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News :: Politics
What Went Wrong? Wrong Candidate, Lying Media, Ignorant Voters
03 Nov 2004
For progressives to come back from this election disaster, the first step will have to be to break the corporate media’s stranghold on information, which has produced a nation of uninformed and misled voters (or non-voters).
The presidential election is over.

Now it's time to start analyzing what went wrong--and plenty did go wrong.

Clearly John Kerry was the wrong candidate to take on Bush. Having boxed himself into an untenable pro-war position during the primaries, he was unable to articulate a position significantly different from the president's on the deepening quagmire in Iraq. And having set himself up for the inevitable attack by Vietnam-era revisionists by hyping his Vietnam war service at the DNC, he opened himself up to inevitable attacks on his patriotism and integrity. But even given those weaknesses, there was more at work here in the stunning Democratic loss, not just of the presidency, but of more seats in both House and Senate.

Consider that Pennsylvania and Ohio are virtually carbon copies of each other. Neighboring states with a similar history of deindustrialization and massive loss of blue-collar union jobs, they share the same demographic: large urban black populations, broad swaths of conservative white rural areas, a large ethnic Catholic population, and a significant evangelical population. Yet Pennsylvania went decisively for Kerry, and Ohio went to Bush.

What is different about these two states? In Pennsylvania, the state electoral apparatus--especially in the heavily Democratic areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh--is in the hands of Democrats, while in Ohio, the election machinery even in many urban centers, is dominated by Republicans. In Pennsylvania, there was virtually no organized effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters. In Ohio, efforts to disenfranchise minority voters were rampant and blatant, from the attempt to bar voter registration forms that weren't on cardstock, to the assigning of Republican registration challengers at every election site. People, particularly in low-income and minority areas, were unconscionably forced to stand in line, often outside in a cold rain, for hours to get to vote. No one knows how many such voters simply gave up and went home. All these efforts at vote suppression were deliberate. The same thing happened in Florida, New Mexico, and other key swing states--especially where Republicans were in charge.

The narrow Bush win--touted as a mandate by the White House, but clearly anything but, considering that this is an incumbent president seeking election in the midst of a war, who by historical precedent should have been a shoe-in--tells us that the public doesn't trust this administration, but that the Bush strategy of hyping terror and terrorizing the public is working.

A key reason it's working is that the media is playing along. Every new threat suggested by the Department of Homeland Security, every arrest of some Muslim charged with being a terrorist, is trumpeted by everything from Fox TV to the New York Times, then forgotten.

Meanwhile, important news that might raise legitimate doubts about the real extent of the terrorist threat, or that would suggest that the administration has led the country down a wrong and dangerous road, is downplayed or simply buried. For example, few papers or broadcast networks even reported that the American military has been visiting a virtual holocaust on the Iraqi people, with some 100,000 civilians--mostly women and children-- evidently killed at American hands since their "liberation." Few papers note that it is highly unlikely that the many bombings and attacks on Iraqis and American forces attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are actually the work of this Jordanian terrorist, or that he may actually not even be alive.

Most Americans, who get their news from the major television news programs or from their local papers, don't even know that Secretary Of State Colin Powell has said that the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq, or that many to top US generals think the U.S. war in Iraq is unwinnable.

Most Americans don't know that Republican efforts to minimize minority voting managed to keep several million minority voters from registering this year, as in 2000.

Most Americans too are unaware that the president, whom many voters told exit pollsters they believed represented integrity in government, was wearing an electronic device under his jacket in the three debates, and almost certainly tried to cheat by getting help with his answers through a hidden radio-linked earpiece,

This last cover-up I have personal knowledge about. I exposed this scandal on Oct. 30 in Mother Jones on the magazine’s website (, after it was brought to my attention by a top NASA scientist and photo imaging specialist, Robert Nelson. Nelson, however, came to me with his dramatic only after being turned down by three of the nation’s leading newspapers.

It turns out that the 30-year veteran of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who is in charge of satellite imaging for the Cassini Saturn probe, first took his story to the LA Times, which ignored it. He then went to Bob Woodward, half of the acclaimed investigative reporting duo that broke the Watergate scandal. Woodward, now assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, called Nelson back and told him he couldn't get approval from senior management of the paper in time to run the story, and actually recommended that he take them to magazine, which of course ran the images.

Nelson instead took his damning photos to the New York Times, which a source at the nation's self-styled "newspaper of record" informs me went ahead and assigned three reporters to the story. The resulting article, I learned from a Times journalist, was set and ready to go, complete with Nelson's pictures, into last Thursday's paper, a full five days before the election. It never happened though. Senior editors pulled it at the last minute. Their reason? "They said it was too close to the election," confides a journalist at the Times.

This outrageous decision by a top editor that the American public was too immature to be able to properly handle news demonstrably proving the president to have been a liar and a probably cheat in the debates, arguably cost Kerry the election.

Clearly, had the Times run that story last week, instead leaving it for me to do it on the Mother Jones website, it would have become a central aspect of the national campaign. Both the president and his opponent would have been forced to address the issue. It seems likely that such compelling evidence of a lack of integrity and candidness and confidence on the part of the president could have swayed one or two percent of voters in key states like Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico, and perhaps handed the election to Kerry.

But this is just one story that has been hidden from the public. The number of such deceptions, distortion and cases of the purveying of blatant pro-government propaganda by what once proudly called itself the Fourth Estate, is so great that it is no wonder that half the voting public believes that the president is a competent, intelligent and honest leader, when the opposite is clearly the case.

Clearly, if democratic government is to survive in America, the media will have to be rejuvenated. And the public will have to rebel against being spoon-fed the quasi-official line that is posing as news.

It's not as though there is no alternative.

While it is routinely dismissed as "The Internet" of "internet gossip" by the official media, in fact the Web is now awash with highly reliable sources of alternative news and information, from webcasts of news reports from the likes of Pacific broadcasting to the web pages of foreign newspapers like the Independent or Guardian, or quality internet publications like Slate, Salon, In These Times or Mother Jones. For those who don’t have time to troll the web, there are also sites like AlterNet or Truthout, that provide a daily index of alternative news reports.

So spread the word. The First step towards a revived political process is good information.

For the rest of this column, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening!

This work is in the public domain
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