Americans love fairness and opportunity. It’s why we find sports so compelling – we relish competition conducted under fair rules where players’ work and talent determine the outcomes.
Sports fans become enraged when the arbiters of fairness – the rules officials – miss obvious calls or appear to put their thumb on the scale. It’s hard enough to pitch or hit a baseball without an umpire missing nearly 20% of balls and strikes, as happened in a recent major league game.
The legitimacy of sports depends on fair treatment for both sides. We howl when fair play is perverted; sports industries would be doomed if fans believed the umpires were tilting outcomes through bias or incompetence. Heck, baseball is already testing “robo umps” to increase fairness by eliminating human error behind the plate.
Which brings me to voting rights, the media and Republicans.
Two states recently passed voting rights laws.
Let me describe each law:
State A limited early voting to three days, a sharp reduction from the 17 days of early voting in the 2020 election. Voters were already required to show a photo ID.
State B mandated at least 17 days of early voting, including two Saturdays. Counties can even open on two Sundays and extend early voting beyond standard business hours. Voters need a photo ID, and the state gives free ID cards to any voter who needs one.
The New York Times has covered both laws. Of one it said, “GOP passes major law to limit voting.” It called the other an “exception to the trend of GOP-led legislatures moving to restrict ballot access.”
Can you guess which is which?
President Joe Biden called the new Peach State law “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” a tremendous insult to any African American who lived under Jim Crow. Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game from Atlanta, sending it to a state (Colorado) where the African American population is about 5%, versus Georgia’s 33%. Reporters and pundits labeled Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp a racist.
Media outlets have fawned over the new Bluegrass State law, holding it up as an example of bold leadership during a time of corrosive polarization. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has enjoyed several days in the sun since signing the bill.
But why the difference in coverage? For the average conservative, the answer is clear: Georgia is led by a Republican governor, and Kentucky a Democrat. Both states have Republican legislatures and secretaries of state. The variable isn’t hard to spot.
CBS News published a story advising companies on “three ways (they) can help fight (the) … restrictive new voting law” in Georgia. CBS then called Kentucky’s law “a sweeping bipartisan bill expanding voting access.”
Despite Georgia’s expansion of voting hours, a major national “news” outlet engaged in advocacy on how to stop it! CBS was forced to delete its tweet, obviously written by a woke staffer who exemplifies the new journalism – advocacy first, facts … eh.
The paper of record in Georgia – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – was forced to print a lengthy correction to its initial coverage: “A previous version of this story said the new law would limit voting hours. On Election Day in Georgia, polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and if you are in line by 7 p.m., you are allowed to cast your ballot. Nothing in the new law changes those rules. However, the law made some changes to early voting. But experts say the net effect was to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them.”
Did any media outlet (or Democratic politician, including Biden) even try to get this right?
The issue isn’t the substance of either law – both are perfectly fine and will work well. It is the coverage. Politicians in both states threw pitches over the plate, yet only one was called a strike by our political umpires. Georgia’s new law offers far more liberal voter access than Kentucky’s, but you’d never know it.
Combine the Georgia misinformation campaign with last week’s “60 Minutes” debacle. The news program selectively edited video clips of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (surprise, another Republican) to fabricate a vaccination distribution scandal (stop the presses! The Florida governor used the most popular grocery chain in his state to distribute vaccines!), and the situation, regrettably, isn’t getting better anytime soon.
Last fall, a Gallup poll found just 10% of Republicans had “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the media. The Democratic tally was 73%. That is why DeSantis has rocketed to the top of the GOP’s 2024 list – for Republicans, the media has replaced Democrats as the opposition party, and the media’s targeting of DeSantis calibrates the average Republican’s thinking on the matter.
Just like in baseball, our national politics depends on a fair assessment of the players by those calling balls and strikes. If an umpire consistently missed calls to hurt a team, you’d be well-justified in wondering if that person was an agent of the other side.
Gallup says just 40% of Americans overall trust the mass media today vs. roughly 70% in the 1970s. Baseball has noticed its balls-and-strikes problem and is working to fix it. Can the same be said of our media industry? There’s more room for error in baseball – it is just a game, after all – than there is in our national public affairs.
– Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN commentator and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at Scott@RunSwitchPR.com or on Twitter at @ScottJenningsKY.
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