Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University. He's also a man on a mission: to make the case for electoral reform. Miller climbs into the minutiae of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections-voter caging in Florida, ballot stickers in Ohio, and lots of unseemly details in between. The core of his argument unfolded in "None Dare Call It Stolen: Ohio, the Election, and America's Servile Press" which appeared in the August 2005 issue of Harper's. It evolved into Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform in 2005. And in the end, he tells us that notwithstanding the reassurances of the mainstream media, we have no reason to be confident in the formally reported results of those two elections. The paperback edition came out earlier this year, with an extensive afterward and much updated material. No Comment puts six questions to _Harper's contributor, author and media critic, Mark Crispin Miller, about his book, the mainstream media, and the art of political persecution in America today.
1. One of the most striking things I saw in your book was on the fly page, where you very cleverly juxtapose quotations from Tom Paine, T.W. Adorno and Tom DeLay-all of them are on the topic of truth and power, it seems to me. But the Adorno quote is particularly fascinating, it's taken from an essay he wrote at the end of World War II, in which he's drawing a very important lesson: that the totalitarian states the Allies were battling had mastered the technique of using power to generate their own truth, and to make anything inconsistent with it seem a lie. And this is precisely the same point that George Orwell and Victor Klemperer made, both writing the same year. Of course, as I read your book, your point is not that America has become a totalitarian state, but rather that political forces within the country are making rather more subtle use of the same techniques. Am I reading this correctly?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, Bush & Co.'s vast inversions of the truth-distortions infinitely larger than mere lying-are the product of a conscious and deliberate "technique," as you put it. And yet, they're also, at the same time, a ferociously sincere expression of the way these mad authoritarians perceive reality. In other words, when Bush and Cheney and their cohorts say that up is down and black is white, they are not just dispassionately following a certain set of rules for doing propaganda. Such fierce untruthfulness comes to them naturally, because their world-view is completely paranoid.
I think Adorno understood this; and so did both Orwell and Klemperer. "Doublethink" is Orwell's deft conception of this sort of simultaneous dissimulation and fanatical conviction: deliberate deception based on (partial) self-deception. And Klemperer was acutely conscious of the Nazis' quasi-religious zealotry. In his diary he repeatedly makes note of Hitler's wild medieval frame of mind (at one point he refers to Hitler's oratory as "the mad bawling of a priest"), yet also notes the element of mammoth orchestration in the Nazi propaganda-a genius for spectacular manipulation that reminds him of the works of Hollywood. Klemperer understood, in short, that what made Hitler and the Nazi movement so profoundly and unusually dangerous was this combination of crusading zest and up-to-date technique.
As I point out in Fooled Again, that sort of ferocious cunning has, throughout the centuries, marked paranoid crusades of every kind. Certainly we see it in Bush/Cheney's movement, which includes radical theocrats, neocon extremists, dedicated neo-Confederates, and other types who tend to see themselves as victims and their struggle, therefore, as defensive. In their eyes, the very people whom they're trying to destroy are ruthless and relentless, full of hate and fury, while they themselves are innocent, outnumbered, "fighting back." In short, Bush/Cheney's movement is projective, lividly imputing their own darkest impulses to everybody else.
Such projectivity, I argue, drove the Crusaders of the Middle Ages, and the Western efforts to annihilate the "savages" on the American frontiers. Nazism also was essentially projective, as Hitler and his men consistently imputed their own wrath and vengefulness and lust for power to "world Jewry"-against which they were fighting, they believed, in self-defense. We see the same mentality in the Islamist, Christianist and ultra-Zionist movements; and, overwhelmingly, among the Bush Republicans, whose program, I believe, is ultimately pathological. The Bushevik is fatally obsessed with wiping out the "terrorist" within himself-and, no less, the homosexual within. How many of those ranting homophobes have turned out to be cruisers in the dark? Bush/Cheney's G.O.P. is, above all, the Party of the Closet; and therefore suicidally engaged in trying to straighten out, or murder, all those other "perverts" the world over.
Such is the animus that motivates the Busheviks' "techniques" of lying and manipulation.
