Explain this to me. Why do so few of our TV “journalists” and political reporters seem interested in all the questions that have been raised about the integrity of our voting system?
Voting is at the heart of our democracy. Billions of dollars are spent on political campaigns and tens of millions on covering them. All the networks have election units complete with pollsters, analysts and experts up the kazoo. All of them sound authoritative and spice their commentary with personal war stories and a parade of insider anecdotes.
Just tune in any election night and you have to marvel at all the space age technology, fancy graphics and computer assisted projections. The anchors seem to know as much about the history of voting percentages in each Congressional district as fanatical baseball fans recall earned run averages and the speed of each pitch.
If there are ten military men and women backing up each soldier in the field, there are tens of political aides, advisors, interns and hangers on “supporting” our elected politicians, or is it poli-trikians?. Handicapping elections is one of their specialties and they know most of the races and players by heart.
Compared to corporate machinations, or even military-industrial decisions, politics is over-covered, And yet the actual process of voting—the machines, the counting, the verification, and the questions raised by well informed journalists and analysts about voting fraud seem to bore the punditocracy.
I know because I made a film, Counting on Democracy about what actually happened in Florida in what is still of the most controversial elections in our history, with the popular votes won by Gore and the election won by Bush. 175,000 votes went uncounted. Once it was decided that the GOP won, most of the media lost interest. Very few journalists looked into what the ACLU called “the tyranny of small decisions” that affected the vote.
A media review of the outcome was postponed for months and came to convoluted conclusions although the New York Times reporter who led it told me they found that Gore won. That’s not what his own newspaper reported in a story that was so dense that it was hard to understand what it was saying. It was one of those pieces where the headline said one thing, the text something else.
Every one agreed that the election process was broken but there was little media attention paid to how to fix it. Once fancy new electronic voting machines appeared on the scene, many journalists seemed to promulgate the idea of “crisis over” because, in their worldwiew, technology solves all problems. Perhaps, that’s because so many of them think hey are tech savvy and rely on computers every day. Yet concerns about a paper trail and verification are shunted aside as issues taken seriously only by the grumpy or conspiratorial among us.
Fast Forward to 2004. I was covering the Democratic Convention in Boston. So was Michael Moore and Greg Palast and others who were concerned that the 2004 election could become a repeat of 2000. I attended a breakfast at the Florida delegation which assured me that their problems most decidedly had not been fixed. Palast who studied the way felons and others were disenfranchised in 2000 warned that those forces who want to fix our elections were more sophisticated than ever. Everyone expressed concerns that Ohio could turn into the Florida of 2004. Oddly, the Democratic Party and its candidate didn’t take the concerns seriously, or prepare for the predicted eventualities. It was business as usual.
We filmed the concerns being expressed in Boston with no response, and then for “balance” went to the GOP love fest in New York where we were told there was nothing to worry about. We edited a new beginning to our award winning film Counting on Democracy and went back to the Independent Television Service which helped fund it and got it on PBS to see if public television stations would rebroadcast it.
To our surprise, not one would. It is as if the fiasco in Florida had been forgotten. That’s right, not one station would broadcast it. That’s a ZERO response to a film that had been well received just four years earlier with millions saying then ‘we will never forget Flori-duh.’ How quickly we forgot! It was if there had been national outbreak of media-fed amnesia.
And then, as predicted in 2004, came the calamity in Ohio. Concerns with ballot rigging and other methods used to dampen Democratic turn out were briefly noted and barely pursued or covered. Kphn Kerry seemed bullied into accepting an outcome that many had doubts about. More recently accounts from across the country of breakdowns in electronic voting machines were glossed over. All were reported locally but, together, never aggregated to become the kind of national story and scandal they should be.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman who follow this story closely and wrote a book about what really went down in Ohio comment in a recent story in the Free Press published in Columbus Ohio, “there has been barely a whiff of coverage in the major media about any problems with the electronic voting machines.”
The public on the other hand not only believes that there are problems but many insist that the elections were stolen. Write Wasserman and Fitrakis: “A recent OpEdNews/Zogby People's poll of Pennsylvania residents, found that “39% said that the 2004 election was stolen. 54% said it was legitimate. But let’s look at the demographics on this question. Of the people who watch Fox news as their primary source of TV news, one half of one percent believe it was stolen and 99% believe it was legitimate. Among people who watched ANY other news source but FOX, more felt the election was stolen than legitimate. The numbers varied dramatically.”
“Here, from that poll, are the stations listed as first choice by respondents and the percentage of respondents who thought the election was stolen: CNN 70%; MSNBC 65%; CBS 64%; ABC 56%; Other 56%; NBC 49%; FOX 0.5%.
“With 99% of Fox viewers believing that the election was “legitimate,” only the constant propaganda of Rupert Murdoch’s disinformation campaign stands in the way of a majority of Americans coming to grips with the reality of two consecutive stolen elections.”
Bi-partisan Commissions have studied this problem. One led by ex-president Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker noted, “Software can be modified maliciously before being installed into individual voting machines. There is no reason to trust insiders in the election industry any more than in other industries."
A recent Wall Street Journal story revealed, "Some former backers of the technology seek return to paper ballots, citing glitches, fraud fears."
Aviel Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, did an analysis of the security flaws in the source code for Diebold touch-screen machine. After studying the latest problems, The Times reported Rubin said: "I almost had a heart attack. The implications of this are pretty astounding."
Worse still, the Congress is burying reform measures with scant media attention. Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause writes: “What is Congress doing? Nothing. Right now HR 550, The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act the bill, which would take care of these problems, is languishing in committee. The bill has 186 cosponsors, more support than most bills voted on in the House.”
Stories like this just dribble out with little follow up and less investigation. Isn’t the threat to democracy here self-evident and worthy of more media attention? The press has a long tradition of skepticism. Have they become skeptical about the workings of democracy itself? Why has the heart of our democratic process become such a ‘ho-hummer,”
Don’t they realize the truth expressed by one of our Mediachannel readers Donna Perlmutter who writes: “Without free, fair elections, nothing else matters.”
New Dissector Danny Schechter is “blogger in chief” at MediaChannel. Org and author of “The Death of the Media and the Fight to Save Democracy” News. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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