Salon, Mother Jones & the Tortured Dialogue
On Election Fraud 2004
“Scoop” Independent News
June 14, 2006
The prevailing silence on election fraud 2004 was interrupted June 1 by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in his article Was the 2004 Election Stolen? He argues clearly and forcefully that the 2004 election was stolen, basing his analysis and evidence on events and outcomes in the state of Ohio. Had Kerry won the Ohio race, he would be president today. Hence, the theft of Ohio was the theft of the election.
Kennedy relied on far more than his own record of activism and a name representing decades of political prominence. The well written and thoroughly documented article in Rolling Stone Magazine makes a number of assertions, each backed up with references to evidence linked within the body the article. Kennedy is unambiguous in his claim that the 2004 election was stolen by the Republicans.
This is a remarkable political event. The legitimacy of a sitting president is being challenged by a socially and politically active member of America’s best known political family. In addition, the challenger, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is a consistent advocate for a wide variety of liberal causes. From promoting greater economic justice to protection of the global environment, Kennedy has been there for liberals. Just eleven days after the article appeared, Associated Press ran a major story with an even handed discussion of the 2004 election in Ohio and New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Bob Herbert ran a strongly worded column supporting Kennedy. How odd it is that Kennedy’s bold assertion and well documented case met with a carping attack from Salon Magazine, a self styled journal for open minded progressives.
My article examines the editorial stance of two national media outlets on the left that bothered to take a public position on the charge that the 2004 presidential election was stolen. Salon published a major attack on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.s charges in their June 3, 2006 edition. Prior to Kennedy’s article Mother Jones, an unambiguously leftist publication, ran an article by liberal journalist Mark Hertsgaard which seemed an attempt to quell the emerging controversy and support the legitimacy of the Bush election around the time of their November-December 2005 edition.
The following material will demonstrate the weak, poorly reasoned, and utterly illogical approach these publications present and circulat in their names. There is no Rovian conspiracy implied, no financial bonus or reward suspected, and no personal vendettas imagined. The quality of the arguments and internal logic of evidence by these journals are the main concern.
The status of election 2004 is an extremely serious issue. The outcome shaped a world descending into chaos and an administration so extreme it stands accused by Al Gore and former Reagan officials of embracing tyranny. When a tightly reasoned and serious piece emerges from someone of Kennedy’s status, the quality of criticism must meet a certain standard of reason and logic. When that criticism comes from the left, the quality of arguments and support is even more important. Kennedy wrote a serious article based upon a compelling set of logical arguments. The article was supported with ample documentation. What did he get in response? It’s a sad story..
Stolen Election 2004: A Third Rail in American Politics.
Scarcely few public figures have spoken out making claims of a stolen election scenario for 2004. Some of the fiercest critics of the 2004 election refuse to utter the “s” word, as in stolen election as though it were outside the realm of possibility. Rep. John Conyers produced an early report, What Went Wrong in Ohio, with the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. He has not committed fully to a 2004 stolen election scenario. Senator Barbara Boxer was the lone vote against certifying the Ohio electors on January 6, 2005. This created a notable furor. She voted nay on certifying the Ohio presidential electors as a result of the state’s sorry record of voter suppression in 2004 but stopped short of calling the election illegitimate.
Journalist Greg Palast, NYU professor and author Mark Crispin Miller, Steven Freeman, PhD, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman of The Free Press, plus internet researchers like TruthIsAll have commented frequently with substantial evidence and great passion. In effect, they have been forced into a corporate media burka. Even the supposedly liberal Daily KOS eschews any reference to claims of a stolen election in 2004.
Despite the recent AP story and Bob Herbert column previously referenced, this was a mostly repressed media environment that Kennedy entered when he published his article in Rolling Stone Magazine.
Counter Attack from the left
Salon Magazine, a struggling online publication, sought a broad audience after its launch around the time of the de facto coup attempt against President Clinton. While it featured a few figures from the right like David Horowitz and Camille Paglia, the thrust of the editorial content was clearly to the left of center. Salon broke the story of Henry Hyde’s affair with a married woman just as Hyde was beginning his ponderous march from the House to the Senate for the impeachment trial. Salon’s Eric Boehlert, a consistent producer of probing analysis, has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration.
Given this, it is surprising to find that since before the 2004 election, Salon has published articles that have the back handed effect of legitimizing the Bush election and presidency by dismissing substantive arguments concerning election fraud. Motives are not the issue here. The net result is the main concern. When questions are raised about the election, Salon’s initial article attacking Kennedy provides the Republicans and those accused of theft with an ideal cover. After all, even Salon Magazine says the election was legitimate, is the putative response from the media savvy of the right when challenged with the facts of massive voter disenfranchisement and the unbelievable statistical anomalies surrounding the exit polls and vote count.
