CNN Leads Media Failure on ACORN Story

October 14, 2008 6:26 p.m.

Another day, another effort by the McCain camp to seize the political advantage over the bogus issue of ACORN and voter fraud.

This morning, the campaign trotted out former Missouri Republican senator John Danforth — playing on his reputation for bipartisanship — to call on Barack Obama to “rein in ACORN.”

Said Danforth:

We think that this is really serious, and it goes beyond who ends up winning this election, it goes to the whole integrity of the election, and it goes to confidence in the election, and it goes to whether the American people will have sufficient confidence to be willing to put the election behind us and move forward as one country once the election is over. We are concerned about it.

(Here’s Obama’s response from later in the day.)

Of course, as TPM has been making clear, the allegations of vote fraud are essentially a crock.

That’s not because ACORN hasn’t submitted hundreds or even thousands of fraudulent registration forms in several crucial swing states. They have — though it’s worth noting again that in many states, they’re required by law to submit any forms their canvassers collect.

But to reiterate the main point: according to experts, fraudulent registration forms almost never lead to lead to fraudulent voting. If ACORN submits a form with the name Mickey Mouse, Mickey is unlikely to show up to vote on election day.

In other words, there’s a crucial distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud — and there’s essentially no evidence whatsoever of the latter.

But the Republican bamboozlement is crucially abetted by the fact that a lot of the reporting on this story — much of it prompted by the GOP’s strenuous effort to tout the issue — utterly fails to make this key distinction, and often implies the opposite. And (leaving Fox aside, of course) CNN has been the worst offender.

Consider this CNN report from yesterday, gleefully sent out by the RNC. After reporter Drew Griffin lays out the details on fraudulent forms submitted by ACORN in one (heavily minority) in Indiana county, anchor Kieran Chetry and Griffin have the following exchange:

CHETRY: You know what, not only is it not funny, but it’s such a waste of time. If you look at what we went through in previous elections, from hanging chads to voter irregularities, I mean we’re talking about our country right now, dealing with an economic crisis, a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan. You know, for people to do this, it’s just a shame. It just wastes more time and you wonder if the process, if your vote will count.

GRIFFIN: Certainly, the credibility has dropped in this system, no matter which way Lake County votes. Lake County, heavily Democratic by the way, which way it votes, either side, they’re going to have ammunition to say — oh there’s probably voter fraud.

Which is exactly why the GOP is pursuing this tactic. But it would have less “ammunition” to allege vote fraud in the event of a loss if the news media would report the story properly.

Lou Dobbs has also fastened onto the issue, breathlessly reporting Sunday night:

New evidence tonight that the so-called community left-wing activist group, ACORN, is involved in widespread voter registration fraud. And point of fact, ACORN is a left-wing special interest group that’s been under investigation for literally years in various parts of the country for voter fraud and embezzlement.

Later, Dobbs asked Griffin:

We’re seeing it from Vegas to Ohio, to Pennsylvania, and to Indiana, all over the country, and these investigations are opening up. How can there be any doubt about what’s at work here?

Never did Dobbs explain to viewers the crucial difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud.

The media’s failure to grasp this crucial distinction — exemplified by CNN — has encouraged the GOP and the McCain campaign to believe that they can gain a political advantage by continuing to hammer on this bogus story.

In one sense, it’s easy to understand the Republicans’ motivation, as sleazy as the tactic might be: they’re trying to win an election, or at least lay the groundwork to make a post-hoc argument that their loss was unfair.

But media outlets like CNN have no such excuse.

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