'For whatever reason,' is not an answer, NPR!...
By Brad Friedman on 6/20/2012, 2:24pm PT  

Perhaps we should call it the David Gregory Technique, since the dreadful Meet the Press host seems to use it, and little more, week in and week out during his usually useless interviews with public officials.

Here's how the David Gregory Technique works: Ask a public official for "your response to that charge?" Get that response. And then move on to the next question. No follow-up. No challenge. It's that simple. Just get their "response" on record --- like an in-person performance of the public official's already-published press release responding, either accurately or not, to the same issue.

Afterword, news consumers are no more informed or enlightened than before going in, other than to become familiar with the political talking points in play, whether they are based in fact or reality or not. Who knows?

Such was the treatment that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) enjoyed last week from Michele Martin on the apparently ironically named TELL ME MORE program on National Public Radio concerning his spate of allegedly unlawful, attempted voter suppression programs in the Sunshine State. NBC's David Gregory couldn't have done it better himself...

The NPR discussion centered on allegations that the Governor and his party have been working hard to suppress the Democratic vote in Florida through anti-voter registration programs (such as the one recently found by a federal court to be in violation of federal law) and a recent voter purge program built upon Scott's unsupported claims that as many as 182,000 non-citizens may be illegally signed up to vote in the state.

The now-enjoined registration restrictions had led to the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Florida cancelling their voter registration program in the state for the first time in 72 years, as it imposed onerous restrictions and criminal penalties on third-party registration workers (for no apparent reason, according to the federal judge's ruling, other than to keep people from lawfully registering to vote).

The attempted voter purge program, as we have reported in some detail here over recent weeks, has ensnared hundreds of perfectly legal voters to date, including decorated nonagenarian WWII vets, while failing to offer verification of even one single non-citizen voter out of some 182,000 originally identified, and the more than 11.2 million registered voters in FL.

You can listen to, or read the transcript of the short and rather pathetic interview by NPR's Martin here, in which she offers Scott a platform to give his responses to the DoJ's recently filed lawsuit [PDF] against the state of Florida in regard to his attempted voter purge, as well as the federal court's recent finding that his registration restrictions are also in violation of federal law.

The part of the interview that stuck most in my craw, however, was the pass that Martin gave Scott concerning his --- and the Republican echo chamber's --- main defense against the Dept. of Justice's lawsuit. Indeed, the state of FL has filed its own lawsuit against the federal government charging that the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) has been illegally withholding a federal immigration database from them, to make it impossible for the state to have accurate information concerning the immigration status of registered voters the state has identified as "potential non-citizens".

The underlying (and usually overt, in the wingnut media) allegation here, of course, is that there is a dark Obama/Holder-led conspiracy on behalf of the Democratic Party to keep non-citizens on the voting rolls this November so they can steal the election for Obama like they did last time. Sigh...

But, there is an actual reason, according to information released publicly by the DoJ prior to the Governor's appearance on NPR, that the DHS isn't currently turning over their federal database to Florida, as Scott claims they must by law. That reason, however, was never explained to NPR listeners, even though Scott, not once, but twice in his comments, alluded vaguely to DHS withholding the database "for whatever reason"...

SCOTT: Now, what we tried to get was a very good database that Homeland Security has called SAVE that we have a right to use for voter registration. For whatever reason, Homeland Security for the last year has decided not to give it to us. So we were put in a position that we had to sue them to get that database.

[And then later in the interview, once again...]

SCOTT: This is not a Republican or Democrat or independent issue. I've not met one person in our state that believes that non-U.S. citizens should be voting in our races. Now, we tried to do it the right way by using this Homeland Security database. For whatever reason, they've made the decision not to give it to us.

Two different references to "for whatever reason" by Scott, and not a single request from Martin to explain that "whatever reason".

That, despite the fact that the Governor and the state of Florida's entire case --- their case in the court of public opinion, anyway --- regarding their continuing attempted voter purge, rests on their claims that they have been illegally restricted from accessing that federal DHS database.

It's not as if we do not know the "whatever reason", at least the one that the U.S. Dept. of Justice has proffered in their own response to the allegation. The DoJ summarized that reason as part of a recent 5-page letter [PDF] sent to the state just before the DoJ filed a federal complaint against them.

Scott is simply presuming, with good reason, that his own incurious supporters will be too lazy to find out the "whatever reason" and, also presuming, also with good reason, that the MSM is similarly lazy, or just plain willing to carry water for Republicans, so they won't bother to find out or explain it to the public either.

Earlier this week, in the latest of our continuing coverage of Florida voter suppression issues (all done here by just Ernie Canning and myself, with no staff, and no million dollar NPR-like budget --- no budget at all, in fact) we devoted an entire section to the federal government's fairly straightforward and informative response to Scott's DHS database claims (the "whatever reasons"), as detailed in that letter from the DoJ:

DHS did not deny FL access to database

In his 6/11/12 letter, [Asst. U.S. Attorney General Thomas E.] Perez responded to FL's claim that they were denied access to the DHS Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database which, the state alleges, is a more comprehensive and accurate database than the they one currently being used from the state [Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles] DHSMV.

That database, however, Perez explains, does "not include a comprehensive and definitive listing of U.S. citizens, and does not include, for example, those born in the United States."

While SAVE can verify documentation regarding naturalized citizens and "U.S. citizens born abroad who derived citizenship from U.S. parents," Perez wrote, as early as October 2011 the DHS advised FL that "SAVE...can verify these individuals only if [FL provides the DHS with] unique identifiers, such as alien registration numbers or certificate numbers found on immigration-related documents."

