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What about Dan?

There's nothing wrong with attitude and advocacy from pundits, but journalists are supposed to report facts truthfully.

November 11, 2004 |

Back before the election, CBS broke a story -- which it, at least, thought, and hoped, would be fatal to President Bush's reelection prospects -- about George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.  The story was based on documents, purportedly produced by a typewriter in 1971, that looked suspiciously identical to documents produced on a computer with Microsoft Word.  (How suspicious?  and see the animated .gif overlaying one with the other).

CBS stonewalled for a long time, but eventually apologized, and promised an investigation, one that was to report after the elections.

Well, it's after the elections.  And we're still :

"We're all apprehensive," Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer says over chicken soup and pizza at an Old City eatery. (He was in town Tuesday to flog his new book.)  "Nobody knows what this commission is going to find.  Look, we made a terrible mistake.  CBS has admitted it made a terrible mistake, and Dan has apologized.  We take this very seriously, and some serious steps are going to have to be taken."

Will Rather -- or Sixty Minutes producer Mary Mapes -- be fired?  Some people are that Schieffer may be named as Rather's replacement.

Regardless, I think that it's important for CBS to take this as seriously as Schieffer promises.  Because, as Mike Goodwin writes, this election was for media credibility:

Even before we knew who won the election, we knew who lost it: the media.  And the race wasn't close.News organizations of every stripe and type took a beating in the campaign of 2004.  Mostly, they earned it, with the result being the clock has been turned back on decades of progress in standards and fairness.  Trust in the media is at an all-time low.Screw-ups were a big part of the story, the lowlight being CBS News' September "scoop" on favored treatment given to George W. Bush 30 years ago in the National Guard.  Shockingly, CBS still has not come clean about the blunders of Rathergate.  It outsourced its ethics probe and has yet to hold anyone accountable.But bat-blind mistakes like that are only the most obvious signs of a deeper problem.  The heart of the matter is trust - and how it is being squandered.

There's nothing wrong with attitude and advocacy from pundits, though both of those have started to bleed over into what was supposed to be straight journalism.  But journalists are supposed to report facts truthfully.  (Heck, even pundits are supposed to do that.)  The line between the two has blurred, and standards for truthfulness have slipped, and it has been very damaging.  How CBS deals with this scandal will help to determine just how deep the damage goes.

November 10, 2004 |

Election odds...and especially ends

Tuesday's on election fraud brought many e-mails.  Some were sure -- with a certainty that sounded like it came from Oliver Stone -- that the election was stolen by massive fraud.  Others said that it was past time we addressed voter fraud, but doubted that this election was stolen.

Put me in the second camp, along with Farhad Manjoo of the (definitely not pro-Bush) magazine Salon.  In a survey of the various theories swirling around the Internet and lefty talk radio -- and, I'm sorry to say, on my MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann's show -- :

There's little question that the American election process is a mess, and needs to be cleaned up.  But even if this particular election wasn't perfect, it was still most likely good enough for us to have faith in the results.  Salon has examined some of the most popular Kerry-actually-won theories currently making the rounds online, and none of them hold up under rigorous scrutiny.  For instance, there's an easy explanation for the odd results in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Olbermann insists there were 93,000 more votes than voters.  According to Kimberly Bartlett, a spokeswoman for the county, the reporting software the county uses to display the unofficial summary of election results on its Web site is simply buggy.  For some reason, the software combines absentee ballots from several voting precincts into one precinct, and therefore makes it appear as if there were more votes cast in a particular area than there were registered voters there.  But this bug does not affect the final election results, because the more detailed "" of all the votes cast in the county shows the correct count, Bartlett told Salon.  For example, this canvass indicates that in Fairview Park, where Olbermann says there were 18,472 ballots cast by 13,342 registered voters, there were actually only 8,421 votes cast in the presidential race -- fewer than the number of registered voters.Other theories pointing to a Kerry win are similarly brittle.  It is extremely unlikely that there are enough spoiled punch-card ballots in Ohio to hand Kerry a victory there, as Palast asserts.  Meanwhile, there are reasonable-sounding sociological and demographic explanations for the high number of registered-Democrat Bush voters in some counties in Florida. There is, in other words, simply no compelling proof that there were enough irregularities in enough areas affecting enough voters to cast doubt on Bush's commanding popular vote count lead, or even his thinner margins in key swing states such as Ohio or Florida.

(Read , and , too, and there's much more at the blog.)  Message to the hard core:  You want to look like sore losers and conspiracy theorists, go ahead.  Karl Rove will be smiling.

Republicans seem to have known better than that in close elections of the past.  As Joseph Perkins observed :

Richard Nixon would have captured the 1960 presidential election but for five states he lost by 5,000 votes or fewer – Missouri, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and Hawaii.  Gerald Ford would have retained the presidency in 1976 but for two states he lost by no more than 5,600 votes – Ohio and Hawaii.Though the 1960 and 1976 elections were close, though they turned on a few thousand votes in a handful of states, the outcomes were faithfully accepted by the American people, by Republicans and Democrats alike.That's because neither Nixon or Ford demanded that the votes be recounted in the states in which they lost by narrow margins.  And neither Nixon or Ford insisted they were denied election because of voting irregularities in some state or another.

