Part 3—The Boston Globe swallows the con: Because of the way our brains evolved, assailing The Others will often feel righteous.
At highly partisan tribal tines, the saints may overdo the process. TV stars may overstate too, pleasing their viewers, bumping their ratings and justifying their salaries.
It can even happen here, over here in our own flawless liberal tribe! Consider Rachel Maddow’s recent visits to Alabama.
Last night, Rachel visited the state once again, discussing the recent decision to close driver’s license offices in 30 of 67 counties. As a result of the decision, 28 counties lost their only such office.
(The only affects the acquisition of a new driver’s license. It doesn’t affect renewals.)
Once again, Rachel suggested that this was done in an attempt to reduce voting by black Alabamians. Because Alabama now requires voter ID, shutting those offices will make it harder for black Alabamians to acquire such photo IDs—or so the theory goes.
Rachel has the soul of the saint—or perhaps of the TV star. Last night, she focused her fury on Governor Robert Bentley, concerning whom she gave us some facts while failing to give us quite a few others.
What did we learn, and fail to learn, about this particular target? We learned that “Governor Bentley’s wife filed for divorce this year after fifty years of marriage, and the rumors about that sensitive matter have only recently left the headlines in that state.”
We also learned that Governor Bentley has “tried to defend” the office closures—that he “told reporters that closing all of those offices in mostly black counties had nothing to do with voting rights whatsoever.”
Once again, we didn’t learn what Bentley actually said in support of that claim. More specifically, we didn’t learn that an Alabamian can still get a free photo voter ID in all 67 counties.
In two full segments on this topic, Rachel has failed to mention that fact. When revolutions of the saints occur, such information tends to get withheld.
Let’s be fair! Rachel’s reporting of this topic hasn’t necessarily been worst-in-show. To cite an example which may be worse, consider Michael Cohen’s October 6 piece in the Boston Globe.
What follows is utterly bogus. But dear lord, it feels so good!
COHEN (10/6/15): [L]et’s for a second pretend that Alabama’s GOP-led state legislature had its heart in the right place and was truly committed to the free and legal right of all its citizens to vote—and that it in no way was trying to limit voting rights. How then does one explain the fact that Alabama is now closing 31 driver’s license offices that are predominately located in African-American communities?Alabama is closing driver’s license offices that are almost exclusively located in African-American communities?
Wait, did I say predominately?
Sorry, I meant to say: almost exclusively. ...Alabama is closing offices where state residents can get a license with a photo ID and doing it almost exclusively in places where black people live.
We’re sorry, but that isn’t true—it doesn’t even come close. That said, Rachel has been trying to give her viewers that same mistaken but pleasing impression. Cohen simply made a rookie mistake. He ingested an utterly bogus impression and stated it as a fact.
Can we talk? As we noted yesterday, the 28 counties which lost their offices are not “almost exclusively” black. On the whole, the affected counties aren’t even “predominately” black, though that’s the impression the saints have been pimping in the past few weeks.
As we noted yesterday, the 28 counties which lost their offices seem to be roughly 28% black by population. In the 2010 census, the state of Alabama was 26.2% black.
That doesn’t mean the closings were a good idea. That doesn’t mean that people won’t be inconvenienced.
It doesn’t mean that someone, somewhere, might not end up failing to vote because of the office closings, which may or may not be rescinded. It does mean that people like Cohen have gotten a massively false impression from the various things they’ve been told.
Does Cohen watch Rachel? We have no idea. But just to see how such gong-shows proceed, let’s review her first report on this matter—the grossly misleading segment she aired on October 2.
In many ways, the segment was Classic Maddow. It ran just under seven minutes—but the first mention of driver’s licenses didn’t occur until almost four minutes were gone.
What happened during those first four minutes? Rachel burned the time with all sorts of extraneous information about Alabama’s “Black Belt.”
She took us back “one hundred million years,” telling us how the soil in the region became so rich and dark. She explained the way the dark, rich soil led to a disproportionately black population. She quoted Booker T. Washington discussing the region in 1902.
