Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What the Right-Wing Pundits Say About Election Inaccuracies

You probably know that already. Preposterous! Idiotic conspiracy theories! And Keith Olbermann is attacked and ridiculed for covering the topic at all:

Media conservatives have labeled MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann a "voice of paranoia" and accused him of perpetuating "idiotic conspiracy theories" for his sustained spotlight on the numerous local news reports of voting irregularities during the November 2 presidential election. Olbermann's emphasis during Countdown with Keith Olbermann on voting irregularities has been part of a critique of what he has called the "Rube Goldberg voting process of ours" -- as well as a criticism of the major media outlets' failure to report on the irregularities.
In her November 11 nationally syndicated column, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter falsely asserted that Olbermann has been "peddling the theory that Bush stole the election" and referred to "Olbermann's idiotic conspiracy theory." A November 14 column by associate editor Bill Steigerwald in the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife) claimed Olbermann "really made a Dan Rather of himself" by focusing a segment of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on allegations of voter fraud. And in his November 10 "Inside Politics" column, Washington Times columnist Greg Pierce quoted the conservative Media Research Center's analysis of Olbermann's coverage:
"With 'Did Your Vote Count? The Plot Thickens' as his on-screen header, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Monday night led his 'Countdown' program with more than 15 straight minutes of paranoid and meaningless claims about voting irregularities in states won by President Bush," the Media Research Center reports at

Maybe this is why the media has been so quiet and well-behaved on the issue of the recent elections? They fear the wingnuts. It has always been common practice to rehash elections for quite a few weeks, to report on problems and glitches, and to speculate on alternative outcomes. Yet very little of this is taking place. I wonder why.

Could it be that Jonathan Alter is correct in this statement:

"Even assuming there's nothing nefarious about the national election," Olbermann asked Newsweek senior editor and columnist Jonathan Alter, "why has the cascade of irregularities around this country occurred virtually in a news blackout?" Alter responded by saying that "I'm not justifying this, but by way of explanation, I think it is that there's no sense that, with a three-and-a-half-million vote difference [between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry], that this would affect the outcome, even if there were widespread irregularities found."

But this is circular thinking. If irregularities were widespread, the three-and-a-half million vote difference in itself could be caused by such irregularities, and thus cannot be used as the reason for not talking about the problems that have been unearthed so far. Also, the popular vote difference between Bush and Kerry could rise quite rapidly if a machine registers a Kerry-vote as a Bush-vote for some reason: each mistake increases the difference by two votes. (Note that this is all purely theoretical, of course. I am just pointing out that Alter's argument is faulty.)

The real question that the media has not addressed is the transparency of U.S. elections. Without such transparency, conspiracy theories will flourish and ultimately no election keeps its credibility in front of the voters.