Although Farhad Manjoo, Salon’s Technology and Business staff writer has produced several articles on problems with voting machines in the past, lately he is best known for challenging those who claim election fraud in 2004. In fact, Manjoo went so far as to dismiss a Greg Palast-BBC expose of Florida Republican voter suppression efforts before the 2004 election. This is a writer who the right hates to love.
Before Manjoo there was Mother Jones
Mother Jones positions itself as representing the left wing of the American left. The magazine's “roots lie in a commitment to social justice” and it has a consistent record of probing analysis on Bush administration disasters, economic disparities, and serious environmental problems. Recounting Ohio, Was Ohio stolen? You might not like the answer, by Mark Hertsgaard is the precursor for Manjoo’s recent epistle against the Kennedy article. The article appeared in the November/December 2005 issue.
The article is a review of three early books claiming a stolen election: Did George W. Bush Steal America's 2004 Election? : Essential Documents By Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wasserman, and Steve Rosenfeld; What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election; and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them) By Mark Crispin Miller.
Hertsgaard begins with a stunning assertion to anyone who chooses to read or is familiar with the three publications or the authors: “The source for much of the skeptics' case is The Free Press, an online news service based in Columbus.” In the article he comments on his low regard for the general quality of evidence among those who claim fraud. Yet he fails to provide one single shred of evidence, even of the Fox News kind (“some say”), to support this claim. Think about it. Congressman John Conyers, D, MI, is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He is a veteran of the Nixon impeachment hearings, the Civil rights movement, and countless other political battles over his 40 plus year political career. Why and how would he fall under he spell of The Free Press editor Bob Fitrakis and company?
Miller, a NYU professor, shows no signs of such vulnerability either, having pursued an independent career as an academic and writer in his professional life. Did Miller and Conyers accept Fitrakis as their guru; a veritable sole source of information? They do not indicate that happened nor has Fitrakis ever made such a claim. Evidence shows that the Conyers Ohio hearings actually influenced Fitrakis. We are left with only Hertsgaard’s dangling, unsupported assertion. It is upon this unfounded assertion that his entire argument rests.
He goes on to characterize Fitrakis, and by association Conyers and Miller, as “unabashedly left-wing and happy to meld journalism with activism.” To simplify, he implies that they will mislead in order to make their point. Before he ever considers the evidence offered in any of the three books, Hertsgaard engages in the cheapest argument of all, guilt by false association. This journalistic drive by attack on the credibility of Conyers, Miller and Fitrakis results in an unintended but clear consequence for Hertsgaard; the complete demolition of his credibility as a reviewer of the books or arguments therein.
Given the surrender of any degree of objectivity or even intellectual honesty by this rhetorical sleight of hand at the outset, the rest of his article loses credibility. There are three points that warrant quick review.
Hertsgaard indicates little, if any knowledge of the considerable amount of work done on exit polls by Steven Freeman, PhD, Ron Baiman, PhD and the team at the Election Archive.Org, (formerly USCountsVotes) and the internet poster TruthIsAll He also brings forward the “reluctant Bush responder” argument to explain why the exit polls showing Kerry a winner were wrong. This had been largely discredited at the time and pollster John Zogby calls this reasoning “preposterous” (see footnote 36 ). Hertsgaard then reasons backwards and implies that a partial recount in New Hampshire, which failed to find fraud, somehow shows that all the work regarding exit polls is invalid without any support other than his assertion.
The apogee of Hertsgaard’s illogic is achieved in his citation of a lawyer for the Ohio Democratic Party. This is his kill shot, his moment of Zen when he offers us the dilemma that will cause us to fall down and worship in his temple of superior understanding:
As for the larger argument that Ohio was stolen, O'Grady says, "That point of view relies on the assumption that the entire Republican Party is conspiratorial and the entire Democratic Party is as dumb as rocks. And I don't buy that."
There is so much obviously wrong with this type of false choice, it is stretches the mind to uncomfortable limits. The “entire Republican” party does not have to be “conspiratorial” to advance a tenable fraud hypothesis regarding Ohio. Nor does the “entire Democratic Party” need to be “dumb as rocks.” The use of this type of over generalization says much more about Mr. O’Grady’s state of mind at the time he uttered this and the author’s weak sense of logic and argumentation than it does about election fraud. It is a disappointing display of ignorance to even include this in the discussion of a topic as serious as this.
Manjoo to the Rescue: More Guilt by False Association
Farhad Manjoo shows his hand very early in the response to the Kennedy article. In the forth paragraph, the twin smoking guns appear:
I scoured his Rolling Stone article for some novel story or statistic or theory that would prove, finally, that George W. Bush was not the true victor. But nothing here is new. If you've spent time on Democratic Underground or have read Mark Crispin Miller's "Fooled Again," you're already familiar with everything Kennedy has to say.
