Accuracy in Media

Conservatives across America watched New York’s District 23 with bated breath on November 3 of this year, waiting to see Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman win the race.  In the end, Hoffman conceded that night with only 93 percent of the vote counted, based on reports that he was losing the race by thousands of votes.

However, those reports turned out to be premature.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reports:

Now a recanvassing in the 11-county district shows that Owens’ lead has narrowed to 3,026 votes over Hoffman, 66,698 to 63,672, according to the latest unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.

In Oswego County, where Hoffman was reported to lead by only 500 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted election night, inspectors found Hoffman actually won by 1,748 votes — 12,748 to 11,000.

The new vote totals mean the race will be decided by absentee ballots, of which about 10,200 were distributed, said John Conklin, communications director for the state Board of Elections.

In other words, Hoffman’s concession may have been premature-and Bill Owens, the Democrat running in the race, may not have actually won at all. 

The media’s response to the election in NY-23 is troubling: every major news station reported Bill Owens as the winner, despite the fact that the vote count was far from over.  And these stations didn’t just report; before the election, they essentially campaigned against Hoffman.  After the election, they practically danced over his defeat.

CBS’ Marc Ambinder wrote on November 4, “Conservatives overreached, and Tip O’Neill’s dictum,” that all politics are local, “reins supreme. That special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district turned out not to be worth all of the sound and fury.”  He went on to describe Hoffman as a “disheveled but avuncular” guy who got “really really angry” at Scozzafava’s “anoint[ing].” 

“Voters in the 23rd did not embrace his philosophy. They saw Hoffman as a carpetbagger — he didn’t even live in the district — who was trying to hijack their district for his own ideological ends,” Ambinder wrote.  Meanwhile, though, Ambinder defended liberal Scozzafava: “The fact is that Dede Scozzafava was well-suited to represent the district. She didn’t face a primary; she was chosen by a small group of party leaders. That would have been OK.”

On November 3, CNN’s Paul Steinhauser prepared readers for an onslaught of Republican votes, which he claimed would be a result of “anger”: “anger could shape the results of three of the most high-profile elections this year,” he wrote, adding that “National polls indicate that many voters are in a foul mood.”  In fact, Steinhauser uses the word “anger,” or variations thereof, seven times in the relatively short article. “Anger could also be a factor in New Jersey and Virginia,” he wrote; “Anger is a major factor in the New York 23 race.”  Anger, anger, anger.  If you only read Steinhauser, you’d think the only reason people ever voted conservatively was out of anger.

CNN’s Alan Silverleib couldn’t resist portraying the race in New York as “a vicious internal fight” that “prox[ied] for a national struggle” brought on by Republican betrayals.  He called NY-23 “the scene of a GOP civil war,” adding, “The victory by Owens may bolster the belief among other Republican leaders that a continuing grass-roots effort to defeat moderate officeholders in party primaries is accelerating a GOP decline in the Northeast and elsewhere.”

Well, maybe Owens’ victory would bolster that belief-but first you would have to assume that Owens legitimately won.

Nate Silver, in an article for CNN, remarked that Hoffman lost because he and his conservative activist friends “misunderstood the district.”  He wrote, “What the voters there wanted was a candidate who understood them. Owens — superior to Hoffman in his command of local issues — provided the best approximation.”  Now that is what I call an unbiased assessment. 

At MSNBC, Contessa Brewer mocked those who endorsed Doug Hoffman.  The Club for Growth ran an ad that called Hoffman “a fiscally conservative business person” and a “common sense choice.”  “Yeah. Didn’t really work out there. Sorry, Doug,” Brewer said sarcastically.  Also at MSNBC, Chris Matthews devoted part of his November 2 show to the race in NY-23, accusing Republicans of “purging” moderates from the party. 

At the New York Times, an October 25 editorial announced that Scozzafava was “refreshing,” “tolerant,” “eminently electable,” and that Scozzafava was ultimately scorned by the “ideologically narrow… right-wing purists” who adhere to Palinesque “idea[s] of party orthodoxy.” 

The Times called the race “pivotal” in an online headline; on October 27, Clay Waters of the Media Research Center got it right when he asked, “Will the Times consider it pivotal if the conservative who bucked the Republican Party ends up winning?”

Waters’ question is still worth asking today.  How will the “mainstream” media react if it turns out that Hoffman won, after all?  These various organizations are in serious danger of having counted their chickens before they hatched.  At this point, they can only hope their premature analyses were correct, and they will be lucky if they don’t end up having to swallow their words. 

If only President Obama had warned the media not to “jump to conclusions” about congressional elections, as well as Hasan’s terrorist motivations.

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