CJR has a good editorial on press coverage of voting snafus, mishaps, and foul play. Journalists, it points out, “not only seek to publicize truths but also help determine which truths count. A story’s tone, its placement, and whether it gets followed up all have something to do with whether it is perceived by the public as a big deal. Sometimes the press seems leery of making that determination.” For which, see the possibility of vote manipulation in national elections — particularly the case of Ohio in 2004, where Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell doubled as co-chair of Bush’s re-election campaign in Ohio and where numerous irregularities– barriers to registration; purges of voting rolls; the use of an illegal mailing tactic called “caging” to strike voters from the rolls if they failed to respond in time to a letter to their address of record; extremely poor distribution of voting machines in heavily Democratic urban areas–were alleged, many (though not all) with good cause.
But it didn’t get too much mileage. For one thing, unlike Florida’s razor-thin 537-vote margin in 2000, Bush officially carried Ohio by some 136,000 votes. Tales of vote manipulation were generally covered either as small potatoes or as squawks from the loony left (which some were). […] When the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr., issued a measured but blistering report that found “numerous serious election irregularities . . . which affected hundreds of thousands of votes,” Ohio got another few minutes in the spotlight.
Ohio popped up again in a June 15 piece in Rolling Stone by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The headline asked, “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” Kennedy thought so. But most of the media yawned. The New York Times, typically strong on voting controversy, dealt with the Rolling Stone story in its abysmal Sunday Styles section with a profile of Kennedy that managed to mention the drug problem he had some twenty years ago, but not to fairly present his argument. One outlet that did not ignore the piece was Salon, where the staff writer Farhad Manjoo asserts that he takes Kennedy’s argument apart, but, upon close inspection, much of the Rolling Stone analysis survives. And Manjoo does not address a lot of what went wrong in Ohio. …
I should point out that Mark Hertsgaard took a look at the Ohio brouhaha for Mother Jones and found that yes, there were major problems but they didn’t justify the claim that Bush “stole” the election. CJR similarly concludes:
We’re not making the case that the election of 2004 was stolen, and we’d rather look ahead than back. But we are arguing that intolerable things happened in Ohio that merited more sustained attention from the national press. And that targeting particular groups for vote suppression is reprehensible, yet effective, and will continue unless challenged. (In late August, Salon named six states that appear ripe for trouble.) [And, ahem, this month Mother Jones examines the 11 worst places to vote in the U.S.] Guarding the democratic process is part of the journalistic mission, and with another election approaching, now is the time to think about that. Suppressing democracy is, yes, a big deal.