As conservative legislators in nine states renew the push for restrictive voter ID laws, their efforts have been aided by state media outlets that continue to ignore or misinform readers on the issue.
Republican lawmakers in several states -- Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- have stated that new or more restrictive voter ID rules will top their agendas in 2013. (Republicans control both houses of the legislature in all those states but New York and West Virginia. In Virginia, the GOP controls the House and maintains a 50/50 split with Democrats in the state Senate.) These proposals come just weeks after the 2012 election, in which there was no evidence of massive voter fraud.
A Media Matters analysis of the largest newspapers in each state found that coverage of these new voter ID initiatives has been largely devoid of context about the overstated dangers of voter fraud or of the significant influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy organization dedicated to pushing a homogeneous conservative agenda state-by-state. Only four of the nine newspapers covered the 2013 initiatives at all, and only one mentioned ALEC.
The Charlotte Observer failed to connect the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to an attack on North Carolina's successful green energy mandates, which is being led by state Republican majority whip -- and ALEC member -- Mike Hager. From the December 31 article:
The N.C. House's new Republican majority whip believes he has the votes to stop North Carolina's green-energy mandate - the first in the Southeast when it was enacted in 2007 - in its tracks.
The law says electric utilities have to derive rising amounts of their retail sales from solar, wind or biomass sources, beginning at 3 percent this year and ending at 12.5 percent by 2021. Separate, smaller targets for solar energy took effect in 2010.
Senate Bill 3, as the law is commonly known, is widely credited with creating markets for renewable energy - especially solar power - that didn't exist in North Carolina before it was adopted. Advocates say it has produced thousands of jobs despite a slumping economy.
But Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford County views the mandate as the government unfairly "picking winners and losers" in the marketplace. As chairman of the Public Utilities committee, Hager would like to freeze it at the current 3 percent level.
The article misses an important point -- that Hager is a member of ALEC, an organization described in the Observer (in an article re-published from the Anchorage Daily News) only a week earlier as a "secretive legislation mill that combines conservative thought with corporate interests." Hager's agenda regarding North Carolina's green energy mandates parrots one of ALEC's current nation-wide priorities. From The Washington Post (emphasis added):
The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank skeptical of climate change science, has joined with the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council to write model legislation aimed at reversing state renewable energy mandates across the country.
The Electricity Freedom Act, adopted by the council's board of directors in October, would repeal state standards requiring utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable power, calling it "essentially a tax on consumers of electricity."
The previously-mentioned Anchorage Daily News piece expounded upon ALEC's energy agenda as well, describing the efforts ALEC has taken in Alaska and other states to try to "roll-back" the renewable energy mandate by painting it as a "tax." From the ADN:
Nick Surgey, staff counsel for Common Cause, said one hot ALEC issue is an effort pushed by the coal industry and other traditional energy sources to roll back renewable energy targets and mandates adopted by some 30 states, including Alaska.
Backers of the roll-back call the targets a "tax" on power consumers who might have to pay more, at least in the short term, because the capital costs can be expensive. But supporters say they will reduce carbon emissions, establish 21st-century industries in the United States and make the country less reliant on imports.
The Washington Post noted that ALEC and Heartland "accept money from oil, gas and coal companies that compete against renewable energy suppliers." In fact, Hager has individually received campaign contributions from Duke Energy (his previous employer), Progress Energy (now merged with Duke Energy) and Dominion Resources, all of which are corporate members of ALEC.
While the Charlotte Observer provided balanced discussion of the mandates' costs and benefits, the paper's readership could benefit from an expanded vetting of special interest influences on North Carolina's state legislators.
The Charlotte Observer's reprint of an article on alleged dead registered voters in North Carolina omitted critical information about an activist group pushing voter fraud mythology that were included in the original story, including its ties to a national voter suppression organization.
The paper, which cut its full-time statehouse reporting staff earlier this year, relied on an article published a week earlier in Raleigh's News & Observer to inform its readers on the efforts of the Voter Integrity Project of NC (VIP-NC) to challenge the status of thousands of North Carolina voters. The Charlotte Observer did not print the Raleigh report in full, however, and omitted significant details about the group's faulty tactics and failed to provide broader context about the issue of voter fraud. On top of this, both papers have neglected to identify the connection between VIP-NC and True the Vote, a national Tea Party-affiliated organization formed to fear-monger about voter fraud.
Following are examples of News & Observer's reporting that The Charlotte Observer left out:
"The Voter Integrity Project has not brought forth any information to show that someone is voting in the name of another, and I think citizens of North Carolina need to be aware of that."
They began with last names, then a volunteer would look for potential matches - for example considering an "Elizabeth" and a "Liz" with the same age and address to be a match.
"It took intuition," DeLancy said. "We trained a lot of volunteers."
