"MOTION SICKNESS CAUSED BY MEDIA SPIN"
A Diva Rant, Inspired By The BBBR Mailbag
Posted June 10, 2001
SCOTT WRITES IN FROM THE ISLANDS
From: "Scott F"
To: < email@example.com >
Sent: Saturday, June 09, 2001 12:16 AM
Subject: Dear Diva...
"One of The Greatest Rants In The History of The Web." Thank you Diva, where ever you are.
I too am a Diva - albeit an aging Diva - living on the North Shore of O'ahu, Hawai'i (as you know, Divas ain't stupid).
From: "The Diva (Tammy)" < firstname.lastname@example.org >
To: "Scott F"
Sent: Monday, June 11, 2001 4:08 AM
Subject: Your E-Mail Inspires Today's Diva Rant
Thanks! It is a rare pleasure indeed to get to rant directly at my target. Unfortunately, my sortie was unsuccessful. Mr. Von Drehle is still convinced that his book's title is accurate.
I really should have known that talking "language" with a mainstream journalist would get me nowhere.
I've found that journalists are either ignorant of the language (giving them the benefit of the doubt, here), or are subtly propagandizing the people, or are outright liars.
Take, for instance, the tardy reporting of the felon purge in The Los Angeles Times, my local newspaper...
Your e-mail inspired me to write the rant that article deserves.
I thank you for that.
You can read it HERE:
MOTION SICKNESS CAUSED BY MEDIA SPIN
The Offending Spin:
Florida Net Too Wide in Purge of Voter Rolls
Politics: Thousands were wrongfully called felons.
Errors may have affected presidential election.
By LISA GETTER, Times Staff Writer
Monday, May 21, 2001
See? I can't even get past the title without getting angry... Look at what they are saying here: "ERRORS MAY have affected the presidential election." First off, "errors" means "mistakes":
er·ror [érrr ] (plural er·rors) noun
1. (plural errors) mistake: something unintentionally done wrong,
for example, as a result of poor judgment or lack of care
The report blames the crash on human error.
No journalist in his right mind, before or after the perpetrator was caught, would look at the crime scene in Oklahoma City after the bombing, and say, "Error may have caused death of 168 in Oklahoma City Federal Building."
By titling their "expose" in this manner, they have already told the reader that any innocent people purged from the voting rolls for being felons had their voting rights suspended UNINTENTIONALLY.
How, pray tell, does The LA Times know this? Is Lisa Getter psychic? Has she been channeling Katherine Harris and Clayton Roberts?
And doesn't The LA Times realize the disrespect their title visits on the victims of the crime? Basically, The LA Times is saying, "you got screwed ON ACCIDENT. You're not a crime victim. This was just 'one of those things'."
MIAMI--Harry Sawyer, election supervisor in Key West, was stunned when Florida officials sent him a list of 150 convicted felons to cut from county voter rolls in mid-1999.
Among those named: an election employee, another worker's husband--and Sawyer's own father. None was a felon. "It was just a mess," Sawyer said.
More mess was to come. Indeed, a little-known program aimed at curbing voter fraud in Florida was so badly designed and run that it wrongly targeted thousands of legitimate voters during the 2000 presidential election.
Now I'm angry again. "Badly designed"? How does The LA Times KNOW this? How do they KNOW that the problem was incompetence and not malice or willful intent?
The payload of the Ryder truck in Oklahoma City was not "badly designed". It did what it was supposed to do -- IT BLEW UP. What evidence does The LA Times have, that it isn't sharing with us, that leads them to conclude that this was all just a horrendous goof-up?
Even worse, state officials in Tallahassee ignored clear warnings about the mounting mistakes and actually loosened criteria for matching voters' names with those of felons, putting more innocent people at risk of losing their right to vote.
And still angrier... There is that word again, "mistakes". Is The LA Times staff so vocabulary-challenged that they couldn't come up with a better sentence? Say, maybe, "...state officials in Tallahassee ignored clear warnings about the ongoing improper identifications and actually loosened criteria for matching voters' names with those of felons, putting more innocent people at risk of losing their right to vote."
The so-called felon purge drew little attention during the bitter 36-day recount battle between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore last fall.
Umm.... Bullsh*t! Mother Jones wrote about this very subject THE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION!:
"Thousands of Florida residents were struck from the voter lists because they were mistakenly identified as ex-felons, just months before what has become the closest election in US history. With Bush apparently leading Gore by only hundreds of votes, in a state with hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised voters, could similar errors be tipping the race?"
