 2008
03:50 PM ET

America Unfiltered: An election road trip

iReport

Introducing the iReport Film Festival!

We want YOU to make a short film for iReport Film Festival: Campaign 2008!, an online festival of short films from the campaign trail.

Put your creativity to the test and give us a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes whether you are organizing in your community or following the campaign… Learn more

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Here's a sample of what we're looking for in the iReport Film Festival from AC360° Producer Chuck Hadad . This film isn't in the running.
Here's a sample of what we're looking for in the iReport Film Festival from AC360° Producer Chuck Hadad . This film isn't in the running.

Chuck Hadad
AC360° Producer

It’s 2pm on Saturday and I’m doing 60 on the Long Island Expressway. The sun is shining, people are heading to the beach but I’m so tired that no matter how hard I try, my eyes will just not stay open. Although I know I have many hours to go before my final destination, I’m afraid I’ll have an accident so I pull off an exit, find a quiet suburban street to park the car, roll down the windows and immediately pass out for two, fitful hours of sleep.

As I descend into slumber, I think, “How did I get here?” but in reality, I have no one to blame but myself. Well, myself, and CNN.


A month before my nap on Long Island, my bosses on 360 presented me with a challenge that was as vast as it was exciting. “We want you to do a short documentary about the election. It can be anything you want as long as we approve the idea so think on it and come back to us.” The film would be a model for an upcoming iReport film festival.

I was thrilled and the wheels immediately started spinning. A week later, I came back to them with the following pitch, word for word:

“Although I’m not a veteran political pundit, I’ve voted in 3 elections and been a part of covering as many in my career here at CNN. I grew up in a family highly attuned to politics which lead to our own lively round table discussions at dinner growing up (especially the last election when my Mom voted for Bush, my Dad for Kerry). I’m old enough to remember Reagan’s reelection, the Iran-Contra scandal, the end of the Cold War, Bush 1, the recession, the surprise victory of the Governor from Arkansas, the triumphs, defeats and controversies of the entire Clinton presidency and everything in between.

With that knowledge both on the job and leading up to it, this Presidential election just seems bigger, the stakes higher, the difference between one man or the other massive and the emotion for the entire country at a fevered pitch. For lack of a better word, this election just feels more important than any one in my lifetime. While the candidates go into general election mode, they no doubt have their talking points on why they’re the best to lead. But I’m not interested in their rhetoric which has plenty of platforms to get blasted around the world on a daily basis. I want to know what the country thinks. And I plan to find out driving from the east coast to the west and polling as many people in the process with one simple question: Why is this election so important?”

Pretty good right? Yeah, my bosses thought so too. They told me to go for it, with one major caveat. With the massive demands of our regular programming on 360, they could only give me one week out of the office to pull it off. To be fair, I was given the option of finding another project that would require less of a hectic schedule but I was committed. I had bold (and perhaps foolish) ambitions. In seeking out the voices of many individuals, I wanted to find some universal truth.

The documentary lead me to leaving work at midnight on a Friday and starting my first shoot with fisherman on Long Island at 5AM with no time to sleep in between. That’s how I ended up almost killing myself on the Long Island Expressway and let me tell you, embarking on a massive adventure such as this is better done on a full night’s sleep.

I crossed the entire country and talked to as many different types of people as I could: fisherman in New York, evangelicals in Pennsylvania, baseball fans in Tennessee, community leaders in Little Rock, conservative radio listeners in Oklahoma City to name a few. The responses I’ve gotten to my question have been shocking, inspiring and you better believe entertaining but one thing remains constant …virtually EVERYONE is invested in this election and for me, an electorate actually voting IS the most important thing about this election.

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Ilhana, Bosnia

    It is also interesting to see what will happen in November – from across the ocean. I certainly hope American politics will take a new turn and stop playing world's policeman, and start turning to domestic problems – seems like they're in abundance.

    July 14, 2008 at 6:52 am |
  2. Klara

    What is this recent question as to which Language is the official language of America? Have they lost their minds? Could you see German's adopting Turkish, or the French adopting any other language other then their own? Is this just a ploy to get Hispanic voters?

    I came into this country when I was 11, did not speak a word of English, learned language in 6 months due to the fact that there were no German speaking teachers and I had no other choice.

    I believe when we come to this country as immigrants we adapt to the laws and the language of this country which so generously received us and not vice versa. What will happen next? Will they want to change the Constitution because it does not resonate with their beliefs?

    I am not American but have a Permanent Resident Card, and I find it offensive that outsiders are demanding that this country accommodate them and their laziness to adapt to the language. How would Mexico and South American countries like it if American's went there and demanded they change the "Official Language" to English? Its absurd.

