Editor and Publisher just published a 5,400-word investigation into whether the media “framed” ACORN, the community organizing group Republicans lambaste for voting-related fraud.
The piece, authored by professors from California’s Occidental College and the University of Northern Iowa, found 15 mostly mainstream sites frequently omitted crucial context, buying the framing of GOP-organized “opinion entrepreneurs.”
Among the few organizations earning praise: the Star Tribune. According to the authors:
When the local newspapers did cover the voter fraud controversy, they had a different tone and approach to the story than the national news media. In fact, front-page stories at newspapers in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Cleveland all suggest that the voter fraud fears being stirred at the national level didn’t connect with local experiences.
Kevin Diaz is the Washington correspondent for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He started as a metro reporter at the newspaper in 1984, and has been based in D.C. since 1999. Diaz is familiar with what ACORN does, and said their operations are “pretty robust in the Twin Cities.” The allegations of voter fraud came to his attention as he was covering the presidential election. Although most of the attacks were national, Diaz said that some Minnesota Republicans were on the offensive against ACORN, particularly Mary Kiffmeyer, a former Minnesota Secretary of State, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Because there had been some irregularities in Minneapolis-St. Paul in past elections, and because he “thought this would be a tight race,” Diaz decided to look into the allegations. After his investigation, Diaz reported on his findings published in a front-page Oct. 24, 2008 story.
“Yes, there had been a track record of voter registration fraud, but that’s different from voter fraud,” Diaz said. Diaz also had a different explanation for the source of the voter registration fraud. “The irregularities were perpetrated against ACORN, not by ACORN,” Diaz said, noting that ACORN employees at the street level tried to scam ACORN by not doing the work and turning in phony registrations. When their supervisors discovered the scam, the employees were fired and their phony forms reported to local officials. As Diaz wrote in his 2008 story, “Of 43,162 voter registrations, ACORN has flagged 135 potentially ‘fake cards’ and fired 20 people who were involved in turning them in.”
After reporting his investigation, Diaz said the furor about ACORN in Minnesota had cooled. “I found that people were generally backing off [the ACORN voter registration fraud allegations],” he said. Still, there were doubters who continued to call Diaz. Diaz said they told him “he had wool pulled over his eyes.”
No doubt, conservatives will take this as just another example of the Strib as “Red Star,” and I suspect the authors’ politics will come in for grilling as well. (Their full report is here.) I can’t vet their numbers, so I can’t speak to the ultimate accuracy of their claims. Not every story can mention every detail.
However, when you read things like “80.3 percent of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required by law,” this does seem to be a case of the “drive-by media,” though not exactly in the way the term’s originator, Rush Limbaugh, intended.