The Media and the Ohio Recount
The Cleveland Federation of Labor is sending busloads of demonstrators to a rally in Columbus, Ohio, today to take part in a protest of election fraud in the 2004 presidential election. As detailed below, there is strong evidence of vote theft in Ohio. But to anyone who gets their news from a television or from most print media, these protesters are kidding themselves or kidding the rest of us, but certainly they are not onto anything worthy of investigation. Last week I received this Email from the Columbus Dispatch:
"Dear Mr. Swanson:
"You say the rally is to protest the fraud that took place in the election. Where did this fraud occur? Who did it? How did they do it?
"glenn sheller, editorial page editor"
Two months after the election, an editor at ground zero was (seriously or sarcastically) asking a stranger and an amateur to tell him from Washington where the fraud had occurred. I immediately sent him a reply. And I didn’t hear anything further.
I expect the Dispatch and probably the Associated Press (AP) will cover today’s rally, albeit in the way they would cover a disliked visiting sports team. They’ll dismiss the concerns of disenfranchised voters in a very wise manner, but they won’t actually investigate any of the charges of election fraud – not if they adhere to the practices established by the media over the past two months.
When forced to talk about ethics, media big shots often insist that they draw no conclusions. They endlessly reported Dick Cheney’s claims that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, but it would not have been their place to label that a "conspiracy theory." When it comes to election fraud in Ohio and other U.S. states, on the other hand, the media has jumped straight to reporting that it’s all a "conspiracy theory" before ever reporting any of the facts. The Bush Administration has recently presented the media with a nutty theory that our Social Security system is broken, which the media in turn has presented to us as established fact. But to anyone who reads more than just the news that’s fit to print, it’s our election system that has broken down.
Some voices in the media, including the New York Times’ editorial page, admit that the election system is badly broken. But they insist that it also functioned quite acceptably in November. It’s broken in the abstract, as it were, but not in any concrete time or place.
As the ILCA reported on November 8th, the U.S. media has reversed its usual position on the value of exit polls. The media has always relied on exit polls to predict election outcomes and to question the accuracy of official vote counts, such as in the Venezuelan recall attempt or the Ukrainian presidential election. Exit polls in November predicted victories for Kerry in a number of swing states that swung, in the official results, dramatically for Bush. The U.S. media immediately declared the exit polls inaccurate. How they could be so far off has not been explained, and the networks’ refusal to turn the raw data of the exit polls over to Congress doesn’t help.
I did some searching in the Nexis database on New Year’s Eve. I searched for "election fraud" in articles and transcripts from the past 60 days. It came back saying there were more than 1,000 articles, too many to display. Of course, most of these were bound to be about the Ukraine and other countries where the U.S. media likes to discuss election fraud. So I searched for "election fraud" AND Ohio. This time I found only 177 articles, many of them letters to the editor complaining about the lack of coverage. One article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on a protest at its offices over the lack of coverage (but no coverage appeared from that paper). Several of the 177 were editorials, all of them dismissive of claims of election fraud, which in most cases the papers hadn’t reported on. And Ukraine was here, too, showing up in Ohio newspapers. The Columbus Dispatch ran an editorial demanding a new election in Ukraine. The Plain Dealer reported in oddly respectful tones (considering its usual coverage of activists) on Ohioans involved in the Ukrainian election. And there were quite a few columns and "analyses" dismissing "conspiracy theories."
What about actual coverage of what the "theories" are about and what in them is solidly proven, what’s speculative, what’s disproved? Any of that? Wouldn’t a conspiracy theory go away more quickly if you refuted it than if you avoided it and called it names? Hasn’t over half the country stopped believing in the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after only minimal discussion of the evidence and acknowledgement by the media that there weren’t any weapons there?
Well, quite a few articles reported on protests and hearings and legal filings, but most of them didn’t delve into the actual charges of fraud. Only about 10 articles contained any substance, even on a single minor allegation. One of these was from the Madison (Wis.) Capital Times, two were from Salon.com, one from Morning Star, one from a California chain of papers including the Oakland Tribune, Fremont Argus, and Tri-Valley Herald, one from the Village Voice, and three from the AP. The AP article that went into the most depth as a 492-word piece on an Ohio couple who had voted twice. Most AP articles have been short and dismissive, but the AP has provided more coverage than anybody else, judging by Nexis. The Village Voice article argues that there is no widespread fraud and that those who think there is aren’t quite playing with a full deck. The author, Rick Perlstein, argues this case at some length and addresses specific claims, but only a few of them. While he couldn’t be expected to fit everything into one article, his arguments do not serve as examples that refute any of the claims discussed below. An LA Weekly article touched on election fraud, as well, and in a less dismissive way, but it didn’t attempt to deal with specifics.