In other words, the SAVE database cannot identify immigration status based on names alone, as FL had been hoping to use to compare suspected non-citizens to the federal database.

The state, Perez wrote, "admitted to DHS nearly eight months ago that the Division of Elections does not collect any of the immigration-related numeric identifiers or documentation that DHS has advised would be necessary to participate in SAVE."

Thus, this appears not to be a case of DHS denying a state access to the database, as FL has claimed, and as its rightwing proponents have echoed in the media, but rather a case in which a state has failed to provide the information necessary for it to participate in the federal program.

"In fact," Perez notes, "we understand that the SAVE program has had long and successful working relationships with a number of Florida agencies that need to verify immigration status for their programs and that are able to comply with SAVE requirements."

Moreover, the letter explains, the SAVE program is used by another state (it does not identify which one) "for purposes of verifying citizenship of new voter registrants through use of appropriate identifying information that DHS requires of governments participating in that program."

"Your claim that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have worked in concert to deny Florida access to the SAVE Program is simply wrong," Perez admonished, reminding Detzner that the state admitted to having been informed eight months ago of the necessary requirements for participation in the program, but have "failed" ever since to "provide the necessary information DHS."

"As a result, the significant problems you are encountering in administering this new program are of your own creation," the Asst. Attorney General scolded.

The state of Florida has yet to respond publicly to the DOJ lawsuit, other than to indicate they intend to continue their purge of "non-citizens", and any inaccuracies in that effort can be laid at the feet of DHS for not giving them access to the federal database they claim is required to be shared with them by law.

So, really, NPR and Michele Martin, was that so hard?

One last complaint, in regard Martin's David Gregory-like "grilling" of the Governor over those onerous voter registration restrictions which have now been blocked, for the moment, by a federal judge, here was the entirety of the NPR exchange about it with Scott:

MARTIN: In a separate voting issue, a federal judge recently blocked part of your state's election law that you signed last year. Critics said it made it near impossible for voter registration groups to do their job. The district judge called some provisions harsh and impractical.

And again, this is being seen as an effort to keep people from voting who are not likely to vote for your party. It's seen as a partisan measure. How do you respond to that, to people who feel that way?

SCOTT: You know, it's surprising. I think there's 250-plus organizations doing voter registration. They have complied with the law. I mean, look, we're trying to make sure that our races are fair, that people have the opportunity to go register to vote and get out to vote, but again, you know, what we don't want are non-U.S. citizens voting.

Of course, despite Scott's sleight of hand there, his now-enjoined voter registration restrictions --- the ones that fine citizens (and even high school civics class teachers) for failing to register with the state as registration workers, and for gathering voter registrations that are not turned in to officials in 48 hours, to the minute, after having been completed by a new voter --- has absolutely nothing to do with "non-U.S. citizens voting," as Scott's response misleadingly suggests. It has only to do with restrictions on who may register voters and how long they may have before turning in registrations to election officials. Non-U.S. citizens voting have nothing to do with those restrictions which critics charge makes it much, much harder to register new voters.

Despite the complete non-sequitur of his response, Martin fails to respond or follow it up in any way. As far as NPR listeners know, those registration restrictions have something to do with keeping "non-U.S. citizens [from] voting" --- (and, after all, who is against that?) --- even though they don't have anything to do with that, in any way, shape or form.

Martin's tough rejoinder directly following Scott's non-responsive "what we don't want are non-U.S. citizens voting" response?:

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with the governor of Florida, Rick Scott. We're talking about voting issues. And just a couple more things that are also in the news. Governor, of course, you know, a lot of people are following the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this month on key parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Critics call it Obamacare...


[Hat-tip @BradPJacobson]

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UPDATE 6/22: Brian Burgess, Communications Director for Gov. Rick Scott, emailed us shortly after the article above was published to charge that we "were missing a few key bits of information related to the Justice Department's absurd excuse for denying Florida access to the SAVE system."

He included a link to this 5-page 6/19/12 letter [PDF] sent from FL Sec. of State Ken Detzner to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano which, he avers, buttresses his his claim that the "DOJ's excuse is nothing more than a stall tactic."

He also noted that he was "Looking forward to [a] reasoned and thoughtful retraction" to this story.

No such retraction will be forthcoming at this time, reasoned, thoughtful or otherwise, as we stand by all of our reporting above and in the previous 6/18/12 coverage we also quoted from at length.

(Please note also that the article we quoted at length from, in the section sub-titled "DHS did not deny FL access to database, was published on The BRAD BLOG the day prior to the letter from Detzner that Burgess has now brought to our attention.)

However, in hopes of assuaging Burgess' concerns, we have edited one sentence in the article above to clarify that the "reason" we reported that DHS hasn't turned over its SAVE database for use in FL's voter purge program is the one put forward by the DOJ in its 6/11/12 letter [PDF] to the state.

Though it was quite clear throughout the rest of the article that the "reason" we were describing was, indeed, the one proffered by the DoJ in its letter, we failed to qualify that point in the very first sentence we used which referenced it. We've clarified that now in the above report.

Beyond that, we will likely have more details on this matter in a forthcoming report, as we await a number of clarifications from Burgess in return. For the moment, however, we thank Burgess and the office of the Governor for contacting us with their concerns and allowing us the opportunity to clarify them for readers.

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