Part 5—The seven percent selection: When Alabama closed 31 driver’s license locations, was it trying to reduce voting by black Alabamians?
We can’t answer that. For our money, the pleasing claim becomes much harder to sustain in the face of a full set of facts.
Perhaps for that reason, some of our greatest liberal stars have been a bit stingy with their facts when they’ve discussed this topic. One star even gave one state official a free ride to Chumpistan!
We can’t tell you why Alabama closed those 31 offices. Sometimes a set of budget cuts is just a set of budget cuts, as Sigmund Freud famously said.
We can tell you this—the journalism produced by our cable stars has been embarrassingly bad. We think this produces bad liberal politics, for reasons we’ll cite below.
Where did the flawed journalism start? Yesterday, we showed you part of a column by Kyle Whitmire of the Birmingham News.
Whitmire’s column appeared on-line on September 30. Twelve minutes later, a second column appeared on-line, extending his presentation.
This column was written by John Archibald. It went hard-copy in the Birmingham News on October 2, right on page 1A.
Archibald’s column has been widely cited by national liberal stars. For our money, the column presented a somewhat selective assortment of facts.
When our national stars cited the column, they tended to openly cherry-pick its statements, creating a genuine problem.
Let’s be fair! Archibald didn’t allege a nefarious purpose behind the office closings. He specifically said that the office closings may not have had a racial or political purpose.
He did say quite a few other things—and he left some things unsaid, perhaps assuming that Alabamians would know them. At any rate, his was the presentation which launched a national script.
As far as we know, everything said below is accurate, except perhaps for Archibald’s conclusions. At the same time, remember this—an incomplete set of accurate facts can produce a misleading impression:
ARCHIBALD (9/30/15): Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. That’s Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Alabama, thanks to its budgetary insanity and inanity, just opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them. All but Dallas and Montgomery will be closed.For starters, saying “closed” again and again doesn’t prove any point. In fairness, columnists seem to columnize this way all across the nation.
Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.
Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one.
But maybe it’s not racial at all, right? Maybe it’s just political. And let’s face it, it may not be either.
But no matter the intent, the consequence is the same.
Look at the 15 counties that voted for President Barack Obama in the last presidential election. The state just decided to close driver license offices in 53 percent of them.
Look at the five counties that voted most solidly Democratic. Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes and Bullock counties all had their driver license offices closed.
Look at the 10 that voted most solidly for Obama. Of those, eight—again, all but Dallas and the state capital of Montgomery—had their offices closed.
So Alabama closes 31 driver license offices. And while the cuts come across Alabama, they are deepest in the Black Belt. The harm is inflicted disproportionately on voters who happen to be black, and poor, in sparsely populated areas.
That said, are Archibald’s conclusions accurate? Are the cuts to this service “deepest in the Black Belt?” Is the harm “inflicted disproportionately on voters who happen to be black, and poor, in sparsely populated areas?”
Based on the evidence Archibald offers, we can’t necessarily tell you. And by the time his rather limited claims went national, his limited claims had been greatly expanded by our cable stars.
Below, you see one gruesome example. This isn’t what Archibald said:
“But out of all God’s great green evolving earth, Alabama Republicans really did manage to pick this one spot, this center of African-American life in their state, in the Black Belt, as the place where they could really save some money by cutting all those offices where you get what you need to vote.”
Can you see that this declaration, however stirring, goes beyond what Archibald said? That declaration is also flatly, baldly, dumbly false, as we’ve noted before.
This may be what happens when corporate cable stars seek to pleasure the base. Or this may happen when true believing pseudo-liberals start fashioning preconceived tales.
In either case, we think this sort of journalism produces bad progressive politics. For now, let’s return to Archibald’s piece, which carried a lot of feeling and a set of accurate statements.
Alas! Not all accurate statements are created equal! For starters, consider this accurate statement, which our national TV stars ditched:
“Look at the 15 counties that voted for President Barack Obama in the last presidential election. The state just decided to close driver license offices in 53 percent of them.”
That statement is perfectly accurate. It also suggests that Archibald, a good decent person, was perhaps overinvested in his feelings about the office closings.
