As I have mentioned before, 43 states are trying to quickly shove through over 250 bills that can only be labeled ‘voter suppression’ before the next election in hopes of reducing the number of people who are able to vote. It is unconscionable and clearly against the best interests of this country, but what’s new? The media, however, is refusing to call it what it is: voter suppression, the attempt to rob us of our voice, our choice. Eric Boehlert writes a daily newsletter, Press Run, calling the press to account when they let us down, and his piece this morning deals with how the press is letting us down … again. I fully support a free press, but frankly they need to be held accountable.
No more word games — it’s GOP “voter suppression,” period.
Tell it like it is
Eric Boehlert March 17, 2021
Scrambling in the wake of Joe Biden’s seven-million vote victory in November, Republicans continue to mount a powerful and unapologetic campaign to suppress voting. With so many state legislatures under GOP control, Republicans are sponsoring more than 250 bills aimed at drastically reducing ballot access in coming years. It’s being done under the phony banner of “election security.” After 2020, Republicans don’t want lots of people voting, especially lots of Black people. So far, the media’s failing to accurately label the crisis that’s unfolding.
The avalanche of bills aim to shorten the early voting period, reduce the number of hours that people can vote on Election Day, eliminate drive-through voting centers, create stricter deadlines for returning absentee ballots, block early voting on Sunday, limit ballot drop boxes, restrict mail-in voting —basically any possible initiative Republicans can think of that would suppress the vote. The obvious implication is that Republicans understand their chances of winning elections decrease when voter turnout increases. And 2020 shattered American records for voter participation. It all represents a massive attempt to roll back democracy.
And it’s clearly voter suppression, which is defined as, “any legal or extralegal measure or strategy whose purpose or practical effect is to reduce voting.”
The good news is we’ve seen lots of in-depth, aggressive reporting from various news outlets on the GOP’s plan to rewrite election rules in this country. The bad news is that message is getting muted by refusing to call this strategy what it is — voter suppression. The press prefers to frame the GOP’s war on democracy as another Both Sides, partisan dust-up over “voting restrictions.” That plays right into the hands of Republicans.
“The fact that we are about to be hit with a tidal wave of voter suppression legislation by Republican legislatures throughout the country is the most under reported story right now,” Democratic election attorney Mark Elias recently tweeted. “The media is unequipped to cover this in clear moral terms and instead prefers to both sides it.”
There’s a deliberate media movement underway to not use the clear, accurate language to describe Republican efforts to suppress the vote, just like there was a deliberate media movement to not accurately describe Trump as a “liar” for four years. (Instead, he pushed “falsehoods” and “exaggerations.”) The media erected guardrails against calling Trump and his followers liars. Now we’re seeing the same word games employed to avoid “voter suppression.”
A recent CNN headline announced, “Arizona Republican Lawmakers Join GOP Efforts to Target Voting, With Nearly Two Dozen Restrictive Voting Measures.” Neither the headline nor the article used the phrase “voter suppression” used to describe the GOP’s obvious attempt at voter suppression. Yet the URL for the CNN report did make that reference: “politics/arizona-republicans-voter-suppression-bills/.” Meaning, inside the CNN newsroom, it’s common knowledge Republicans are passing “voter suppression bills.” But CNN reporters aren’t using that language in their accounts.
Virtually every major news organization is guilty of the same misstep:
• “Republicans Advance More Than 100 Bills That Would Restrict Voting in Wake of Trump’s Defeat” (NBC News)
• “State GOP Lawmakers Propose Flurry of Voting Restrictions to Placate Trump Supporters, Spurring Fears of a Backlash” (Washington Post)
• “Republican-Led Legislatures in Dozens of States Are Moving to Change Election Laws in Ways That Could Make it Harder to Vote” (NPR)
An Associated Press headline recently announced, “Critics: GOP Measures Target Black Voter Turnout in Georgia.” But why use the “critics” framing? Why can’t the AP simply treat as fact what is obviously factual — Republicans are pushing voter laws in Georgia specifically designed to suppress the Black vote.
The Washington Post failed in the same way recently: “A GOP Lawmaker Says The ‘Quality’ of a Vote Matters. Critics Say that’s ‘Straight out of Jim Crow.’” That is straight out of Jim Crow. The Post doesn’t need to hide behind “critics” to make that point.
What’s driving the media hesitation? Maybe it’s because “voter suppression” sounds un-American. It sounds undemocratic, and it sounds like advocates don’t support free and fair elections in this country. It’s much easier, and more polite, to use the watered down “voter restriction” description. Voter “restrictions” sound somewhat plausible or defensible. “Suppression” sounds illegal.
Voter suppression has a dark history in this country as a tool used to deter Black Americans and other minorities from voting, and from the media’s perspective it’s not something mainstream politicians endorse. The press very much wants to portray the GOP simply as a center-right party.
But words matter, especially when dealing with today’s radical and dangerous Republican Party. America learned that painful lesson during the Trump years when the Beltway media played senseless semantics games in order to obscure the truth about the GOP.
That truth was confirmed last winter when nearly 150 Republican members of Congress signed an amicus brief supporting a extreme lawsuit that urged the Supreme Court to throw out tens of millions of legitimate, legally cast votes, in order to clear a path for a bogus Trump victory. Lying about presidential election results is now, without question, a mainstream Republican talking point. As is the Big Lie about how the U.S. election system today is fraught with fraud, which requires legislative fixes in the form of voter suppression initiatives.
The media fell down covering the Big Lie last winter. And now it’s falling down with the voter suppression challenge.