I hate that The LA Times acts as though THEY weren't the ones who gave the felon purge "little attention," as if THE MAINSTREAM AMERICAN MEDIA weren't the ones who blew that story off for damn-near FIVE MONTHS.
...But a review by The Times of thousands of pages of records, reports and e-mail messages suggests the botched effort to stop felons from voting could have affected the ultimate outcome.
"Botched effort to stop felons from voting"?
botch [boch ] transitive verb
(past botched, past participle botched,
present participle botch·ing,
3rd person present singular botch·es)
do something badly: to do something very badly out of clumsiness or lack of care
managed to botch a simple repair job botched the piano concerto up
Here it is again -- the subtle language of propaganda, the subtle implication that no crime occurred, no willful act of wrong, just a screw-up. The LA Times is saying that, at worst, what happened to the disenfranchised voters in Florida happened because of incompetence or negligence, AND WAS NOT AN INTENTIONAL WRONG.
And yet, they give absolutely NO EVIDENCE to support this assertion.
I am not asking The LA Times to accuse anyone. I am asking them to report what is known. And what is known is that perfectly legal voters were removed from the voting rolls and prevented from exercising their franchise. That we know. That is not a hard message to convey. Words like "error," "mistakes," and "botched" all carry the implication -- the connotation -- that no crime was perpetrated. In the absence of conclusive evidence to back up that spin, I'd prefer they tell the story STRAIGHT, sans spin.
The reason: Those on the list were disproportionately African American. Blacks made up 66% of those named as felons in Miami-Dade, the state's largest county, for example, and 54% in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa.
Those individuals' politics are unknown, but African Americans voted more than 9 to 1 for Gore across the state. And Bush ultimately won Florida by only 537 votes of nearly 6 million cast.
No evidence has emerged to indicate that anyone illegally conspired to keep African Americans from voting in November. Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, has denied that state officials tried to disenfranchise anyone.
But many Democrats, especially minorities, charge that the felon purge is proof enough.
The felon purge is proof that a wrong has occurred, just like the scarred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was proof that a wrong had occurred. What is beyond my meager understanding is how -- knowing that Florida election officials continued to demand a wider and WIDER purge, even AFTER they had been informed that the NARROWER purge was wrongly denying the innocent their right to vote -- the media can continue to both overtly and subtly assert that the improper purges were unintentional.
"I don't feel like it was an honest mistake," said Sandylynn Williams, a black Tampa resident and Gore supporter who wasn't allowed to vote because she was wrongly identified as a felon. "I felt like they knew most of the minorities was going to vote against Bush."
Williams, 34, said she had voted in every election since she was 18 and had passed a government background check for a job with a military contractor. County officials finally restored her right to vote 10 days after the election.
"They sent me a letter of apology," she said. "That meant nothing to me. I felt like I was cheated."
And this... Well, this just breaks my heart. "I felt like I was cheated," she says. This woman was wronged, but since the media have endlessly spun the public with messages of "sore losers," and "move on," and "get over it," and "peaceful transition of power," this woman, like so many of us, doesn't say, "I got screwed, and someone should have to pay for screwing me. I have rights, and they were infringed." Why doesn't she say it? Because the media tells us what to believe, and what to believe about ourselves, and they have been telling us from the get-go that we have NOTHING TO BE OUTRAGED ABOUT.
Don't believe the hype. We have PLENTY of reasons to be outraged. They are legion.
The felon lists were compiled by Database Technologies Inc. (DBT), now part of ChoicePoint Inc., an Atlanta-based company. In 1998, DBT won a $4-million contract from the Florida secretary of state's office to cross-check the 8.6 million names registered to vote in the state with law enforcement and other records.
Over the next two years, DBT built a database that was used to identify--and all too often misidentify--about 100,000 felons and dead people still registered to vote.
DBT officials blame state officials for casting too wide a net in their search for illegal voters. "It defied logic," company spokesman James Lee said.
"It defies logic"? Not for me. Logically, if I tell you, "Hey, if you keep feeding your kid Drain-o, then the kid is gonna die," and you say, "I know! I'll add arsenic to the Drano!" Well, you aren't being illogical. You are showing INTENT. Once the Florida elections officials were informed about the disenfranchisement being wrought by their instructions to DBT, they had the knowledge to form the requisite intent to establish WILFULL CONDUCT. They knew the outcome of their actions. At that point, they could no longer claim ignorance.
