Columbia Journalism Review’s Truth Problem

October 23rd, 2016 5:37 PM

The truth, as they say, hurts.

Nowhere is this better illustrated recently than over there at The Columbia Journalism Review. Where CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow David Uberti has penned this seriously misleading piece about my recent remarks on CNN concerning the “rigged election” controversy brought to the fore by Donald Trump.

Among other things Uberti says this:

The consensus headline from the third and final presidential debate was Republican candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the 2016 election results. It was a stunning rebuke of American political norms from the nominee of a major political party, and it quickly dominated coverage online Wednesday night and in major print newspapers Thursday morning. The Associated Press’ lede said Trump is “threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy."

He then goes on to zero in on the passionate post-debate analysis on CNN that involved myself. Fair enough. The CNN discussion focused on Trump’s statement in which he said that he refused to commit to accepting the 2016 results. All of my CNN colleagues with the exception of fellow Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany  disagreed.  Plenty fair enough.

I am being taken to task thusly:

Beginning the post-debate panel, Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, a journalist, echoed Tapper in describing Trump’s comments as “stunning.” Jeffrey Lord, a pro-Trump talking head, retorted by inaccurately comparing them to when Democratic candidate Al Gore challenged the vote count in 2000. Borger rightly shot down this analogy—Gore’s challenge was after the fact, with a legitimate recount underway—which drew charges of “double standards” from Lord….

…When the topic came up on Wednesday afternoon’s CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin rejected the premise, put forth by Lord, that a rigged election was even possible. “I don’t doubt there are certain instances,” she said. “But in terms of widespread voter fraud, that’s just not true.” She might as well have been speaking to a brick wall….”

First, as to Gore. The comparison was spot on accurate. While Trump is being criticized for saying he would keep the media and the nation in suspense as to whether he would accept the results of the election, the hard fact is that Al Gore spent two months not accepting the election results. Florida law provides for an automatic recount.  Gore got that. It did not go in his favor/ He requested a hand recount in several Democratic counties.  The fight in the courts thus began when Gore resisted obeying the results of the automatic recount. The Secretary of State certified Bush the winner on November 26th. The very next day Gore contested the certification in a Tallahassee circuit court. In other words, ignoring the certification from the duly authorized Secretary of State  Harris, Gore did exactly what Trump’s critics find so appalling: he simply refused to accept the election results. So yes indeed, it is exactly accurate to say that Gore refused to accept the results of the election - which he did until the US Supreme Court finally handed down its decision in December.

On the issue of rigging elections, Uberti cites the following tweets from my CNN colleague Dylan Byers: “Jesus… Jeffrey Lord is on air saying ‘just because I push the button for Donald Trump doesn’t mean my vote will be cast for Donald Trump.’”

And: “The baseless rigged election talk is as low as it gets…. Every surrogate who pushes it will be remembered for doing so after the election.”

Where to begin?

How about here when I told an audience of college kids: 

That’s why we need paper trails on these new electronic machines so that you actually have something that you can hang on to after you’ve punched that letter – make sure it hasn’t been hacked into. Those are all part of the process of making sure that our democracy works for everybody.

Oh. Wait. Actually, that wasn’t me saying that. The speaker was then-Senator Barack Obama talking to students at Kent State University in 2008, as reported here in the Daily Caller.

As seen here on C-SPAN the Democratic presidential nominee is answering a question from a student asking: “I would just like to know what you can say to reassure us that this election will not be rigged or stolen?”

Indeed. had Mr. Uberti done some minimal research he would have found that it isn’t only myself and President Obama who have the same concern about the rigging of voting machines.

Here is CBS News, not exactly famous as a right-wing Trump outlet, headlining: “Hacker demonstrates how voting machines can be compromised.”

Reports CBS in August of this year (bold print for emphasis supplied):

Concerns are growing over the possibility of a rigged presidential election. Experts believe a cyberattack this year could be a reality, especially following last month's hack of Democratic National Committee emails.

The ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee sent a letter Monday to the Department of Homeland Security, saying in part: ‘Election security is critical, and a cyberattack by foreign actors on our elections systems could compromise the integrity of our voting process.’

Roughly 70 percent of states in the U.S. use some form of electronic voting. Hackers told CBS News that problems with electronic voting machines have been around for years. The machines and the software are old and antiquated. But now with millions heading to the polls in three months, security experts are sounding the alarm, reports CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.

And here is Politico, again hardly a Trump-friendly venue, making exactly my point that just because I push a button for Donald Trump the machine in question records my vote as a Trump vote. Writes Politico, again with bold print supplied:

When Princeton professor Andrew Appel decided to hack into a voting machine, he didn’t try to mimic the Russian attackers who hacked into the Democratic National Committee's database last month. He didn’t write malicious code, or linger near a polling place where the machines can go unguarded for days.

Instead, he bought one online.

With a few cursory clicks of a mouse, Appel parted with $82 and became the owner of an ungainly metallic giant called the Sequoia AVC Advantage, one of the oldest and vulnerable, electronic voting machines in the United States (among other places it’s deployed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania). No sooner did a team of bewildered deliverymen roll the 250-pound device into a conference room near Appel’s cramped, third-floor office than the professor set to work. He summoned a graduate student named Alex Halderman, who could pick the machine’s lock in seven seconds. Clutching a screwdriver, he deftly wedged out the four ROM chips—they weren’t soldered into the circuit board, as sense might dictate—making it simple to replace them with one of his own: A version of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter. The attack was concluded in minutes. To mark the achievement, his student snapped a photo of Appel—oblong features, messy black locks and a salt-and-pepper beard—grinning for the camera, fists still on the circuit board, as if to look directly into the eyes of the American taxpayer: Don’t look at me—you’re the one who paid for this thing.

There’s more out there. Much more. But suffice to say, with all due respect to Messrs Uberti, Byers and others the simple fact is that yes, there is every reason to be concerned that the 2016 election can be manipulated or “rigged” as both Donald Trump and, at an earlier time, then-Senator Obama have suggested.  Not to mention as “mainstream media” outlets like CBS News and Politico have reported in detail.

What CJR has going in this article attacking CNN and those who are on-air as commentators supporting Donald Trump (as other commentators are on CNN air supporting Hillary Clinton) is, politely put, misleading. Very.


Who knows. But perhaps its nothing more complicated than that the truth hurts