DeLancy said he's confident that at least 90 percent of the names he delivered should be removed from the rolls.
The nonprofit group used "fuzzy matching," Degraffenreid said. The death data from the Department of Health and Human Services includes age but not a date of birth, which is essential in making matches, she said.
"The Voter Integrity Project doesn't have really the necessary data to make a determination that a voter is deceased," Degraffenreid said.
Even a full match doesn't mean a registered voter has died. Degraffenreid recalled removing a man who matched on first, middle and last names, date of birth and county of residence who turned out to be a different voter. He showed up to the polls and voted a provisional ballot when he was told he had been removed, she said.
Meanwhile, cases of fraud remain rare. In 2009, the board referred 29 cases of double voting to county district attorneys, according to a board report. Since 2000, the board has referred one case of voter impersonation, the report states.
CORRECTION: Media Matters has identified a serious error that resulted in the omission of several Charlotte Observer columns and articles discussing municipal broadband during the time of this debate. We cannot support our earlier conclusion that the Charlotte Observer did not inform its readers on the issue of North Carolina's "digital divide" over the past two years. Media Matters prides itself on a long history of accuracy in its media studies, and we apologize for the error.
The stupidest "story" you'll encounter all day is the Drudge-hyped "gaffe" allegedly committed when an email announcement that next year's Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte mentioned "great barbecue." Politico, for example, says of the email that went out under Michelle Obama's name, "The gaffe was enough to make you wonder whether the White House had simply cut and pasted Southern clichés to create the first lady's announcement."
What's the problem? Well, according to Politico, a Charlotte Observer noted that the "best" barbecue is not in Charlotte, but in Lexington -- which is about an hour from Charlotte. Politico considered that justification for its snide comments about gaffes and cliches. The Associated Press chimed in, too, with an article noting that the "barbecue center" of Shelby is "about an hour west of Charlotte."
So, in describing Charlotte, a city with two separate renowned barbecue destinations within an hour's drive, the Obama email mentioned "great barbecue." And this is supposed to be a "gaffe" and an indication that someone "simply cut and pasted Southern cliches." Yes, that's stupid because it's utterly trivial. But it's also stupid because it's … well, it's stupid. Even if you concede that it's impossible to find good barbecue in Charlotte, that doesn't matter. People who visit a new part of the country do not necessarily confine themselves to city limits. It's like mocking someone for saying that while visiting Los Angeles, they plan to visit Disneyland. Ha! Disneyland is in Anaheim, not L.A.! Or that a visit to New York City might involve catching a Jets game. Ha! They play in New Jersey!
But don't take my word for it. Let's see who else touts "great barbecue" as something to experience while visiting Charlotte:
"My favorite Charlotte event has to be Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues! [Sept. 9-10] It's the best of a Carolina tradition with great BBQ, music and fun for everyone to enjoy right in the middle of Uptown Charlotte."
That's a quote from Robert Krumbine, chief creative officer of Charlotte Center City Partners, and it can be found in the 2011 Charlotte Official Visitor's Guide produced by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. (The visitor's guide contains listings for businesses in both Lexington and Shelby, another reminder that they're really close to Charlotte.)
The CRVA also produces a "Taste of Charlotte" sample itinerary to help people "discover all the fun things to see & do in Charlotte." And, what do you know, it emphasizes barbecue, too:
Barbecue is a non-negotiable must-have in North Carolina, so stop by Mac's Speed Shop for a taste of some Southern favorites including pulled pork, ribs, chili, Brunswick stew, and Mac's own delectable mac n' cheese. Half biker bar and half restaurant, this spot has earned a tasty reputation. Connoisseurs like renowned chef Mario Batali and Rick Browne of TV's "Barbecue America" are big fans.
It's entirely reasonable to refer to barbecue when talking about visiting Charlotte. And it's entirely trivial and utterly stupid to mock someone who does so for "cut[ting]and past[ing] Southern cliches." If Politico doesn't agree, they should take it up with the Charlotte Regional Visitor's Authority.
Numerous media outlets seized on a dubious January London Sunday Times report which claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 statement on Amazon rain forests was "unsubstantiated" and without scientific basis in order to attack the IPCC's credibility and global warming science in general. However, The Sunday Times has now retracted that claim, noting, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." Will these media outlets follow suit?
Criticizing a VoteVets.org ad that accused Sen. Elizabeth Dole of voting against funding body armor for U.S. troops, The Charlotte Observer wrote that "[n]either of the two pieces of legislation that VoteVets.org cites mentions body armor" and said with respect to one of the amendments cited in the ad: "The vote was for $1 billion for unspecified equipment, but body armor was not mentioned in the bill or on the floor." However, the Observer did not note that Sen. Chris Dodd repeatedly referenced "body armor" on the Senate floor while discussing the other amendment cited in the ad.