Just a short Sunday post here to make a few points about the current kerfuffle over a recent The New York Times' piece on voting rights and voter fraud. The piece was posted last Sunday, led the paper Monday morning, and immediately generated reader criticism because it seemed (and seemed to me as well) to offer a significant degree of "false equivalence" between the factual and legal positions taken by the folks who support restrictive new voting laws and the factual and legal positions taken by the folks who are challenging those laws.
Because of this reaction, the voting rights piece became a subject of the paper's "Public Editor" column which appears in today's paper. "It ought to go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway," wrote Margaret Sullivan, the paper's new ombudswoman. "Journalists need to make every effort to get beyond the spin and help readers know what to believe, to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects." Amen. But by that earnest standard the Times' piece on voting rights failed.
I agree with much of what Kevin Drum has written on the topic over at Mother Jones. He focused as much on the defensive reactions of the reporter and editor on the story as he did on the story itself. For example, Times' national editor Sam Sifton was quoted, in today's piece, as saying: "There's a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides... It's not our job to litigate it in the paper. We need to state what each side says." That's absolutely right as far as it goes. But like the original piece itself it's not nearly enough. Since Sifton used the word "litigate" I'll start there, with some of the recent litigation that has surrounded the new laws.