After almost four minutes of this, Maddow turned to her main point. When she did, she gave a grossly misleading account of the facts, suggesting that the office closings were aimed at black Alabamians.
That Rachel! When she finally got around to discussing the office closings, she presented a set of facts which were absurdly selective. In this passage, she offered her basic assessment.
It was grossly misleading:
MADDOW (10/2/15): Alabama is a state a where, as of last year, you now had to show ID you never had to show before in order to vote. A quarter million people who are registered voters in the state don’t have the kind of ID that the state now says you need if you want to cast your ballot.Every single one of those counties? There are only two, maybe three. And they're extremely small.
But here’s where it gets amazing. Here’s where the stories come together, because at the top of the short official state IDs Alabama will accept at the polls, at the top of the list is a driver’s license.
And of course, the state just made it harder to get a driver’s license. But they didn’t make it equally harder to get for everyone. Of the 28 counties losing the place in that county where you get a driver’s license, half of them are in the Alabama Black Belt. Half!
Look at this. Of the counties in that state where three-quarters of the registered voters are black, every single one of those counties—every single one of them—is losing the place where you can get a driver’s license that would let you vote in Alabama.
Every one of the counties which is more than 75 percent black!
From such impassioned cherry-picks, people like Cohen have received a grossly inaccurate impression about the counties where these offices were closed.
Tomorrow, we’ll run through a long list of facts about the counties where the offices were closed, including the “Black Belt” counties. For today, we’ll only mention this:
Depending on how you call the roll of the Black Belt, many or most of the “Black Belt” counties are not majority black. To justify her claim about half the affected counties being in the Black Belt, Rachel had to include some affected counties which are heavily white.
The “Black Belt” counties also tend to be rural, with very small populations. Some of these counties are heavily black, but they are home to a very small portion of Alabama’s black population.
Those counties are small and lightly populated. But alas! If we focus exclusively on those counties, we can create an enormously bogus impression—the bogus impression Cohen turned into a fact.
That said, Maddow also made a sweeping statement which was flatly false. This is what she said near the end of that October 2 segment:
MADDOW: Hope springs eternal that Alabama Republicans did not just deliberately zap the ability to get the most common voter ID in all of the blackest counties in that state, right? Hope springs eternal that it wasn’t specifically that racist.“Alabama Republicans picked this one spot, this center of African-American life in their state?” That statement was manifestly false, though Maddow may have believed it. At times like these, the saints quite frequently do.
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.
Did Rachel know her statement was false? We have no way of knowing.
Most likely, her staff had assembled her text. Manifestly, they had cut-and-pasted from a misleading column in the Alabama press.
We’ll assume they didn’t fact-check that work. At times like these, saints rarely do.
That said, let's review:
In the 2010 census, the state of Alabama was 26.2% black. By our calculations, the overall population of the 28 counties which lost their driver’s license offices is roughly 28% black.
Manifestly, Alabama Republicans didn’t “pick this one spot, this center of African-American life,” for these office closings. Wisely or otherwise, driver’s license offices were closed all over the state.
In our view, requiring photo ID to vote is almost surely a bad idea. That said, airing reports like the one Maddow pimped is plainly a bad idea.
Last night, the TV star was at it again. She continued cherry-picking her facts in grossly misleading ways in service to tribal perceptions.
Did you hear that Governor Bentley’s wife is divorcing him after fifty years? Goody Rachel, in Salem Village, seems to think you should know.
Tomorrow: How small are they? Also, other facts!
Each day, a few more facts: According to the leading authority, there are eighteen definite “Black Belt” counties. Some people throw in six more.
Eleven of the 18 counties are majority black. Eight of those counties lost their offices. The other three did not.
How big are those eighteen counties? We’ll offer information tomorrow, but most of those counties are rural—and their populations tend to be very small.
In the meantime, did you hear about Governor Bentley’s wife? After fifty years!