Monday, November 22, 2004

Searching for the WMDs (Wimpy Media Dickheads)

Over the past four years the mainstream media has taken to the Bush administration’s lies, distortions, and evasions like pigs to a trough. As Iraq turned sour and the bigger Bush Whoppers became too obvious to ignore, some outlets went in the other direction. Even then, most still dutifully reported whatever slop came streaming out of the Bushie's mouths.

But when it comes to stories like the wholesale theft of our democracy, they have more important things to cover—Ashlee Simpson’s lip synching, for example.

So when UC Berkeley researcher Michael Hout announced his team had analyzed e-voting results in Florida and found something seriously awry, the silence was deafening. Yes, the story was covered well by several Bay Area papers, smaller Web sites, and a suprising number of my brethren in the Geek Press. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC continues to doggedly pursue this story, despite the public snickering of his colleagues. But the New York Times? Nothing. Washington Post? Nada. USA Today? Nyet.

A handful of US papers ran a story by AP technology writer Rachel Konrad under headlines like “Academia Still Fixated on John Kerry” (LA Times, San Jose Mercury News) and “Conspiracy Theorists Still Question Bush’s Victory” (Miami Herald). Konrad’s story is a textbook exercise in how the media stalks a story in order to kill it. She begins:

John Kerry conceded defeat more than two weeks ago, and President Bush has already revamped his Cabinet. But as states certify final election returns, an academic debate over their accuracy is heating up.

None of the experts examining the returns has discovered voting anomalies significant enough to have swung the election.

She follows this with a quote from a joint MIT-Caltech report that says, essentially, the election of 2004 was fraud free. End of story. Not until Paragraph 7 does she actually mention the Berkeley study – which is, one assumes, what prompted her to write the story in the first place. (In journalism lingo, this is known as “burying the lead.”)

Worse, it turns out the MIT-Caltech report she quoted from was published on November 11 – a week before the Cal team announced its findings. According to an Oakland Tribune story that appeared on November 19, the author of MIT-Caltech report (Dean Charles Stewart III) corroborated Professor Hout’s analysis and said it deserved further investigation. Here’s the real kicker: Stewart examined Hout’s data at the behest of the Trib and the Associated Press—Konrad’s employer. Somehow, Konrad failed to note any of this. I can find no subsequent stories by her or AP about the Berkeley findings.

Was Konrad somehow in cahoots with the e-voting cabal? No. She was just lazy. At some point over the last few weeks she’d decided what the story was — that electronic voting was perhaps flawed but not fraudulent -- and those who would suggest otherwise were paranoid, partisan, or simply not credible. Anything else that failed to fit the script got punted.

This is the Fourth Estate in the year of our Lord 2004. With media this compliant, who needs Joseph Goebbels?


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