James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, November 06, 2004

News outlets still not doing their jobs

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am, just a bit: The performance of American news operations after the election has been as least as bad as it’s often poor performance before the vote.

Of course, now the publishers and their top editors know with absolute certainty who will hold power into the foreseeable future, who can remove unpleasant legal roadblocks to monopoly ownership of news outlets in any region, who major advertisers now support without reservation or restraint. Publishers also know who is likely to coddle them with tax breaks if they are good, and who will help bring labor and paper costs down. (The cost of newsprint production is affected by the environmental rules the Bush crowd is quickly dismantling, and most of today’s publishers hate paying reporters and low-level editors overtime and union-negotiated wages.)

Probably the major example of post-election coverage failure is the refusal to give complete or even straight coverage to the almost certain rigging of those touch-screen voting machines. You know, the ones with no paper backup that were set up, monitored and had votes counted by fiercely right wing manufacturers.

Come to think of it, there’s been almost a 100 percent blackout on that issue.

And this morning, four days after the election, my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, printed on its front page the first report that I’ve seen of active campaigning by corporations among their employees across the country. It’s a story that should have been revealed weeks or months ago.

TIME OUT: A very intelligent liberal political activist told me two or three weeks ago that I probably should explain now and then how newspapers function, since most of the public understandably has no idea. So I’m going to make a quick explanation of one aspect of newspapering:

Traditionally, the folks who write and edit the editorial and op-ed (opinion) pages of a newspaper are independent of their papers’ news operations. That is why you sometimes see revelations on the opinion pages that never have appeared in the news pages, and why political or, say, business news stories may give one impression while the editorials state or imply something entirely different. That is changing, as newspapers, like television, are increasingly falling under ownership of fewer and fewer chains led mostly by people who want to impose their view of the world on news staffs and the public. But to some degree, at least, editorial staffs on a majority of newspapers still are more independent of owners than are the people who run the news operations.

That, briefly, is why a majority of the bigger newspapers strongly backed John Kerry on their editorial pages while their news coverage leaned more or less subtly right. Expect to see the independence of editorial/op-ed pages drop sharply over the next two to four years and the intelligence of commentary to decline with equal rapidity.


It is outrageous that almost all news outlets – all that I’ve seen – are ignoring the questionable outcomes provided by those Republican-controlled voting machines. In fact, they’re not even telling us that the outcomes are questionable.

They have ignored other scams in the Ohio vote count, as well, scams that led Greg Palast, a contributing editor for Harper’s magazine, to conclude that Kerry actually won in that state and New Mexico.

Palast, who investigated the vote manipulation for BBC Television, says in an article on http://www.tompaine.com/ that Ohio’s ambitious, right-wing secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell (anyone see a pattern here?) played the hanging chad game in areas of the state that use punch cards. Exit polls show Kerry beat Bush nicely in Ohio, but thousands of votes were thrown out because of those hanging chads that just happened to hang mostly in neighborhoods that tilt strongly toward Democrats.

In New Mexico, Palast says, almost 100 percent of "spoiled" votes -- enough to change the outcome of the election -- went bad in Hispanic, black and Native American precincts.
Again, it’s highly unlikely you’ve seen news reports on those events.

Well....I’ve seen one exception, again in my local newspaper. Today, the Star Tribune carries an article at the bottom of a deep-inside page, noting that "an error with an electronic voting system" gave George W. Bush 3,893 "extra" votes in one Ohio precinct. Seems the machines gave Bush 4,258 votes in a precinct in which only 638 votes were cast. But the story says the extra votes wouldn’t affect the outcome because Bush won the state – a key electoral state – by more than 136,000 votes.

What the article doesn’t state would at least double the number of column inches, and give readers a very different perspective.

First, the "glitch" in that one Ohio precinct was caught and reported only because in the precinct in question multiple copies of each ballot were recorded, some of them on removable cartridges in each machine. The cartridges were shipped to various sites where they were checked, which means that likelihood of a leak to the press was almost 100 percent.

There was no such backup in many precincts in Ohio – or Florida or several other states – which means the likelihood of phony vote totals elsewhere is just about 100 percent. Now factor in that all of the machines used in Ohio and several other states are built by companies headed by declared Bush supporters – who also were big Bush fund raisers and, in at least some cases, including especially Ohio, active in the Bush campaign.

Add into the mix the fact that the machine manufacturers regard their software as "proprietary," and will not allow election officials to know how they function. The companies (headed by Republican activists, remember), not the election officials, set up the machines and count the votes. Never mind that any teenage hacker can figure them out; election officials in most states are accepting the "proprietary" claim.

Black Box Voting is an organization started many months ago by engineers, computer scientists and others who quickly recognized the huge potential for fraud in the touch-screen voting machines. They proved, without doubt, that it is easy to hack into the machines and change vote totals, and they have shown how easily the machines may be manipulated by employees of the manufacturers. For a hacker or partisan employee to change results as desired takes only minutes, as they have demonstrated.

The organization now has filed the biggest list of requests ever made under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking hidden information on the use of the electronic voting machines. It already has evidence of hacking and misuse of machines in the Nov. 2 election and is seeking more where Black Box has good reason to believe it exists. It also is recruiting more lawyers and computer experts to help in its pursuit of the truth.

Block Box has learned that some counties in places like Ohio, where the likelihood of fraud is strongest, intend to fight and delay disclosure of information. Big surprise.

The organization operates a Web site: http://blackboxvoting.org./ Beware, there is a phony site, not affiliated with Black Box Voting, Inc., using the URL blackboxvoting.com.

So far, I haven’t seen a single news report on the Black Box effort and/or what inspired that effort. My information comes off the company’s Web site.

My other example today of misfeasance of the press is this: The StarTribune today ran a page one article that tells how corporations all over the country sent repeated "get out the vote" messages to their employees. No big deal until you learn that the messages also advised employees to look at customized Web sites and provided links to those sites. The Web sites "rated" candidates on their friendliness to business, giving Kerry and all other Democrats very low marks, and Bush and all Republicans very high ratings. Some of the assumptions in the ratings are absolute crap, of course. The campaign was nationally orchestrated by Bush supporters.

The StarTribune story doesn’t seriously ask whether those Web sites constitute contributions to Republican campaigns, other than to quote one academic as saying the corporations were on "questionable ground." Neither does it explain why this national story came to print only several days after the election.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Bush or continued democracy?

Well, here we go.

Where we go, on this Nov. 1, is entirely unclear.

A few days after the election, it will be time to begin comment and conversation on what comes next.

Win or lose, the Republican Party under Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft, et al, owes this country big time, though, of course, they never will acknowledge what they’ve done to us. And I’m not talking only the war, the economy, growing poverty, failing health care and educational systems and the rest of the much-discussed issues.

It may be that in the long run the worst of their crimes, the one that will take the United States down, is the blatant subversion of our electoral system in two national elections and the resulting destruction of many Americans’ faith in that system.

It’s something we’re all going to have to look at and talk about. If Kerry wins, there is some chance that the integrity of the election process and our faith can be restored through much work and some hellish fights. If Bush holds on to the White House, by whatever means, restoration seems to me doubtful.

But later for that. I won’t turn on radio or television news tomorrow until after the polls close, probably not until they close in California. The airwaves will be full of the most awful, untrustworthy bullshit. It will upset but not enlighten.