By Brad Friedman on 9/8/2014, 5:06pm PT  

We've written about this problem for years here and, indeed, have spent no small part of those years repeatedly spanking papers like the New York Times for being amongst the worst repeated offenders.

Fairness is one thing. Balance, on the other hand --- particularly in cases of known, independently-verifiable, well-established facts on one side of an issue but not on the other --- is largely bullshit meant to do little more than level an unlevel playing field for bad guys. That's why Fox "News" loves the motto "Fair and Balanced", because it gives them an excuse to forward bullshit disguised as "balance", as if it was only fair to counter an established, well-supported (if not Right-leaning) view point. Never mind if that established view point has mountains of evidence and independently verifiable facts to support it. If those facts don't agree with ideological Republican dogma, they must be "biased" and "unbalanced".

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias," Stephen Colbert once famously quipped.

The New York Times has a long history of falling for, and forwarding in "the paper of record", false balance produced by those on the Right. Often, as was the case when The BRAD BLOG outed the James O'Keefe ACORN "Pimp" Hoax for being a complete fraud in 2010, the paper has sided simply with the word of Rightwingers, actual evidence-before-their-eyes be damned. Longtime readers will likely remember Greg Brock, the Times' Senior Editor for Standards(!), telling us that falsely reporting O'Keefe wore a "pimp costume" into ACORN offices (he never, ever did) was perfectly appropriate, because, as Brock explained to us in email at the time, "Our article included that description because Mr. O'Keefe himself explained how he was dressed --- and appeared on a live Fox show wearing what HE said was the same exact costume he wore to ACORN's offices."

"If there is a correction to be made," Brock incredibly added, "it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him. Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."

After we took our complaint, and the independently verifiable facts to support them, to Clark Hoyt, the New York Times Public Editor at the time, he embarrassingly backed up Brock, despite the actual hard evidence that existed --- such as an independent investigative report from a former prosecutor and the videos themselves --- to the contrary. His remarkable defense of that egregious and damaging misreporting, repeated over a series of articles, earned Hoyt an infamous depiction as an actual "weasel" by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. Eventually --- some six months later --- Hoyt admitted that both he and the paper were wrong, but not before the false reporting led to irreversible damage to ACORN, which had been long-vilified by the Right for little more than the crime of legally registering millions of largely low- and middle-income voters to participate in their own democracy.

So it's refreshing, finally, to see that the Times' current Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, is not only not falling for the same old crap, she's actually attempting to hold the paper accountable for inappropriately advancing false balance on Rightwing stalking horse issues like pretend GOP claims about voter fraud and global warming denialism. And she's doing so repeatedly...

"Two recent articles on voting disputes would have benefitted greatly from a single clarifying sentence --- one that would have cut through the 'he said, she said' language that so many readers understandably tell me they dislike," Sullivan wrote on her Times' blog last week.

In one of those two recent articles, the Times Monica Davey offered the classically misleading "Dems say this, but Republicans say that" argument about voter fraud that we have decried for years:

Republican lawmakers, who dominate the Missouri legislature, have repeatedly pushed for a measure requiring photo identification for voters at polling places, saying it is needed to combat fraud. Democrats have called those efforts an attempt to discourage minority voters.

Gosh. Who could possibly be right about those two equal and opposing points of view?! Who knows? The New York Times leaves readers to decide for themselves, despite years of well known facts about the GOP's fraudulent "voter fraud" scam.

Sullivan cites a reader who wrote in to complain about the "otherwise excellent" article:

The next sentence should instead have been something along the lines of "the evidence shows that such fraud is virtually non-existent." This issue should not be treated as a matter of "he said, she said." There is evidence on this issue. You should have reported it.

Indeed there is evidence to that effect. Mountains of it. There has been for years. It's remarkable that a NYTimes reporter would not be aware of it and/or that a NYTimes editor would not catch the misleading reporting and correct it before actually publishing it, particularly while several court cases are ongoing about the issue in advance of this year's November mid-term elections.

Just one such body of evidence includes Justin Levitt's recent report in the Washington Post finding just 31 possible cases of in-person voter impersonation --- the only type of fraud that could possibly be deterred by Republican polling place Photo ID restriction laws --- out of one billion ballots cast across the country over the past 14 years. Another such study two years earlier, based only on officially reported incidents, found just 10 potential cases reported in all 50 states between 2000 and 2012.

The GOP claims of massive "voter fraud" have long been known to be a hoax. Just still not at the NYTimes, apparently.

We've covered the NYTimes doing the same exact thing over and over, most recently, for example, in 2013, when they wrote unhelpfully:

Proponents of voter identification laws, who tend to be Republican, say the measures are necessary to prevent fraud at the polls. Opponents, who tend to be Democrats, assert that the amount of fraud at polling places is tiny, and that the burdens of the laws are enough to suppress voting, especially among poor and minority Americans.

Golly, who is right? Republicans or Democrats? Who knows?!

Other readers, Sullivan explained, were troubled by the false balance about voter fraud offered in a recent story about the ongoing federal trial over the Texas GOP's polling place Photo ID restriction, a law which has been repeatedly blocked by the courts as racially discriminatory, but was re-enacted yet again last year by Texas Republicans, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The second story in question was headlined "2 Sides Cite Discrimination as Battle on Texas Voting Law Heads to Court", which former Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin described as "breathtaking false equivalency". Sullivan cited a snarky response to the headline from Twitterer Nick Kilstein:

"I've written about this several times, and I feel strongly about it," Sullivan writes in response, citing a similar critique she filed in 2012. "But the point apparently bears repeating: When there's significant evidence on a hot topic --- whether it's voting fraud or the reality of climate change --- The Times should not shy away from stating it, simply and clearly."

Back in her 2012 critique, the one that the paper doesn't seem to have paid attention to, Sullivan wrote about false balance applied by the Times to both voter fraud and global warming, charging:

It ought to go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: Journalists need to make every effort to get beyond the spin and help readers know what to believe, to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects.

The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership --- and the democracy --- will be.

Apparently, it doesn't "go without saying" --- repeatedly --- at "The Paper of [Broken] Record".

How long will it be before Sullivan, or The BRAD BLOG, or anybody else, once again needs to cite the NYTimes for getting the very same story wrong all over again, and for continuing to ill-serve both democracy and the readers they are supposed to be educating with the facts and truth, no matter how politically inconvenient it may be to some?

[Hat-tip Media Matters...]

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