Manjoo’s scouring is a fool’s errand. Proof is the first smoking gun. This is a transparent ploy that would be apparent to the tens of thousands of high school debaters who hold each other to higher standards of reasoning and evidence than the editor of Salon applies. You cannot prove a claim like Kennedy’s without a thorough investigation. There has been no thorough investigation and beyond any doubt whatsoever, the author knows that. Therefore, the author is arguing from a false premise that he knows is false. In the scouring exercise, it must have been apparent that Kennedy did not claim to prove that the election was stolen. Kennedy amassed impressive arguments and evidence and made a judgment, his right and obligation as an involved citizen and political figure. Yet he is faulted by one of Salon’s favorites as claiming to have done something he never claimed to do.
If Manjoo’s scouring had been a little more thorough he would have found the following pertinent history. Conyers went to Ohio to investigate the election. He had a limited staff under very difficult circumstances and received no cooperation; either from the Republicans who run the state of Ohio or major media concerns who sponsored the exit polls yet refuse to widely release the raw data. While he was doing this, his counterpart, Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, was with fellow Republicans in Washington, DC, readying a veritable Soviet show trial to demonstrate that the election was legitimate. The results of the Conyers efforts are published and available. The results of Ney’s efforts are an embarrassment Ney’s key witness was the head of a supposedly non partisan voting rights group created just days before the hearings. The group was headed by the “National Election Counsel to Bush-Cheney '04.” Apparently Manjoo was too involved scouring Rolling Stone to notice the larger picture.
The second smoking gun in paragraph four of the Salon article is Hertsgaardian in its presentation: “If you've spent time on Democratic Underground or have read Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again, you're already familiar with everything Kennedy has to say.” In another replica of Hertsgaard’s rhetoric, the author performs guilt by association with unsupported assertion maneuver. This equals, perhaps surpasses Mark Hertsgaard’s claim that Fitrakis and Miller were the sole source for the Conyers committee report on Ohio.
This is truly breath taking. Manjoo has cast aside the all-powerful Fitrakis and provided new culprits, the users of DemocraticUnderground.Com and the ubiquitous Mark Crispin Miller. We have no room but to conclude that either (a) Kennedy independently concluded what the axis of the blogosphere, DU and Miller discovered, or worse; (b) he has fallen under the spell of a powerful mind control unit represented by the professor and political forum.
What is www.DemocraticUnderground.Com? The author has already told us in paragraph two:
Then there are the legions of activists, academics, bloggers and others who've devoted their post-Nov. 2 lives to unearthing every morsel of data that might suggest the vote was rigged; their theories, factoids, and mountains of purportedly conclusive data likely take up several buildings' worth of hard-drive space in Google's server farms.
Here is the predicate for the association of Kennedy’s ideas with those of the internet forum. Legions are not defined. Does the author mean 100, 500, 1000? There is no estimate on the number of election fraud researchers and activists on Democratic Underground (DU) but 100 would certainly be pushing the number. There are certainly thousands of internet users who review the material on election fraud at DU and elsewhere (and produce such information elsewhere) but Manjoo is talking about DUers “who’ve devoted their post-Nov. 2 lives” to this work; you know - internet addicts who have no life – his implication.
Like Hertsgaard, Manjoo begins by implying severe intellectual limitations on the part of the leading figure, Kennedy, by claiming that Kennedy is controlled by those on the margins. There is no support for this offered at all and certainly no correlation of evidence cited with either DU or Miller. But then again, Manjoo might need to be the type of professional who devoted his life to his craft in order to substantiate his damning but entirely unsupported claim; then again, he might just be a reluctant research responder.
On the Evidence, More Sorrows for Salon
This article analyzes argumentation and rhetorical styles not specific factual arguments. That has been handled elsewhere. When Salon’s approach to factual evidence breaches the walls of reason, then it becomes pertinent. There are two such breaches.
Warren Mitofsky had egg on his face after his exit polls showing a clear Kerry victory were unintentionally released at critical points throughout Election Day. He went so far as to issue a final poll the day after the election which incorporated the actual vote count. Not surprisingly, Bush won that heat.
Manjoo tries to counter the significant evidence of election fraud presented by Steven Freeman, PhD, US Counts Votes, and others who claim the exit poll victory for Kerry was more reliable than the obviously tainted vote count in Ohio and elsewhere. He resurrects the “reluctant Bush responder” hypothesis. Bush voters were somehow ashamed of their votes and didn’t reveal them to exit poll workers. This argument was characterized by polling exert John Zogby as “preposterous” (see footnote 36). In addition, it has been dismissed by academics and spreadsheet wielding internet bloggers. Nevertheless, he persists.
In one of the saddest displays of feeble argumentation, Manjoo offers the following as an explanation of the exit polls showing a Kerry victory.