    July 14, 2008 at 12:32 am |
  3. gomsu

    Chuck,
    The iReport piece was entertaining, yet you may want to ease up on the junk food your eating on the road....or your health may end up a campiagn issue in itself!

    July 13, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  4. Tina

    Joel, employers do not want to cover their people. I am scared of the future. I don't know what is going to happen. Look, we have been at war for a very long time. Who didn't know this was coming?

    July 13, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  5. J.V.hodgson

    Dear Chuck,
    I have sympathy for your views and those of previous E-mailers.
    But I have one big question.
    If you voted democrat for two superb candidates, who had very similar policies which are fundamentally different on the Economy and the war in Iraq and on many other equally important social issues to those of McCain and the Republicans.
    Then what pray, is your justification for not supporting the democratically arrived at presumptive nominee (Obama) or not voting, or you will write HRC name on your ballot and worse still implying you will vote for the Republican presumptive nominee??
    I thought democracy was about choosing between policies that most closely matched your personal hopes and desires, not necessarily the specific individual. Being "peeved" because HRC's version democratically lost can only be justified in a way which is virtually certain to take away the democrats best chance of a democratic Presidency and possibly Senate as well.
    HRC will get some major role in an Obama government in such a way as you as her supporters can mostly be happy, but I do not think it will be VP, sorry, to much baggage from and with Bill. With him being a major player, albeit in the background, effectively you would have two Presidents and Commander in Chief. The GOP would certainly not miss that sound bite opoprtunity and attack potential!!
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    July 13, 2008 at 12:13 pm |
  6. Rob from SD

    Interesting challenge... But I have to disagree with your assertion that there are massive differences between the two major party candidates.

    Both will continue the war in Iraq.
    Both will increase government spending.
    Both will increase government's involvement in healthcare.
    Both will continue the erosion of civil liberties, in favor of government power (see, eg. the latest vote on FISA)

    The only differences being how much or how long.

    Neither will balance the budget.
    Neither will begin to make a dent in the $9+ trillion dollar debt.
    Neither will put to a stop to the Fed printing unlimited reams of dollar bills.
    Neither will reinstitute the gold standard.
    Neither will slash entitlement spending – to stop stealing money from future generations.

    Sadly, only these measures will have any real impact on the economy, gas prices, and inflation.

    There is only one candidate, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, that presents any meaningful hope or change for America. Sadly, he
    barely even gets mentioned on CNN.

    July 12, 2008 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Andrew

    Chuck,

    Your piece on AC360 caught my attention. It is amazing some of the responses received when such a question is asked.

    Shocking were the comments of the older woman and the uninformed baseball fan at the baseball game in Nashville; but not surprising. I will certainly pray for them so God will soften their hearts.

    At the heart of my decision is the present "State of the Union" This country does not have the luxury to choose another candidate that will continue to lead her based on fear-induced, unintelligent, ego-influenced policies .

    I'm a "Demopublican", An American who would vote for anyone who can convince me they possess the qualities that will lead America out of her messy condition and back to prosperity under God. Qualities which facilitate the ability to seek and embrace the best people America has to offer to help them remedy her condition, no matter their political, ethnic, or religious persuasion. So far the candidate that comes closes to this is Senator Obama. Until I am convinced otherwise, he has my vote.

    Andrew
    Surprise, Arizona

    July 12, 2008 at 12:12 pm |
  8. New World Order

    Phil Gramm, McCain's Economic advisor and Cochairman of McCain's Campaign, stated that "Americans are whiners....they are in a mental recession...the economy grew 5%".

    So, along with Mrs.McCain spending over $100,000 in one month on her credit card, they seem to be very out-of-touch with everyday middle class, hard working Americans.

    July 12, 2008 at 3:05 am |
  9. Michael, NC

    Joel,
    I know my parents own a small business. They are taxed on almost 50 percent of their ENTIRE income. If they are forking half of their income-not just profit-to the government, how can they afford to increase the pay of each of their employees? I know what their employees make, and it is more than fair, but I also know that is not always the case. I do know that being taxed so highly makes it hard for small companies to pay high wages.
    Big businesses (who have lower income tax percentages), that's another story.

    July 12, 2008 at 12:43 am |
  10. James Dylan

    Shame on your bosses Chuck. They could of at least given you two weeks. Don't kill yourself because your bosses are cheap. They send Anderson all over the world and can't give you time to work in our own country? Shame on them. And oh yeah, good luck. Sounds like you need it.