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2. The center stage for the 2004 election was in Ohio, and the major foci of the extensive afterword to your book are the U.S. press's treatment of the issue of election fraud, and the evidence of further fraud in the '06 election. Even now, three years after the election, the Ohio story seems still to be unfolding. Earlier this month, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner acknowledged that the 2004 presidential election in Ohio-which put Bush over the top, delivering the state to him in the face of exit polls that gave the nod to Kerry-may well have been stolen. In fact there were a series of prosecutions of voting officials in connection with fraud, a report led by House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers pointed to a slew of gross irregularities. Yet Brunner's remarks still provoked a storm of ridicule from Ohio Republicans and drew little attention in the mainstream media. This shows that even when concerns are raised by the state's senior elections officer, they aren't taken seriously. How do those concerned about fair elections overcome the "tin-hat-wearing loon" tactics used by the Republicans to dismiss the issue?
This sort of resistance is, at long last, just now starting to break down, because there's finally so much evidence of fraud, or of the likelihood of fraud, that anyone who keeps on trying to laugh it off now looks suspicious. Not that the Bush Republicans will stop deriding all discussion of that evidence. They must resort to ridicule because their only hope lies in preventing others from examining that evidence, which is in fact conclusive. Better, then, that all the evidence be cast as lunacy; and, as you note, the press has so far bought that view, and thereby helped the GOP to bury the explosive facts. (The Democrats have mostly done the same.)
But now the press is starting to recover from such blindness. Certainly the risks of electronic voting are widely recognized today, with organs like The New York Times Magazine, and several Secretaries of State throughout the nation, speaking out against the use of paperless e-voting machinery. This is a promising first step, although we have a long way yet to go, as such critics still refuse to use the f-word- fraud-preferring to insist, or to pretend, that the machines are merely insecure and prone to breakdown. Until we face the fact that Bush & Co. is bent on the subversion of U.S. democracy, and that they'll always find a way to block the vote, we will continue to consider weak "reforms" that won't deter or hinder them. Blind to the regime's subversive program, the Times and those well-meaning civil servants, among others, now propose replacing all the paperless machines with optical scanners. While that's a good idea, it isn't good enough, as op-scans too can be, and have been, manipulated-and, more important, op-scans too make it impossible to count the vote in public. Secret vote counts have no place in any real democracy, and it is therefore staggering that any good American would call for them.
There is no doubt that the op-scans were manipulated in the New Hampshire primary, as Hillary won by six points where the votes were counted by those gadgets, while Obama won by six points where the ballots were hand-counted-and, contrary to a lot of comfy punditry, there was actually no demographic factor that explains the difference. (I suspect that Republicans manipulated the machines, to ensure that Hillary will be the candidate they run against.) The startling outcome in New Hampshire also helped to wake some people up: Bill Maher spoke very powerfully about it on his show, along with Catherine Crier and Mark Cuban; and when Tony Snow, predictably, attempted to make all of them sound crazy, he only made himself look ludicrous. The audience was clearly on the other side. It marked a real breakthrough, as Maher had never yet dared to touch the subject of election fraud.
3. Another festering concern out of Ohio was the Warren County "lockdown" in which a series of bizarre "homeland security measures" were taken in connection with voting and voting tabulation in a county which produced a suspiciously large margin for Bush in 2004. Brunner is pressing questions about the Warren County machinations today. Do you consider the Warren County incident significant? Do you see any other cases in which "homeland security" has been linked to electoral shenanigans?
The Warren County lockdown was a flagrant case of fraud, and so it's good news that Jean Brunner, Ohio's Secretary of State, has promised to revisit it. (Here's hoping that she does.) It was indeed significant, as Warren County was among the last to report its final numbers on Election Night, 2004. The ploy's outlandishness and timing make quite clear that Bush's team was waiting to see how the numbers looked throughout Ohio, so that they'd know how many "votes" were yet required to call their "victory" in that state. It was quite an episode. First of all, the men in charge asserted, falsely, that there might be a terrorist attack on that small semi-rural county (whose entire population is half the size of Akron's), and therefore told the press to leave the premises. According to two witnesses, moreover, the party animals in charge then had some ballot boxes stealthily transferred to an unauthorized location under the control of party hacks. (Right after the election, the FBI denied outright that that there had been a terrorist alert.)
