Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Journalism or disinformation?

Reading Robert Jamieson's admiring column this morning, it's easy to come away with the impression of Stefan Sharkansky of Sound Politics as a kind of crusading truth-finder seeking out anomalies in the just-finished recount of the governor's race in Washington state.

I like Stefan. But I'm not so sure about whether truth is what he and the folks at Sound Politics are after. I think what they're after is for the candidate they rooted for to win -- any way, anyhow.

One of Stefan's more incendiary charges mirrors one made by the loser-out Republican in the race, Dino Rossi, in his lawsuit contesting the election, to wit, military voters were cheated out of a chance to vote by King County elections officials. Sharkansky argues, based on shakily obtained evidence, that these officials obscured the date on which they sent out military ballots and thereby engaged in a "cover-up" (a follow-up post by Brian Crouch charges fraud even more clearly).

However, Carla at Preemptive Karma went a-fact checkin', and found that the claims were not what they seem:
I then contacted Bobbie Egan, the media relations person for the King County Elections Office. Ms Egan knew of the soundpolitics allegations.

Egan informed me that the King County Elections Office doesn't handle the mailing for most of the military ballots directly. They do send emailed and faxed ballots out to those military people who request them. However, King County uses a hired vendor (contractor) to send out military ballots to most APO and US military addresses. King County puts the ballots in the envelopes and addresses them, then hands them off to the vendor who prepares them for the bulk mailings through the US Postal Service. King County's bulk mailing permit isn't used for these ballots. There is a federal permit used for mailing military ballots. Ms. Egan further informed me that they have a paper trail to verify that the mailings were properly sent. I'm hopeful that she will be faxing me copies of this paperwork later today.

I did get a call back from the USPS, but not the supervisor of the Business Mail Entry office in Seattle. I spoke with the media relations person for the region, who is following up on my questions and is set to get back to me later today.

Carla also makes some astute observations about the nature of this kind of "journalism":
If the braintrust at soundpolitics had just made a few phone calls, they could have checked their information. Instead, they published what appears to be dubiously and sloppily sourced material, misleading their readership. This misinformation is being used to prop up some very serious allegations.

Bloggers aren't usually held to the same standard as journalists. It's clear that the kind of sourcing and fact checking usually done by journalists isn't part of the blogosphere, in general. However soundpolitics is making some very serious charges (and working hard to self promote in the wake of these charges). Their readership is whipped up into a frenzy without all of the facts.

This tossing about of serious wrongdoing coupled with dubious sourcing and fact checking is irresponsible.

For what it's worth, the behavior at Sound Politics only mirrors the behavior of the Republican right throughout the recount fight: throw shit on the wall and see what sticks. This is especially true of top Republican officials (notably Rossi and GOP Chairman Chris Vance) as well as right-wing radio, where the word "fraud" rings throughout the airwaves -- a charge that simply has not come even close to being proven.

Indeed, one has to ask: Who's perpetrating the fraud here?

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