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Star Runs Voter Fraud Story After FiredUp! Baiting, But Waters It Down to Protect GOP

We wrote yesterday about the outrageousness of the Kansas City Star's failure to run a McClatchy story that provided rich detail about the key role of Missouri in national Republican efforts to swing elections through the widespread and false claims of "voter fraud."

After being called on the carpet for ignoring the piece, the Star finally ran the story in today's paper --but not before making significant changes to the story's original form.  Those changes serve mainly to soften the story's blow to prominent Missouri Republicans whom the Star apparently feels it must tiptoe carefully around.  

A side-by-side glance at the two stories reveals subtle but meaningful contrast in their respective textures...­

Notably, the headlines suggest quite different notions of content and responsibility.  Compare the McClatchy headline "2006 Missouri's election was ground zero for GOP," with the one from the Star today, "GOP sought to suppress votes in Missouri, critics say."  One header plainly suggests the factual proposition that the GOP was responsible for certain activity during the 2006 election, while the Star's version offers the diluted suggestion that the story is not about what the GOP has done, but rather what the GOP's critics say it has done. 

Though the KC Star and political press in general may be most comfortable pretending that every story is simply about the conflicting opinions of partisan opponents, the paper's construction of its headline for the story is an unambiguous bastardization of the letter and spirit of Greg Gordon's piece.  The story was obviously not initiated by --nor is it at all about-- the claims of "critics" nor anyone else.  Gordon was not reporting on some press event by Democrats who were making claims of voter suppression.  Rather he did real reporting and wrote about how, as the facts indicate, the GOP historically undertook specific actions on the issue of voter fraud in Missouri with the intent of helping Republican candidates. 

The Star's editorial decision, via its headline, to turn the story into some sort of he-said-she-said difference of opinion is an insult to the intelligence of its readers as well as a slap in the face to Greg Gordon, whose remarkable reporting their headline trivializes. 

But the headline isn't the only place that the Star hacks up the story.  Consider the stark difference between versions of the following semi-analogous grafs.  In the original McClatchy piece, Gordon wrote (emphasis added): 

The threat to the integrity of the election was seen as so grave that
Bradley Schlozman, the acting chief of the Justice Department's Civil
Rights Division and later the U.S. attorney in Kansas City, twice
wielded the power of the federal government to try to protect the
balloting. The Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly also
stepped into action.

Now, six months after freshman Missouri Sen. Jim Talent's defeat handed
Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, disclosures in the wake of the
firings of eight U.S. attorneys show that that Republican campaign to
protect the balloting was not as it appeared. No significant voter
fraud was ever proved

Compare that with what the Star ran today:

The threat to the integrity of the election was seen as so grave
that Bradley Schlozman, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s
Civil Rights Division and later the U.S. attorney in Kansas City,
wielded the power of the federal government to protect the ballot.

disclosures in the wake of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys have led
to allegations that that Republican campaign was not as it appeared.

From this we can assume that the Kansas City Star editorial staff feels the need to protect "the Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly" from exposure to facts reported on and published by its parent company.  And also that it felt the need to change the original  piece in a way that defined McClatchy's reporting as "allegation" rather than as fact, as they were originally reported.  And --perhaps most appallingly-- that the Star felt compelled to excise mention of one of the central facts of the McClatchy piece: that "no significant voter fraud was ever proved."

One can be forgiven for assuming that the Kansas City Star won't report evidence of the counterfactuality of GOP "voter fraud" claims because that might infringe upon its ability to report again later on future breathless claims of "rampant voter fraud" by Missouri Republicans with no regard for the truth.

From not far down the story's length come this telling comparison.  From the McClatchy original (emphasis added):

Bush administration officials deny those claims. But they've gotten
traction in recent weeks because three of the U.S. attorneys ousted by
the Justice Department charge that they lost their jobs because they
failed to prove Republican allegations of voter fraud. They say their
inquiries found little evidence to support the claims.

Few have endorsed the strategy of pursuing allegations of voter
fraud with more enthusiasm than White House political guru Karl Rove.
And nowhere has the plan been more apparent than in Missouri.

Before last fall's election...

Put that next to the Star's version:

The Bush administration
denies those claims. But they’ve gotten traction recently because three
of the U.S. attorneys ousted by the Justice Department say they lost
their jobs because they failed to prove voter fraud allegations.

Before last fall's election...