I don't know of any other case in which "homeland security" was used to perpetrate election fraud per se (although nothing would surprise me). In a related episode, however, Tom DeLay contacted DHS to get them to round up those Texas Democrats who had left the state in protest over his (successful) effort at redistricting the state to the Republicans' advantage. [Editor's note: I believe the Democratic legislators were leaving the state to deny the Republicans a quorum so that they could not effectuate the redistricting. Until DeLay's campaign, district lines had been drawn every 10 years after the Federal Census, but DeLay pressued Republican state legislatures to apply new computer technology for ultra-gerrymandered districts between censuses, when no redistricting should have been warranted. -JJM] Although not an instance of election fraud, that bald stroke of partisan gerrymandering-upheld later by Bush/Cheney's Supreme Court-was surely part of Bush & Co.'s crusade to thwart the will of the electorate.
4. You say that the Republican Party's plan to manipulate the elections doesn't focus on a single massive fraud, but rather on thousands of small ones. That makes sense in light of the fact that the presidential election is effectively a series of mini-elections conducted in counties and precincts around the country, with different voting, monitoring and tallying procedures. But if you had to pick three points where the voting process is vulnerable, what would they be?
(1) Computerized equipment- not just the e-voting machinery of both kinds (DRE machines, which use no paper, and optical scanners, which do), but also the electronic databases that have now replaced traditional voter rolls. Richard Wolf of USA Today reported recently that thousands of Americans - mostly Democrats - have been disenfranchised nationwide, their names having simply vanished from those databases.
(2) Jim Crow legislation-such as Indiana's voter ID bill-and a Supreme Court intent on nullifying the legacy of the Warren Court vis-a-vis voting rights. (To this I would add Bush v. Gore, whereby the Court simply asserted its prerogative to override the voters' will.) The Indiana law, and similar laws in several other states, suggest that the Bush Republicans are moving toward the mass pre-emption of our votes, which is a tidier way to disenfranchise the electorate than using those increasingly notorious machines.
(3) A politicized Department of Justice, which, like the Court, is now keen to reverse the activist pro-democratic legacy of its Voting Rights Division since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the sixties. Not only has the Justice Department stopped prosecuting violations of our voting rights (focusing instead on violations of so-called "religious freedom"), but they are now busily conducting voter purges nationwide-taking aim, of course, at Democratic constituencies.
(4) If I may add a fourth concern, it is the media's pernicious influence on our electoral process. Not only do the networks, and the major papers, tune out nearly all important news about our voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Even more destructive is the TV networks' practive of calling "victories" on Election Night-long before the votes have even been accounted for, much less counted. By doing so, they close the door on all post-election efforts to make sure that there has been a righteous count: audits, recounts, and even first counts, since they occur belatedly, all seem like the mere desperate measures of "sore losers."
5. What's the fix for the nation's broken elections system? Give me the first steps you'd take.
(1) Repeal the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
(2) Replace all electronic voting with hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB).
(3) Get rid of computerized voter rolls.
(4) Keep all private vendors out of the election process.
(5) Make it illegal for the TV networks to declare who won before the vote-count is complete.
(6) Set up an exit polling system, publicly supported, to keep the vote-counts honest.
(7) Get rid of voter registration rules, by having every citizen be duly registered on his/her 18th birthday.
(8) Ban all state requirements for state-issued ID's at the polls.
(9) Put all polling places under video surveillance, to spot voter fraud, monitor election personnel, and track the turnout.
(10) Have Election Day declared a federal holiday, requiring all employers to allow their workers time to vote.
(11) Make it illegal for Secretaries of State to co-chair political campaigns (or otherwise assist or favor them).
(12) Make election fraud a major felony, with life imprisonment-and disenfranchisement-for all repeat offenders.
