Just Above Sunset
August 8, 2004 - A voter problem that may not register with the major media...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

The Bonus Installment of the World’s Laziest Journalist’s column...

8/8/04 issue

By Bob Patterson


News is telling people what happened.  A police beat reporter assembles all the facts and puts them together as a “news story.”  If there’s a car accident in flyover country, the reporter gets the facts from a police report, writes a story that says who, what, when, where, and if possible why, and then hands it to the city editor to inspect.  It’s not always that simple.


If it’s just a fender-bender that involves a local personality it might get a mention in the local weekly newspaper.  If one person is killed in the accident, it might get a small mention in the area’s daily newspaper.  If ten kids are killed on their way to the prom, it will probably get a mention on the evening network news.  If one person is killed. and he or she is a world famous celebrity, photos of the accident will still be selling 50 years later.


Donald Turnipseed had one of the most famous car accidents ever on Sept. 30, 1955.


Things have a way of getting complicated.  Somebody says something happened and it doesn’t get reported in the media.  Is it a “cover-up” or a valid editorial decision?  If a person reports he was abducted by space aliens and if he is the first, he might get some publicity and a movie deal, but when the person reporting the incident is one of a long line of folks who say that and offer no proof, well, a good city editor will say “pass” on that scoop. 


Suppose something happens and, for whatever reasons, the media don’t use the story.  Then someone walks into a newspaper office and tells the city desk about some fantastic big story that no one else has? 


If one story is unusual, and it starts happening all around, at what point do the unrelated incidents become connected and indicate that a “trend” story is warranted?  At what point is an insignificant incident something that just happened and cannot be explained? 


A columnist can throw personal experiences in and not have to substantiate what they say happened. 


Lately, independent writers on the internet have been finding fact discrepancies and pointing out the contradictions to big media.  The news reporters step in and sometimes find they missed a good story and other times find that the fuss is unwarranted. 


The independent journalists call their internet publications web logs (something like a ship’s log of daily incidents) or blogs for short. 


Recently one blogger complained about a bureaucratic snafu that caused him some severe aggravation.


The fellow went to vote in the primary and found that after years of being a registered voter, he had been dropped from the roll.  Curious, he went to the government agency in charge of the process and learned that they had received a change of address notification ostensibly from the victim himself.  He had not moved.  His address had been the same for many years.  The matter was corrected. 


He speculated that if this was part of a concerted effort to disrupt voting in important districts in areas where the results were going to be close, a series of such errors could, conceivably affect the outcome of the election.


If he called the city editor of (for instance) the New York Times and alleged that the Republicans were mounting a nefarious plot to rig the election results, that supervising journalist would have to make some decisions.  Forget about the philosophical debates about inductive and deductive reasoning, is the guy calling a reliable source, is it just a unique incident, or is the guy trying to alert them to a real problem?


Fact checking the allegation would take a considerable amount of staff time (hence money in the form of reporters, librarians, fact checkers, and researchers salaries) and might not produce a valid story. 


Maybe the guy had an unscrupulous friend that thought the stunt would be a “practical joke.”  Maybe some local candidate had resorted to subterfuge to win a small local contest and done just a few strategic voter removals.  Maybe it really was a symptom of a wide spread strategy. 


They would have to see if it was a unique clerical error that affected just the one blogger.  Then they would have to see if it was happening in his area to an extent that defied statistical logic.  Then, they would have see if it was happening in other key districts.


Or they could run a story now, and based on one incident, and sound a bit like “ducky lucky” from the children’s story.  If they used the story and no one wrote a letter to the editor substantiating similar occurrences, they would look very foolish.  If however they were overwhelmed with letters alleging similar incidents, then that would merit some added expenses to do a follow-up story.


Or they could just ignore the guy and save money.  If there was a similar epidemic on election day and it became obvious that some tampering had occurred, and it turned out later that they missed a big story, they could just shrug and say:  “We were running a tight budget and the accuser didn’t seem credible.”  No harm, no foul, and no fair election, either, but mistakes happen, even in the world’s greatest democracy.


If, however, the bloggers gang up on the big guys, it can turn into a bit of the Gulliver’s Travels type confrontation.  A herd of the little guys can band together and form a dissenting voice that can’t be ignored.  It would take a lot of effort and coordination to gather the facts.  They would have to collect examples, verify that the “victims” weren’t dropped because of local rules, and then collate the statistics.  Then they could present the group findings to a network or well-respected newspaper.


So what can a columnist, who isn’t a blogger and doesn’t work at the New York Times, do about it?  What personal observation could he throw into the mix that would be relevant? 


How about this: last year, when I went to vote in the special governor recall election, I was told I wasn’t on the voter registration list.  Funny, when it came to sending out jury duty notices, they had me on the list.  Then, I just sort of “fell off the list.”  At the time, I didn’t think much about the “clerical error.”  Now, however, I am wondering just how wide spread this coincidence is. 


One drop of rain doesn’t constitute a hurricane.  Neither does two.  It could be a sign that one should, at least, listen to a weather report.


Bloggers who want to prove that they have gained clout, might take a look at this topic and see if they have found the one subject that they can use to become a force to be reckoned with or if they want to let it ride and risk, perhaps, watching Jay Leno do four more years of jokes about a president who wasn’t “really” elected.


Am I outraged?  Am I galvanized into action?  Years ago, I worked with a supervisor who wryly advised that if Los Angeles were target for an atomic attack, everyone in our department should:  “Run towards the flash!”  With that in mind, the world’s laziest journalist will suggest the story to a few major league journalists I know (some at the New York Times, even) and see if they pick up on the idea.  Meanwhile, I’ll just continue to prepare some prototype T-shirts that advocate a new Constitutional Amendment that will permit George W. Bush to run for a third term in 2008, and will commence my marketing efforts on November 3, 2004, which will, apparently, be the day after he wins (or some other word that Jay Leno would substitute) his second term.


So, like kids who, after hearing some extremely unsettling ghost stories, tuck themselves into a sleeping bag miles out in the dark woods, we’ll leave you with one question that may haunt you until election day:  Are you registered to vote?

Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....