…a political scientist at Bard College, explained to me, the numbers Kennedy cites fit the theory that Kerry voters were more likely to respond to pollsters than Bush voters. For instance, in the Bush strongholds -- where the average completion rate (of exit poll surveys) was 56 percent -- it's possible that only 53 percent of those who voted for Bush were willing to be polled, while people who voted for Kerry participated at a higher 59 percent rate. Meanwhile, in the Kerry strongholds, where Mitofsky found a 53 percent average completion rate, it's possible that Bush voters participated 50 percent of the time, while Kerry voters were willing to be interviewed 56 percent of the time. In this scenario, the averages work out to the same ones Kennedy cited: a 56 percent average response rate in Bush strongholds, and a 53 percent average response rate in Kerry strongholds. But in both Bush strongholds and Kerry strongholds, Kerry voters would have been responding at a higher rate, skewing the poll toward Kerry.
This critical paragraph consists of simple verbal calculations, plus or minus three. There is nothing else there except Manjoo’s words surrounding numbers which conveniently counter the statistical and mathematical analyses Kennedy cites. This is simply amazing. Meaningless words and numbers are produced to refute Kennedy’s sources without any basis whatsoever. None. The run on sentences above are based entirely on the phrase “it’s possible.” In that case, it’s also possible that the sentence was generated by a trance medium working for Salon who generated exactly what was needed to discredit Kennedy at the moment of inquiry. This is the critic who would have us believe that Kennedy bases his arguments on nothing more than hyperbole. The author succeeds in performing a stunning feat of ratiocination, ex nihilo.
There are other problems with sloppy reasoning due to ignoring the readily available facts. Manjoo relies significantly on former Hoover Institution and now MIT political scientist Charles Stewart who thinks Florida and Georgia touch screen voting systems are just terrific. Florida is so confident in its voting system that the state is restricting local boards of elections from testing any voting machines. Georgia, another Stewart favorite, is in election technology free-fall as a result of a series of problematic elections and investigations.
Then there is Manjoo’s dismissal of the significance of an obscure 2004 Democratic candidate for Ohio Supreme Court outpolling Kerry in key areas. He argues that a similar candidate in 2000 (Democrat running for Supreme Court) outpolled Gore in a similar manner. The author failed to note that Gore’s 2000 campaign abandoned Ohio in the last weeks of the campaign and that Resnick outpolling Gore was no surprise given her two term incumbency, popularity, funding level, and, of course, the fact that Gore gave up on the state. Sad but true, there is no hope for Salon. Mighty Manjoo has struck out…again.
Argumentation 101 from Election Fraud Deniers of the Left
What can we anticipate from election fraud deniers of the left and others based on the arguments from Salon and Mother Jones?
1) Characterize those who claim 2004 was a stolen as being under the influence of “loose with the truth” fanatics. Hertsgaard did it in Mother Jones when he claimed that Congressman Conyers and the other Democrats who investigated Ohio and Miller were under the influence of the powerful Bob Fitrakis and The Free Press organization. Manjoo did the same when he varied the theme and claimed that Kennedy is now under the influence of DemocraticUnderground and Mark Crispin Miller, If we view Mother Jones and Salon as a composite work, we now have Kennedy under the sole influence Democratic Underground and Bob Fitrakis since Hertsgaard established Fitrakis’ dominance over Miller. This is simply beyond the pale.
2) Diminish the value of the exit polls at all costs. (a) Invoke exit poll leader Warren Mitofsky’s self deprecation strategy. Have you ever heard of a major researcher suddenly diminishing his own work at the end of a long career? (b) Also resuscitate discredited explanations for the exit polls like “reluctant Bush responders” and offer those up as proof by simply saying “it’s possible” that Bush supporters were reluctant. (c) By all means, do not evaluate or interview those who have done extensive analysis on the exit polls. Simply dismiss them as “legions of activists, academics, bloggers and others who've devoted their post-Nov. 2 lives to unearthing every morsel of data that might suggest the vote was rigged…” without bothering to evaluate or mention their evidence.
3) Offer up your own evidence that ranges from questionable to incredible. Claim that the popular Ohio Supreme Court incumbent Judge Resnick’s performance in the 2000 election compared to Gore is a valid comparison to the obscure Judge Connelly’s performance compared to Kerry. Also use soundbites like that from Democratic counsel O’Grady that simply make no sense at all.
4) And finally, always demand that those making a serious case “prove” that the election was stolen by simply ignoring that proof is established through an in depth investigation. Ignore the fact that there has been no official investigation. But don’t demand an investigation yourself. That would not be prudent.
With friends like Salon and Mother Jones on the left, who needs Republicans?
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Editorial support provided Stella Black. Special thanks to the scholar.