The Implicitly Pro-Government Media

We’re hearing all sorts of stories about voting irregularities across the country, and how one feels about them probably tracks pretty closely with how one voted.  Without slipping into partisan mire, however, we still can take non-partisan lessons.

One important lesson is that supposedly objective sources of news are not and, knowingly or subconsciously, twist stories to shape a narrative.  Moreover, that narrative is passed on to them from government officials, meaning that reading private news sources may be little more than a veneer on top of government messaging.

Consider the issue of voting locations in Arizona giving Sharpies to voters to use filling out their ballots.  As a point of fact, a woman has filed a lawsuit claiming that poll workers gave her a Sharpie and then prevented her vote from being counted; she has been joined by 10 unnamed plaintiffs.  The attorney general of Arizona says his office has received hundreds of similar complaints.

Compare the story at the second link with the Associated Press version that WPRI ran under the headline, “No, Sharpie pens did not ruin Arizona ballots despite social media claims“:

As states across the U.S. release vote totals for the presidential election, some social media users are falsely claiming that ballots are being invalidated in Arizona. The supposed culprit: Sharpie markers.

In what’s come to be known as #Sharpiegate, social media posts suggest that election officials in Maricopa County provided voters with Sharpie pens, which interfered with ballots being recorded, specifically those for President Donald Trump.

Are Sharpies in Arizona a problem for ballots?  I don’t know.  Apparently, there are tens or hundreds of people on the ground who are concerned about it, and the state AG is going to investigate.  Maybe these were quirky people or unique circumstances.  Maybe we’ll find out that some polling places were using old machines or colored markers or that some ballots were accidently printed so that ink bleeding through was a problem or that there was some other factor causing unexpected errors.

Notice that the AP journalist, Beatrice Dupuy, did not come up with some way to independently test the proposition or prove that no (or few) ballots were canceled.  Rather, she simply took the word of government officials — who might be complicit if this is an election-stealing scheme or who would, at the least, have incentive to minimize the problem if people in government messed up something this important — and then cited the decision of private social media companies to censor contrary claims.

This approach isn’t unusual.  At least when they confirm the biases of journalists, the statements of government officials and fact-checks of social media giants are often taken as objective and well-meaning.  To the contrary, they should be considered as statements from people who may have reason to distort or spin the truth.

In this particular article, the problem is made more conspicuous by being dressed up as a check of a “CLAIM” versus “THE FACTS.”  The condescending, “everybody knows” headline on WPRI puts it over the top.

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