    July 12, 2008 at 12:39 am |
  11. Joel Seneh Seneh

    I have a one question that has never been ask by any American in this vey bad economic crisis in our country, and that question is about someone who can raise the idea about asking our employers to atleast help increase employees pay on the job.

    Joel Seneh Seneh
    Dallas Texas

    July 11, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  12. Michael, NC

    Hope it will be as good as the sales pitch I just read. And what's with all the hostility toward the AC contributers and producers? I mean, anybody who truly cares about politics has their own opinions, and who are we to tell them to surpress them?
    Best of luck to you Chuck.

    July 11, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  13. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    How much creative editting went into your piece? Ask 10 people the same question and you might get 6 or 7 to give you sound and reasonable responses. But it's the 3 that make better TV.

    You close with "an electorate actually voting IS the most important thing about this election." Then I suggest you do a story on how home foreclosures can affect voting numbers in November. Come November, the people who are having their homes foreclosed on and are still registered at their former addresses could lose the opportunity to vote, or be forced to cast a provisional ballot which might not get counted. Voting in battleground states such as Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, New Jersey and Georgia could be dramatically affected by this.

    When will you guys get off these "fluff" pieces and get back to REAL journalism?

    July 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm |
  14. Mark

    I love AC360, but could do without this veiled bias report from Hadad (who is clearly an Obama supporter). Ask questions, get answers and leave your biased commentary to yourself. You would think you would have learned that by now Hada...all you have to do is watch Anderson (he does a pretty good freaking job).

    July 11, 2008 at 8:59 pm |
  15. Minou, New York City

    Hi Chuck-
    I just saw part of your documentary on Campbell Brown's show.
    Looks really good! And now I know what you meant by "shocking" remarks! My goodness! Do these people really exist? What a shame. But thanks for not hiding these people, but for putting them on tape and showing it for the country to see!
    Well done!

    July 11, 2008 at 8:50 pm |
  16. Fernando Ontario

    New concept !

    Create a list (agreement) of 10 changes that the new president and any member of the new congress will agree to vote to make law immediately upon taking office.

    Please stop treating our ELECTED officials like Kings and Queens. We need them to represent the needs and demands of the people. I want to establish a clear view of what ALL American want.

    1. Stop ALL substitutes to OIL Companies IMMEDIATELY!
    2.Flat Tax Everyone pays! EVERYONE!
    3. NO TAX Breaks

    These are examples
    Create the list and start the mission.

    July 11, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  17. Renee

    I'll give you an A+! Well done!

    July 11, 2008 at 5:19 pm |
  18. Kim in NY

    I drive the LIE (495) quite a bit. Any body from around here knows you just don't get near the LIE on a Friday Afternoon or a Sunday evening in the summer.... that's just plain crazy. Hope the rest of your trip is safe, but eventful.

    July 11, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  19. Anna - chicago ,il

    Chuck, you sound like a man on a mission. I really appreciate what you are doing while you find the voice of the American people this election season. I am looking forward to what the viewers will do with the challenge of their own. I really wanted to comment of the small sample of your trip that aired last night on AC360 (Note: Anderson, you are missed). Anyway, I was very surprised by the comments of the spectators at the baseball game. Ofcourse, I had heard before that people still think Obama is a Muslim and that his race will matter in this election, but it really hit me when the people said their comments. The woman voting democrat all her life and now voting for McCain was truly shocking. How can she still think that Obama is a Muslim? How does a man go to a Christian church for 20 years and yet still be considered a Muslim? I am really dissapointed that people don't take the time to inform and educate themselves on the candidates regarding who they are and what they stand for. This small sample of your film is a real example of the ignorance and racism that still exists in this society today.

    July 11, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  20. Caren, Los Angeles

    Hey Chuck, I'm a documentarian myself, and I wish ya'll were having this festival in 3 months, because I'm about to spend 10 days at the end of Sept driving from Los Angeles to Boston(I'm moving there), and I was gonna do the same thing along the way! Can't wait to see how yours turns out! Much luck to ya! Just drink lots of Redbull!

    July 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  21. Billy of Amarillo

    I don't know why everyone is so excited about the two clowns running for president....neither is worth a bucket of warm spit...

    July 11, 2008 at 4:30 pm |
  22. oldpro

    Remarkably, this is the first election in my 55 years of political action in which I do not know the answer to that question.

    I have always known, as an activist Democrat, why it mattered to me and why it should matter to others. This year? No.

    With two such under-qualified candidates about to be nominated by the major political parties, one can hardly be sure that this election matters, much less say how.

    July 11, 2008 at 4:14 pm |