Posted at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2008
by Bob Collins
It doesn't take much to create fact from myth in today's media environment; just repeat an allegation often enough and hope nobody ever says "prove it." Chances are, nobody will. A glance at the letters to the editors in the past week shows that many people have already bought into the notion that Minnesota -- which 10 days ago was collectively patting itself on the back for having the most engaged voters in America -- is actually -- if you follow the narrative that's been designed -- a state inhabited by crooks, liars, and low-lifes, run by crooks, liars, and low-lifes, destined to be represented in Congress by crooks, liars, and low-lifes.
The phone rang the other night at the airport while I was picking up my in-laws for their annual visit. It was my sister in Vermont, wondering what the latest was on the Senate recount. She didn't actually laugh, but I could hear the tone. A few minutes later, after getting my in-laws' baggage and extending pleasantries, I got the question, "Is your election over yet?" followed by the usual disbelief that Minnesota had somehow screwed things up good.
How did our national esteem drop so far in 10 days? Here's an easy example:Yesterday, Al Franken's hired gun held a news conference to claim a woman -- and not just any woman, a woman who'd had a stroke -- had her absentee ballot disqualified.
"So despite her efforts to get a ballot on time, consider the candidates, submit that ballot on time, her ballot didn't count, because there was a mismatch in the signature that was on file with the county," Marc Elias continued. "There are stories like this throughout Minnesota."
Wrong. Because nobody put two important words together -- "prove it" -- the story raced around for hours before someone called the Beltrami County auditor and found out the story wasn't true.
A few days ago, the Coleman campaign whipped up a frenzy by noting that 32 absentee ballots were found in an election official's car. Later, an election official said the story wasn't true, but that didn't stop Gov. Tim Pawlenty from going on national TV -- twice -- to repeat it.
"We don't have any evidence of wrongdoing," Pawlenty noted, shortly before dropping enough innuendo to suggest he did.
Yesterday, Republican National Committee Chair Mike Duncan sent out a fundraising letter saying...
On CNN this morning, anchor John Roberts conducted a clinic for reporters covering the story when he invoked the two most needed words in this mess: "prove it."
"The Obama-Biden Democrats and their liberal special interest allies are trying to steal these election victories from Republicans."
"Well, we've got to make sure there's not a thumb on the scale, particularly in Minnesota, where the system is being regulated by a secretary of state who is partisan, and we gotta make sure we have our people in the rooms, making sure there isn't a stray count," Duncan responded.
Roberts recognizes a non-answer when he hears one. "This fundraising letter clearly states they're trying to steal this election," he noted.
"Well, we have to be careful," Duncan responded. "There's lots of reported irregularities in this election, going back to ACORN when they tried to register people illegally....."
"Is it accurate to say they're trying to steal this election?" Roberts insisted on asking. "Does that language go to far?"
After a nervous laugh, Duncan said, "John, I've not got that in front of me right now, but I want to be sure we are vigilant and do not allow anyone to influence the outcome of these elections and we have every resource to do that."
Roberts didn't give up. "'They're trying to steal these election victories' is pretty charged language."
"Do you want anyone to steal an election?" Duncan said.
"I don't want anyone to steal an election, but there's no evidence anyone is and it's hard to reconcile how you put that language into a fundraising letter," Roberts said before turning to another subject, while letting Duncan wallow in his deserved national embarrassment. We know how he feels.
Roberts was right. And Mike Duncan proved it.