Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When you ignore bullshit artists, the pile does not get smaller

This is where we are now.

From New York Magazine:

As PolitiFact, the Daily Beast, and other outlets have noted, Phillips, a former executive deputy commissioner at Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission who was embroiled in corruption allegations there, has not provided any evidence to back up his assertion. Two and a half months later, we know nothing about his methods, and there is no sign of True the Vote having initated legal action. Moreover, Phillips launched his claims well before some states had even certified their results. That didn’t stop those claims from getting picked up by Alex Jones’s conspiracy-theory cauldron Infowars, where an article by Paul Joseph Watson — “Report: Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens” — helped amplify them greatly, especially after the piece got picked up by the Drudge Report.

Since Trump first floated his “3 million” number, several journalists have pointed out the very high likelihood that it came from Phillips, given that Trump is a known gonzo-news connoisseur and a fan of Jones and his site (though the White House has denied Jones’s claim he was offered press credentials there). In public, though, Trump and his staff have generally instead referenced two studies from mainstream sources, one from Pew and one from Old Dominion University researchers, to support the claim, despite the fact that neither study does so. As of two days ago, the Daily Beast said that Phillips was the “apparent source” of Trump’s belief — there was still a bit of uncertainty.
A bit of background, for years now the Republicans have been trying to counter demographic tides with increasingly blatant voter suppression measures. They have justified these measures by raising concerns about voter fraud. These claims have been thoroughly debunked, but most journalists have been reluctant to come out with a straight declaration of the fact.

The voter ID debate has been one of those stories where reasonably accurate reporting would inevitably lead to charges of liberal bias. There is simply no way of honestly describing the situation without making the Republicans look bad. As a result, we got a lot of coverage of voter ID laws that seriously downplayed or omitted the part about voter fraud not being a real thing in this country.

We addressed this in the following post a few months ago:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Context only counts if it shows up in the first two dozen paragraphs

The New York Times has a good piece on the impact of voter ID laws but I do have a problem with a few parts (or at least with the way they're arranged).

Stricter Rules for Voter IDs Reshape Races


SAN ANTONIO — In a state where everything is big, the 23rd Congressional District that hugs the border with Mexico is a monster: eight and a half hours by car across a stretch of land bigger than any state east of the Mississippi. In 2014, Representative Pete Gallego logged more than 70,000 miles there in his white Chevy Tahoe, campaigning for re-election to the House — and lost by a bare 2,422 votes.

So in his bid this year to retake the seat, Mr. Gallego, a Democrat, has made a crucial adjustment to his strategy. “We’re asking people if they have a driver’s license,” he said. “We’re having those basic conversations about IDs at the front end, right at our first meeting with voters.”

Since their inception a decade ago, voter identification laws have been the focus of fierce political and social debate. Proponents, largely Republican, argue that the regulations are essential tools to combat election fraud, while critics contend that they are mainly intended to suppress turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies like minorities and students.
In the third paragraph, we have two conflicting claims that go to the foundation of the whole debate. If election fraud is a significant problem, you can make a case for voter ID laws. If not, it's difficult to see this as anything other than voter suppression. This paragraph pretty much demands some additional information to help the reader weigh the claims and the article provides it...

More than twenty paragraphs later.

Mr. Abbott, perhaps the law’s most ardent backer, has said that voter fraud “abounds” in Texas. A review of some 120 fraud charges in Texas between 2000 and 2015, about eight cases a year, turned up instances of buying votes and setting up fake residences to vote. Critics of the law note that no more than three or four infractions would have been prevented by the voter ID law.

Nationally, fraud that could be stopped by IDs is almost nonexistent, said Lorraine C. Minnite, author of the 2010 book “The Myth of Voter Fraud.” To sway an election, she said, it would require persuading perhaps thousands of people to commit felonies by misrepresenting themselves — and do it undetected.

“It’s ludicrous,” she said. “It’s not an effective way to try to corrupt an election.”

I shouldn't have to say this but, if a story contains claims that the reporter has reason to believe are false or misleading, he or she has an obligation to address the issue promptly. Putting the relevant information above the fold is likely to anger the people who made the false statements, but doing anything else is a disservice to the readers.

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