As Perkins notes, Al Gore would have been wise to follow that example.

Meanwhile, some more sensible Democrats are looking at the real reasons why Kerry lost, chief among which is that he was a lousy candidate.  Martin Peretz of The New Republic wrote :

Still, the extreme and bitter judgments against the citizenry after this election are especially tendentious. For what the electorate did on Nov. 2 was essentially (or maybe just merely) turn down John Kerry, a candidate who until very late in the Democratic primaries was almost no one's choice as the nominee, the party's last option because it could rally around no one else. What a pathetic vessel in which to have placed liberalism's hopes! A senator for two decades who had stood for nothing, really nothing...

Kerry, after all, was a guy most Democrats had written off a year ago.  Should we really be surprised that voters did the same?  And it seems to me that complaints about alleged vote fraud are just the latest in a series of rationalizations about Kerry's flagging campaign, noted by Peretz:

Then quickly followed a whole procession of other tactical -- and symptomatic -- mirages.  Even toward the end of the campaign, Mr. Kerry never had a day when the polls predicted his election.  But there quickly sprung up an explanation for why support for Mr. Kerry was being under-reported.  It was oh, so obvious: Many Kerry supporters, and especially younger ones, used cell phones which, since they're not listed, aren't called by pollsters.  I can't remember how many sages uttered this wisdom over dinner.Here are others.  That with an endless series of rock concerts you would mobilize the youth vote, which of course would largely go for Mr. Kerry.  It turned out not to be so, neither the increase in the raw vote nor its disposition towards Mr. Kerry.  That with increased unemployment in states like Ohio, and double the election expenditures this year over 2000 by organized labor, unionized workers would turn out big-time for Mr. Kerry.  Actually, his union vote was less than Al Gore's.  As was his proportional women's vote and Hispanic vote and black vote and Jewish vote.

Kerry's supporters kept coming up with reasons to think that Kerry was doing better than the evidence indicated.  But reality caught up with them -- or at least, it tried to.  Some are still in denial.  (Others are seeking , a course of action that might profitably be followed by a few more.)  I'm pretty tired of the elections, and I don't plan to write any more on the subject if I can help it.  So if you want more, you might read by Michael Barone, and on the Web's impact on politics this year.  There's also on exit polls and the Internet, and an interesting piece on by Mark Steyn is also worth your attention.  And Bill Stuntz says that the big divide isn't North-South, but .

Finally, with everyone offering advice to the Democrats, John Tabin offers .  It's good advice.  But will they take it?

They'd better.  Because although Bush's victory seems to have been genuine, and although it was bigger than last time, it was no landslide.  The votes are still in the middle.  Bush won because the Democrats forgot that, lurching into the Michael Moore territory that pleased activists but repelled ordinary voters.  Will the Bush folks make the same mistake?

November 9, 2004 |

Votes and fraud

Complaints about voter fraud have been the perennial domain of losers, though people seem less shy about sounding bitter and shrill these days.  And now some disappointed Democrats -- those who aren't talking about seceding, anyway -- are claiming that the voting was somehow "hacked."  That seems rather tinfoil-hattish to me, and from the tech-blog Slashdot seems to express a proper degree of skepticism:

Are you actually alleging that ALL THREE e-voting vendors - ES&S, Diebold, and Sequoia - have found some way to add votes only to the Republican candidates, undetected?Do you think Kerry's $300M campaign, and the hundreds of experts who worked it for the better part of two years, just said "Oh, well!  Guess we lost, even though there's proof of widespread fraud!  Let's just throw in the towel and not say anything about it!"  Wake up.These are EXACTLY the kinds of problems, i.e., errors and failures in equipment (and setup) that we aim to prevent.  But it is not possible for a central entity to control the vote.We do need verified voting, but I'm sorry to say that there was no widespread fraud in all e-voting states.  It's just not possible.  There are thousands of people involved, thousands of pieces of equipment, many, many, many election and other government officials at all levels in extremely disparate jurisdictions with different ways of doing things, with no way for any central entity to reach these machines after the fact.  (And no, they don't come "preloaded" with votes for Republican candidates; the logistics of the way they're set up and the diversity of the the configurations also makes that impossible.)

That said, I think it's important to do as much as we can to make voting not only secure, but obviously so.  The comment above discusses, and links to, pending bills designed to do that.  And I've suggested -- only half jokingly -- that .  If people really think that there's a problem with vote fraud, then they need to start doing something about it, not just talking about it when they lose.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Voters must be positively identified.  I have to show a photo ID to buy a beer, even though I'm well past the legal drinking age.  Why shouldn't people show one to vote?  Claims that this will "intimidate" voters seem silly.  And in many countries, voters who have voted once are marked with indelible ink so they can't vote again somewhere else the same day.  That seems like a good idea too.

  2. Voting must be secure.  That means we have to be sure that (a) the votes recorded are the ones that voters actually cast; and (b) that there's a hard-to-alter audit trail on how votes are handled.

  3. Counting must be trustworthy.  The process must be open and transparent.  

People who think there's a problem with voting will do something about these suggestions.  Those who can't be troubled to act in support of these kinds of changes are just whining.  And whining doesn't win elections.