... And they sure as hell can't claim it now.
No one knows how many legitimate voters were on that database or were stopped from voting. Some county elections officials were so outraged at the errors that they simply tossed out the lists. Some tried to correct them. And some knew they were faulty but used them anyway.
"Some knew they were faulty but used them anyway." Is there a stronger indication of willful conduct? Of having the knowledge needed to form requisite intent? How can The LA Times say this, and say that the purge was an "error," a "mistake," a "botched" effort?
"We removed a lot of people from the rolls when I know this was not a truly accurate list," said David Leahy, the Miami-Dade election supervisor.
Is it just me, or does this sound suspiciously like A CONFESSION?
"I don't doubt at all that there were many names of individuals removed statewide that were incorrect," said Pam Iorio, the Hillsborough election supervisor. "Some of those people may not even know to this day that they have been taken off the rolls."
I say again, is it just me, or does this sound suspiciously like A CONFESSION?
Florida is one of 12 states that bar felons from voting unless they apply for and win clemency from a state board, an arduous and expensive process. Most states, including California, automatically restore a felon's right to vote after completion of the sentence.
This reminds me of Texas Governor George W. Bush's policy to so complicate the process of applying for federally provided-for free medical care for poor children, that parents would be unable to apply -- to make the process such a pain, that the personal costs of applying for the program would be prohibitive, and children would go without.
Records show, however, that more than 2,000 alleged felons from other states were put on Florida's felon lists last year even though those states had restored their voting rights.
Among the supposed felons was 19-year-old Michael Jones of Valrico, near Tampa. Jones made the list when DBT erroneously linked his name to an Ohio felony conviction. But Ohio restores felons' voting rights after they do their time.
Even worse, it was the wrong Michael Jones. The Ohio criminal was black; the Valrico voter was white.
Go back and read that again.
Now, if I am reading this correctly, what The LA Times is saying here, is that Ohio felony convictions only result in disenfranchisement for the period of time a convicted person serves IN PRISON. That being the case, how can someone living and voting in Florida, who has an Ohio felony conviction in their past, be barred from voting at all? And why did Florida bar them?
After the presidential election, Florida clarified its policy on out-of-state voters and declared that those whose rights had been restored could cast ballots in the future. The state Legislature also repealed the statute that authorized hiring DBT. Members voted instead to provide up to $2 million to create a reliable statewide voter registration database that will be accessible from the Internet.
I'd laugh -- really I would -- if this wasn't so AWFUL. Talk about the bull being out of the barn. Yes, I guess AFTER the election WOULD be the time to do something about all these problems, wouldn't it?
It's unclear whether such moves will satisfy the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which is investigating the felon program, or the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has held hearings on the issue.
The commission is expected to report next month that the felon purge and other election-related problems had a disproportionate effect on African Americans and thus violated the Voting Rights Act. That law calls for civil remedies if a policy or practice unfairly harms a minority voting group, even if the effect is unintended.
That being the case, this sounds like an open-and-shut slam-dunk to me... but, what do I know?
Which reminds me of a judicial ruling that set me back on my heels... Basically, here is the story: A company hires folks, and tells them that if they work for the company for "X" amount of years, or reach "X" age, they will be eligible to collect retirement benefits -- a pension.
Then, the workers begin to accumulate "X" numbers of years with the company, and reach "X" age, at which point, the company fires them, so that the company will not have to pay them the pension and retirement benefits promised.
So, the workers take the company to court, arguing that this practice is carried out in "bad faith," and is discriminatory toward the aged.
The court, in its owlish wisdom, says, "No, it's not. The company isn't firing you because they DON'T LIKE old people, they are firing you because they DO LIKE money. There's nothing wrong with what the company is doing, there is nothing illegal about it, and there is no remedy for you."
So, I guess if Katherine and Clayton and all the other coup-conspirators get together and say, "It isn't that we DON'T LIKE black people, it's that we DO LIKE money, and George W. promised us that tax cut..."
Details of the felon purge were first reported earlier this year by The Nation, a liberal magazine based in New York.
Well, cut my legs off and call me "Shorty"... Does this mean we knew about the felon purge BEFORE the election? And more importantly, does this mean The LA Times knew about it BEFORE the election? And if so, why in the holy hell is this article dated May 21, 2001? (A Monday, by the way, which also begs the question, "If The LA Times knew about this felon purge BEFORE the Mother Jones article of November 8th, then surely they knew about it in time for the SUNDAY EDITION the day before -- the one paper a week that most people find the time to read? Why did they wait until Monday to publish it?")