6. America's elections have also been influenced by factors outside of the election process proper. For instance, by the use of criminal prosecutions in order to influence elections. On December 7, 2006, the Bush Administration dismissed seven U.S. attorneys. While the Justice Department has obstructed a thorough investigation of these cases by Congress, it nevertheless appears that each of these dismissals had to do with elections. Either the U.S. Attorney was not playing the Republican "voter fraud" game by bringing prosecutions against those involved in voter registration drives, was prosecuting a Republican, or had refused to bring timely charges against a Democrat-all steps calculated to skewer the election results. But the most astonishing case is certainly the prosecution of Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. He claimed as the prosecution proceeded against him that he was a political target, and he was ridiculed in the Alabama media for making that claim-essentially no one believed him. But now thanks to some Republican whistleblowers we know that Siegelman was in fact targeted for political purposes-as part of an effort to manipulate the elections. Why did it take so long to get to the bottom of the Siegelman case, and why did the media-especially the local media in Alabama-perform so miserably throughout this process?
Don Siegelman's ordeal is certainly a major shocker (as you have poignantly implied by dubbing him "the Man in the Iron Mask"). The press's burial of the story tells us much about the dismal state of U.S. journalism, national and local-and also on the left, which hasn't really told this story, either. So far, MSNBC's Dan Abrams dealt with it in a single episode of his series of exposés, "Bush Justice," and there was a passing reference to it in one editorial in The New York Times. Both bits came out some six months after Siegelman began to serve his sentence; and since then there's been nothing.
A friend of mine at ABC has told me that the newsfolk there are strongly disinclined to look into the case of any politician who has been convicted of a crime, as doing so, they fear, would open them to charges of a party bias (which no doubt means "liberal bias"). If that's the case, it means that our Free Press has failed disastrously to do its constutional duty as a watchdog on the actions of the government, which evidently can jail anyone it wants, and as improperly or groundlessly as it sees fit, and the reporters will just sit there.
Whatever they may tell themselves at ABC or any other network, what we have here is a corporate press that kowtows to the right, and does it mainly by adhering to the noxious paradigm of "balance," which requires going blind to any crime or wrong that can't be said to have been perpetrated "on both sides." The fact that Siegelman has clearly been the victim of a punitive Republican cabal is not a fact that our reporters will report, as there is nothing on the Democratic side remotely comparable to the machine that has been persecuting him (and several other Democrats); nor is there any case of a Republican being treated by the opposition in that way. Thus unable to deplore bipartisan malfeasance, the journalists simply look the other way.
Election fraud is a huge part of this whole story, or non-story. Since it's the Bush Republicans alone who have been massively defrauding the electorate, the press has stayed away from it, although it's easily the biggest story of them all. Although the U.S. Attorney scandal got a ton of coverage, few journalists dared to point out that the whole huge stinking mess had everything to do with rigging our elections. (Adam Cohen did make this seminal point in an important New York Times editorial, but no-one else would dare connect those dots.) That aspect of Siegelman's ordeal-an aspect crucial to to his case, as he himself has said-has been suppressed even in what little coverage there has been, as neither Dan Abrams nor that lone Times editorial mentioned what went down in Alabama in the 2002 election.
The silence of the lambs in Alabama's press is, unfortunately, not unusual. Throughout the sordid history of Ohio's vast electoral meltdown, most of that state's newspapers have been AWOL, or have even ridiculed the very notion of election fraud. In Alabama, the problem is compounded by the role of Newhouse Newspapers, which is among the worst chains in the country, and which owns Alabama's largest dailies. Newhouse is fixated on the bottom line, and therefore devoid of civic conscience, nor interested at all in real investigative journalism. As Alabama is corrupt from top to bottom, those newspapers are not only disinclined to blow the whistle, but probably complicit in the wrongs.
The paperback edition of Fooled Again is out now, updating the hardcover with a lengthy discussion of voting fraud questions that appeared in the 2006 elections. Buy your copy of the book at your local bookstore or order it on line here.
Also, MCM has edited Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008, which IG Publishing will be publishing in early April. This volume includes seminal essays by many of the heavy hitters in the election reform movement, as well as MCM's strong introduction--a clarion call for a renewal of our founding revolution.