The role of journalism in a democratic society is to inform the public to make sound decisions and, thereby, lead to the preservation of democracy. By inference, then, journalism’s role should include exposing those who try to destroy the legitimacy of institutions in that society. In this latter role they have recently failed.
Since the 2000 presidential election Democrats have continually charged that the election was stolen, knowing full well this is not the case. A spur-of-the-moment ploy by the execrable Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), the man who made up the election-day charge that Florida voters were being disenfranchised because they couldn’t use a butterfly ballot, has led to the myth of a stolen election in Florida. This was a staple of all Democratic stump speeches in the 2002 off-year elections and the 2004 presidential elections as well.
While it may not be surprising that Democrats would engage in such dangerous and harmful demagoguery, it is surprising that the media have played along. Each charge of a stolen election and dirty tricks has been quoted dutifully by the media over the past five years, usually without mentioning in the same stories that every recount ever done in Florida showed Bush won the state.
Charges that minority voters were intimidated during the 2000 election have been repeated just as often, and with just as little (meaning none) proof, by Democrats and reported in story after story in the media.
At what point does this become irresponsible? At what point do editors and reporters say to themselves, “All this unsubstantiated talk about stolen elections, disenfranchised minorities and election shenanigans that supposedly stole elections for George W. Bush is having the effect of destroying our faith in our electoral process. We shouldn’t be part of it”? Don’t hold your breath.
An Associated Press story on Sunday, April 10, shows that the phenomenon is alive and well. The headline, “Kerry cites voter intimidation examples,” appears over a story about a speech Kerry gave at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts League of Women Voters. “Last year too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated,” Kerry told the group.
And what did he cite as evidence? “Leaflets are handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday,” he said, vaguely. “People are told in telephone calls that if you’ve ever had a parking ticket, you’re not allowed to vote.”
The helpful AP reporter, apparently sensing there was not much meat in Kerry’s examples, added, “Kerry supporters have charged that voting irregularities in largely Democratic areas made it difficult for voters to cast ballots in the November election. A lawsuit in Ohio cited long lines and a shortage of voting machines in predominantly minority neighborhoods, but the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the suit.”
And then there was this paragraph: “Bush supporters have denied using voter intimidation tactics to keep people from going to the polls. A call to the Republican National Committee media office was not immediately returned Sunday.”
So you have a failed presidential candidate whining that voter intimidation was used against him and his party, giving no proof and only anecdotal charges, and a wire service reporter dutifully transcribing everything he said. To boot, the reporter adds a “have you quit beating your wife” disclaimer with an ominous “call was not returned” line. The only hint that all of this is likely balderdash is the mention that the Ohio courts dismissed a Democratic lawsuit.
Next comes the required mention of Hillary Clinton’s “Count Every Vote Act,” to which Kerry is a signatory. So what’s missing in this story about election shenanigans, dirty tricks and disenfranchisement? Actual instances, most of which seem to have been perpetrated against Republicans.
Not once does this reporter mention the Democrats charged with slashing the tires of Republican get-out-the-vote vans in Milwaukee on election day, or the orchestrated storming of GOP campaign offices by organized labor in Florida, or the dastardly ploys used by Democrats in many states to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot, or the burglarizing of GOP offices in Spokane.
These are not vague references to urban-myth-style incidents. They actually happened. Why, then, did the AP not include some reference to these in a story about alleged campaign improprieties? Why did the reporter allow Kerry to imply that Democrats were the only victims when it seems from the actual news stories that it was Republicans who were the more victimized party?
Those who employ and train journalists need to ask themselves what this kind of incomplete reporting does to advance or retard faith in our electoral system. It’s hardly surprising that Democrats don’t mind undermining faith in American democracy for partisan advantage. What is surprising, and sad, is that the media apparently don’t mind either.
Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.