Ironically, the effort to stop Florida's felons from voting came after a voter fraud scandal in Miami's 1997 mayoral race led to calls for statewide reform.
Why is that ironic?
Hired soon after, DBT proposed cross-checking voter lists with an array of federal, state and county records, from convictions to address changes. The company also urged searching only for voters with the same exact name as a felon.
But Florida officials told DBT to include names that were merely similar or had matching birth dates or Social Security numbers. An 80% match was sufficient, state officials said.
I see. The experts said to do it one way, and the partisan elections officials said to do it a different way, and that doesn't show intent?
Not surprisingly, problems--and warnings--erupted from the start.
You don't say...
In March 1999, for example, Emmet "Bucky" Mitchell, a lawyer for Florida's Division of Elections, sent an e-mail to Marlene Thorogood, the DBT project manager, urging her to loosen the criteria as far as possible.
"Obviously, we want to capture more names that possibly aren't matches and let [county election] supervisors make a final determination rather than exclude certain matches altogether," Mitchell wrote.
Obviously? Oh, goodie! An absolutely arbitrary and capricious process for determining who shall, and who shall not, be permitted to cast a ballot! What a capital idea!
"...rather than exclude certain matches altogether"? Here we find the subtle bastardization of language at work -- AGAIN. It wasn't "matches" that they were seeking to include in the purge, it was FALSE POSITIVES. It was NON-MATCHES. It was NON-FELONS. It was LEGAL VOTERS.
"Unfortunately, programming in this fashion may supply you with false positives," or misidentifications, Thorogood replied.
Bucky already knew that, Ms. Thorogood. Isn't it obvious?
Once computers had matched the names, DBT sent the data to Tallahassee. State officials then passed the lists to the 67 county election supervisors, with instructions to notify everyone identified.
Official letters soon advised voters across the state that they had 30 days to send their fingerprints to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for verification if their names were "confused with that of a felon." In essence, they had to prove they were innocent.
How many folks out there would even know how to go about getting fingerprinted, let alone how to go about proving that they aren't a felon? What do you do? Get Santa Claus to write a letter to Katherine Harris, saying you've been NICE and not NAUGHTY?
Even that led to screw-ups. One Madison County voter wrote to the state police, as instructed. But a clerk there misread it and wrote to Linda Howell, the county supervisor of elections. The letter said Howell was a felon and would be cut from the voter rolls.
"Needless to say, I was very upset," Howell said. "It seemed they were taking their job too lax. You could ruin a person with something like that."
Not that I'm trying to make anyone nervous, but POLICE are the people we empower to investigate crimes... Seems like they have their act together, don't it?
How reassuring for all of us.
Norman Weitzel, a Jacksonville resident, also got a letter. The law-abiding Republican said he was "floored" to be told that he was a felon--and outraged at the effort required to correct the record. "It started out like I was guilty and had to prove I wasn't," he said.
The American Way -- guilty until proven innocent... Oh, wait! I got that back-ass-wards... Didn't I?
And isn't 'Weitzel' sometimes a Jewish name? I wonder if there isn't some enterprising student of genealogy out there, trying to make a name for herself, that might not want to take a stab at the racial and ethnic makeup of the wrongly purged and their surnames...
DBT was hardly apologetic.
Checking felony data from other states, it mistakenly used a list of 8,000 Texans who had committed misdemeanors, not felonies. But DBT officials had little sympathy when some of the transplanted Texans complained of getting letters warning that they could not vote because they were felons.
"There are just some people that feel when you mess with 'their right to vote,' you're messing with their life," Thorogood groused in an e-mail.
She also advised other DBT employees on how to deal with county officials who complained about such errors. Tell them, she wrote, that "this is THEIR duty to research--not pass the buck to DBT. . . . We were not contracted for that."
Lee, the DBT spokesman, said the company will never again attempt a project like Florida's felon purge.
"When it comes to performing work which may impact a person's right to vote," he said in a recent speech, "we are not confident any of the methods used today can guarantee legal voters will not be wrongfully denied the right to vote."
God, I am so glad this exercise is over. Reading this gave me a stomach ache... Writing this gave me a stomach ache...
I'm from Texas.
Like traffic violations.
In Texas, when you get a moving violation, they note your race on the ticket.
My stomach hurts.