Conservatives Unhappy When Media Reports on GOP Voting Restriction Bills

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 31 2014 2:37 PM

Conservatives Unhappy When Media Reports on GOP Voting Restriction Bills

Way back on Thursday, several news cycles ago, I wrote a short item about a new Wisconsin law that rolled back early-voting days and hours. The news value was fairly obvious: Not evey Republican had backed the bill, Gov. Scott Walker had vetoed parts of it. Several years of studies on early voting suggested that Saturday and Sunday voting, which the revised bill terminated, was particularly useful to poorer, less white voters. Black churches in many states had run "souls to the polls" voting drives on Sundays.*

Saturday night the New York Times ran a more comprehensive story about early-voting rollbacks, giving it the unsubtle headline "New G.O.P. Bid to Limit Voting in Swing States." It appeared on the front page of the Sunday paper. Not that I took it personally, but the NYT story got far more attention than my little squib, and the Democratic National Committee scheduled a press call about it. This didn't seem right to the Week's Matt Lewis. "Call it a coincidence -- or call it a coordinated attempt to lay the groundwork for explaining why projected Republican victories would be illegitimate (or, at least, tainted)," he wrote.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an article strongly implying Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise African-American voters in "pivotal swing states." Two days later, the AP ran a story suggesting that gerrymandering explains the Republican advantage... first, pace Touré gerrymanding couldn't explain why Republicans are poised to take the Senate. Second, there's reason to believe people are self-segregating along ideological lines. None of this matters, of course -- not when there's an imminent loss to be preemtively explained. And that's just what's happening. 

Well, full disclosure: If there was a meeting where the AP and NYT coordinated their coverage, I was not invited. But I think Lewis is getting the story backward. The NYT and AP are not warning that Republicans will try to restrict voting. They are reporting on bills that came out of Republican legislatures and restrict voting. No state run by Democrats is making any comparable move to roll back early voting or increase ID standards at the polls. The AP's story, on gerrymandering, doesn't even argue that the 2011 district lines will affect Senate races, which would be silly. It reflects, accurately, that Republicans made a concerted push to win state legislative seats in 2011 in order to lock in a decade of gains. They were entirely open about that in 2011. Pointing that out is excuse-making?

No, it's reporting. Reports can safely dismiss any effort to work the refs and portray accurate reporting on this as proof of bias.

*The irony that I found in 2012 was that black voters, who saw themselves as the victims of laws that restricted early voting on weekends, became more likely to vote.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


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