The purposes for the changes to these grafs could not be more transparent; they are plainly made to remove Republicans from the line of fire.  Among the changes to this passage are the deletion of the description of voter fraud alllegations as having come from Republicans, another deletion stemming from the Star's refusal to print McClatchy's finding that U.S. Attorneys found little evidence of voter fraud, and the wholesale disappearance of any mention of Karl Rove's responsibility for the scheme and its diproportionate focus on action in Missouri.  The common theme in those changes?  All are changes that might have been made by Karl Rove himself if he were the Kansas City Star's copy editor.

Apparently central to many of the changes made by the Kansas City Star is the abject refusal to print the fact, reported by the its parent company, that --try as it might-- the government could never find or produce evidence of widespread voter fraud.  The Star is apparently very, very nervous about printing facts when those facts contravene bogus Republican Party message points. 

Look, for instance, at the careful treatment that the Star gave to a passage about Brad Schlozman'slawsuit against Robin Carnahan.  McClatchy reported:

-Schlozman, while he was acting civil rights chief, authorized a suit
accusing the state of failing to eliminate legions of ineligible people
from lists of registered voters. A federal judge tossed out the suit
this April 13, saying Democratic Missouri Secretary of State Robin
Carnahan couldn't police local registration rolls and noting that the
government had produced no evidence of fraud.

The Star's editors apparently preferred this GOP-friendly interpretation:

-Schlozman, while he was acting civil rights chief, authorized a 2005
lawsuit accusing Missouri of failing to eliminate ineligible people
from voter rolls, noting that in 29 counties more voters were
registered than lived there. A federal judge tossed out the lawsuit
last month, saying the Missouri secretary of state can’t police local
registration rolls.

Notice what the Star changed in its version?  Apparently, the Star can't simply report the facts because the facts are biased against Republicans.

And the Star is extra careful to make sure that some of its favorite Republican figures don't get dragged into the story.  Why else lift out the following graf from the story completely?

Joining the push to contain "voter fraud" were Sen. Christopher Bond,
R-Mo., who charged that votes by dogs and dead people had defeated
Ashcroft, Missouri Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, whose stinging
allegations of fraud were later debunked, and St. Louis lawyer Mark
"Thor" Hearne, national counsel to Bush's 2004 re-election campaign,
who set up a nonprofit group to publicize allegations of voter fraud.

Apparently, it's very impolitic to suggest that any Missouri Republicans who read the Star were ever responsible for having made unfounded and demonstrably false charges.  The Star wants to do reporting, sure, just so long as it doesn't ruffle any powerful GOP feathers.  So the editors just had to cut those unflattering references to Blunt, Bond, Ashcroft and Hearne made by McClatchy.  Instead they ran some context-free quotes from John Hancock. 

Additionally, the Star's story, though it also details a bit of the post-election dust-up of 2000 regarding voting rights, completely omits a passage from the McClatchy piece which points to Matt Blunt's past involvement with baseless claims of voter fraud.  McClatchy reported the following:

The following summer, then-Secretary of State Blunt alleged in a
47-page investigative report that the use of affidavits to allow more
than 1,000 "improper ballots . . . compels the conclusion that there
was in St. Louis an organized and successful effort to generate
improper votes in large numbers."

But an investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights
Division, launched before Ashcroft settled in as U.S. attorney general
in 2001, found the reverse. In a 2002 court settlement with the
department's Voting Rights Section, St. Louis election officials
acknowledged that they'd improperly purged some 50,000 names from voter
lists before the 2000 elections and had failed as required by federal
law to notify those people properly that they'd been placed on inactive
status. No one knows how many eligible voters were denied their right
to cast ballots.

Yet another scrubbing from the story of facts demonstrating that Republican officials have for years made claims of "voter fraud" that proved to be untrue.  

The form in which the Kansas City Star chose to run this story is nothing short of a total embarassment.  Based strictly on the textual changes made to the story published in the Star, it is impossible to draw any conclusion but that the Star's editors felt that the story needed to be edited so as not to implicate Republicans --especially Missouri Republicans-- in any of the schemes reported on by McClatchy.  Every change made to the story has the clear effect of reducing the exposure of the GOP. 

Now, perhaps the editors of the Kansas City Star believe that some of the facts reported by its parent company are false, and therefore stripped them from the story.  If that's the case, the Star's journalistic integrity ought to require it to report on the factual inaccuracies of the original piece.  If, however, the Star's editors dont' believe the McClatchy reporting to be inaccurate, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that, in its editorial judgment, the facts are too insensitive to the Republican Party to be reported in the Star's pages.  Under that scenario, we should all draw straws to see who gets to throw the first shovel of dirt on top the once-proud newspaper's cold, dead carcass.



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