The high points in what was turned up in this Nexis search were, sadly, sound bites on Fox News. Although on December 3rd, Fox brought on a guest to attack Jesse Jackson in absentia, on the ninth, Hannity and Colmes allowed Hillary Shelton of the NAACP to make a few points and did not attempt to dispute them. And on the 29th, Sheila Parks of the Coalition Against Election Fraud made several points, refusing to allow the interviewer to cut her off. He did not attempt to discuss the points she’d made. And, although it didn’t turn up in this search, on the 23rd, Hannity and Colmes had on David Lytel of ReDefeatBush.com who began to make a case for election fraud before the hosts cut him off and changed the subject.
The other place where this story has squeezed into the corporate media is on MSNBC and the MSNBC website, through the reporting of Keith Olbermann – and the Newsweek website which posted an interview of Jesse Jackson Sr. Olbermann has been to the media the closest thing to what John Conyers has been to the Congress: a clear indication that there’s life there without having to feel for a pulse. Olbermann has given credence to some claims and rejected others, and explained why. On December 27, for example, his blog post treated with all the seriousness that it seems to merit the Green Party’s contention – backed up by many other observers – that the Ohio recount has been an illegally conducted farce making virtually no attempt to actually recount anything. (But, with typically bizarre media smugness, he then questioned the motivations of those protesting, as if concern for democracy could have nothing to do with it.) And in the same post, he continued an argument against giving credence to the claims by a Florida programmer that he had been asked to write a vote-switching program.
A search in Nexis for "Ohio recount" turned up some more noise, but not much thought or information. CNN’s Judy Woodruff has given the matter an average of three sentences per week, not counting sentences promoting the three-sentence stories. For a while the media focused on the financial cost of the recount and the supposed pointlessness of it. Lately (with the recount "completed") reporters have informed us that the recount reached nearly the same results as the original count, and that the Green and Libertarian candidates are asking for "a second recount," thus framing the issue in a manner that blocks out their claim that the recount has not really been done a first time yet. A transcript from NPR on December 30 has the host saying that NPR received more letters requesting coverage of "irregularities" in Ohio than any other topic. This was followed by a guest’s brief dismissal of the topic.
The Cincinnati Enquirer and numerous other papers have printed dismissive columns on the Ohio recount. Anna Applebaum of the Washington Post has dismissed demands for paper trails for voting machines on the grounds that ATM users don’t always request a receipt. Al Swanson (no kin to me) has published an article for UPI claiming that there is no evidence of vote fraud, followed by a column a week later claiming, without any evidence, that the motive of those claiming fraud is actually just to rally the Democrats for next time, that in fact those who say they are acting out of concern for maintaining faith in our democracy and/or out of a conviction that the wrong man is in line for re-inauguration, are lying. A Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist made essentially the same claim about people’s motives on NPR on December 17. The New York Times, to its credit, on December 15, did print a short article on a particular allegation of fraud in the Ohio recount made by Congressman Conyers. But the Times has avoided most of the story.
Sadly, so has most of the labor media and other progressive media. You’d think that labor, after spending more than $200 million on the election, would want to make sure it got its money’s worth on the vote count. Unfortunately, like its candidate, John Kerry, most of the labor movement has so far dropped the ball on this one. A handful of established outlets and newly minted organizations have carried the ball, including FreePress.org, Democracy Now!, BlackCommentator.com, Truthout.org, BuzzFlash.com, BlackPressUSA.com, DemocraticUnderground.org, CommonDreams.org, the Green Party, TomPaine.com, Salon.com, RawStory.com, the St. Louis Labor Tribune (an ILCA associate member), In These Times, Air America, Thom Hartmann (an ILCA associate member), Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America (an ILCA associate member), and the ILCA. Building Bridges, a show produced by WBAI radio in New York and an associate member of the ILCA, is expected to cover the issue this week, as a result of the involvement of the Cleveland AFL-CIO. A collection of much of this coverage can be found at The International Labor Communications Association. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org