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Alastair's Take on American Media

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Interview with Scoop's Alastair Thompson, part five

My colleague, Nancy Tobi read this interview - all four installments - and commented: "I wanted to hear more about the mystery of the American media ignoring this huge issue, more about the role of the alternative media. Does Thompson consider himself a 'citizen journalist' or a professional journalist? While his thoughts on how to repair our elections are interesting, I'd like to hear his thoughts on the fourth estate and the role they are no longer playing as check and balance, etc." I went back to Alastair, who graciously agreed to take a whack at answering Nancy's questions in the final portion of our wide-ranging interview.

That's a curly one.

Firstly I am a professional journalist in NZ - I started out in newspapers in 1989 and set up my first online news outlet in 1997. The freedom of online journalism is wonderful.

As for reporting on a wider level, we are a fast dying profession both here in NZ and, I hear, in the US. As a result, frustration with the media inattention is very understandable and commonplace both here and in the US, albeit for different reasons.

Our media is different than the US - it is for starters far less resourced - here, investigative journalism has almost disappeared and the same excuse cannot be made in the US. The failure to investigate this story in particular is very sad and peculiar.

As I was looking back through the record as I was answering Joan's questions, I noticed that Farhad Manjoo from Salon started writing about this subject fairly early on in 2003. Kim Zetter from Wired also did a good job from the get go. However, there were issues with the style of both of their reporting which I think point to the problem that the election reform movement has with the media.

There is a disconnect.

We (and I put myself inside the movement now) expect the media to be interested in this story simply because it's a good story. What better story can their be than wholesale election fraud? It's the scoop of the new century, surely! Why not put a team of crack reporters on the trail, pump the numbers, pull in some scientists and get this story fixed? It is the sort of story that could make dozens of careers. That's why I called the original pieces I wrote on the subject "Bigger than Watergate".

Meanwhile, that's not the way the media see things. Not at all.

There are exceptions - Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy in particular, and Dan Rather - but even they have been wary about the electronic (hacking) vote fraud theory. It's a hard one to prove.

But leaving aside the aforementioned - who have tried hard - most MSM reporters approach the story on the basis that they need to first convince their editors that the story is not the paranoid ravings of a bunch of crazy nutjobs. And in doing so they have to come across very skeptical and distanced from the subject matter, be the devil's advocate.

And so from this perspective - and I count Zetter and Manjoo in this group - they essentially wait for the movement to prove to them that election fraud really is happening.

Problem is even if the smoking gun is exposed and plain to see - as it is in the Volusia County incident and in the Ohio recount conspiracy (and in terms of vulnerability of opti-scans, the Hursti hack) - they can't tell the story how it is.

Why do you think this is?

There are a bunch of reasons.

Firstly, because they have no air cover from the higher ups, their editors, etc. And they have no air cover because the real elites do not want this story reported. We could speculate as to why that is the case. Bottom line is - the lack of real democracy in the USA [is] apparent to everybody - in terms of low voter participation, terrible voting conditions (weekday voting, queues) and organized disenfranchisement and intimidation. This is something which the power elites in both parties could have tried to fix over the past 100 years or so, but have chosen not to address.

These same people are the masters of the editors, they own the papers. It's not direct, but it is implicitly understood by editors that if they want to rock the boat they have to have a water tight case.

Add in the fact that many in the media establishment hate the blogosphere because it is destroying their industry and you have a recipe for the front page coverage in the NYT which followed the 2004 election where they effectively mocked blog theories about crooked elections without bothering to do any inquiry at all. Notwithstanding the fact that they had been running an election machinery campaign for months leading up to the election.

Which brings us to the role of the independent online media.

The fact that this issue has become part of the background to all elections in the US is down solely to the efforts of the online army involved with investigating, reporting and pushing this issue into public consciousness.

The fact that thousands of people are now mobilized and working hard to fix the election system is great.

And the fact that fantastic reporters like Brad Friedman have taken up the baton is extremely encouraging. But there are far too many stories and far too few people chasing them. And those that are chasing them are far too poorly resourced.

So, where does that leave us?

On the one hand, I suspect that for real substantive change to come it will take a very courageous MSM news organization to do their job properly. To investigate this story - scoop the opposition - and shame them into getting on the case. With a wave of media coverage calling for the fixing of democracy, then maybe real change might come.

However, I am not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. Though I would love to see (or even better, be involved with) a genuine effort to investigate past elections including election officials, voting machine manufacturers and contractors.

If anything, the media landscape is even less conducive to courageous behavior now than ever before - investigative budgets in newspapers are being annihilated - and in economic crises we have a target rich environment for investigative teams to pursue.

And so we are left doing it for ourselves - just as we have done from the beginning of this journey. And from an organizational point of view it most certainly makes no sense to count on the cavalry coming to save us.

Rather, if change is going to come, it is most likely to come through what has been building over the past seven years. A grassroots community democracy movement supported by independent online journalists and bloggers.

There has been a huge amount of progress made to date. And a long and difficult path ahead.

Well, that wraps it up. We've certainly covered a lot of ground in your analysis of both American elections and the state of journalism over here. Anything you'd like to add?

Nope...

Thanks for putting in a good word for us "online independents." It's been a true pleasure getting to know you better over this extended interview. Keep up the good work at Scoop, Alastair.

It's been fun for me, too. War stories and all that...

***

Correction to part one (later amended online), as pointed out by Bev Harris: "Each instance of Talion.com in part one should be replaced with Bev Harris - I owned Talion.com, but it was a publicity site that had nothing to do with the voting issue." Thank you, Bev.

***
Part One of my interview with Alastair

Part Two of my interview with Alastair

Part Three of my interview with Alastair

Part Four of my interview with Alastair

 

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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