Analysts, please! Across the state, Alabama closed offices in 30 of its 67 counties—that’s 45 percent. Absolutely nothing is proven by the fact that it closed offices in 53 percent of the counties which voted for Obama. (That’s eight counties out of fifteen.)
That accurate claim tells you nothing—and that’s especially true when you understand how small those eight counties are. Consider this accurate statement:
“Look at the five counties that voted most solidly Democratic. Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes and Bullock counties all had their driver license offices closed.”
That’s true, but those are very small counties. Their total population is roughly 67,000—in a state with a total population of 4.8 million!
The total black population of those counties is roughly 51,000. Across the state, there are 1.25 million black Alabamians!
In short, Archibald is making accurate statements. But he’s making these statements about a very small portion of Alabama’s population, whether white or black.
How small a chunk of Alabama’s population is Archibald discussing? Consider one more accurate statement:
“Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters...All but Dallas and Montgomery will be closed.”
That’s perfectly accurate. But this is also true—those eight shuttered counties contain less than seven (7) percent of the state’s black population! The vast majority of black Alabamians don’t live in these small counties.
In terms of population, Archibald is talking about a very small part of the state. As he does, he basically skips some basic facts which would complete a larger picture for a national audience.
“The cuts come across Alabama,” Archibald finally says at one point. But he only says this in a subordinate clause in his final paragraph.
He never specifically cites the larger, heavily white counties which also lost their driver’s license offices due to the budget cuts. Perhaps he assumed that Alabamians would be familiar with that context.
Cable stars pretty much weren’t, or perhaps they chose to pretend. At any rate, these are the eight largest counties which lost their only office. Archibald discussed a group of very small counties, but never mentioned these:
Largest of the 28 counties which lost their only officeAlabama was 67.0% white in the 2010 census. As you can see, offices were also closed in counties which are disproportionately white—including counties which are substantially larger than those which lost their offices in the Black Belt.
Lauderdale County: 92,709 (86.4% white)
Lawrence County: 34,339 (77.6% white)
Chambers County: 34,064 (58.8% white)
Franklin County: 31,704 (83.0% white)
Geneva County: 26,790 (86.3% white)
Cherokee County: 26,021 (92.7% white)
Winston County: 24,484 (97.3% white)
Bibb County: 22,597 (75.8% white)
This brings us back to a basic fact which really can’t be omitted. Overall, the black population of the 28 inconvenienced counties is about 28% black, as compared to a statewide figure of 26.2%.
Archibald didn’t present any such statewide figures. When this story is told to a national audience, the omission of such basic information can lead to mistaken impressions.
Archibald omitted one other basic fact. Consider this longer passage:
“Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters…All but Dallas and Montgomery will be closed.
“Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.”
It’s true! In Alabama, you now need a driver’s license to vote—or a “special photo ID.”
That statement about the “special photo ID” passed by rather quickly at the start of Archibald’s column. The special photo ID was never mentioned again.
Archibald may have felt that Alabamians understand how this works. National cable stars do not. Either that, or our national stars decided to play their viewers.
Actually, we’re thinking here of one cable star—our own Rachel Maddow. Maddow has now done two segments about this matter without mentioning the availability of free, state-issued photo IDs in all 67 counties.
We’re also thinking of the New York Times, which was almost as slippery with respect to this matter in its recent front-page report about the office closings.
Maddow has done two segments on this matter. By our lights, she has severely misled liberal viewers on both occasions. Then too, we were disappointed by Chris Hayes, who gave an Alabama official a free ride to Chumpistan in the one segment he did on this topic, back on October 6.
Those three segments were bad journalism. In our view, journalism of that lazy, lousy type tends to produce lousy progressive politics.
That said, we’ll have to postpone such ruminations till yet another day. In closing, we’ll say this:
Our stars know cherry-picking is wrong. But dear lord, those cherries taste good!
Still coming (gag): What bad politics looks like
For your viewing enjoyment: Maddow did her second segment on this topic this past Tuesday night. She told us about the governor’s divorce, once again forgot to mention those free voter IDs.
She didn't correct her gross misstatement from her first segment on this topic. This was strange, because she allegedly loves to correct her own mistakes.
To watch that second segment, click here. We’d say that segment was highly misleading and less than obsessively honest.
Cable news can be like a bowl of cherries! As noted, though, cherries taste good.