Friday, December 24, 2004

New York Times Assigns Three "Wise" Men to the Ohio Voting Story and they stumble around in the dark

Those who celebrate Christmas, consider this your gift from the New York Times, Ohio's voting story is back on the front page. "Voting Problems in Ohio Spur Call for Overhaul" ( has a byline that includes Tom Zeller Jr., James Dao and Ford Fessenden.

Anything new here? No, not really. Somehow in this "comprehensive" (and lengthy piece) they miss the public hearings. They also mention in a goodness-me sort of way, that wouldn't you know it, punch cards resulted in problems "because the ballots, which require voters to punch a hole through a heavy-stock paper, are prone to partial perforations, or the buildup of chads." Golly. That's a surprise isn't it?

I mean it's not like any other presidential election could have told us that, right? Hey, a little perspective, that was learned in 2000 thanks to Florida. And we also know that the "buildup of chads" issue re: the machines is one that can be dealt with. But the three wise men visiting us from the Times apparently missed that "miracle." 77,000 voters who registered no vote for president were punch card voters.

It's also surprising that in this "comprehensive" article, the three wise men would elect to mention "heavy-stock paper." Heavy-stock paper? Ohio? What comes to mind for most people when those two words are combined? Gee, maybe fact that during voter registration, Kenneth J. Blackwell (sec. of state for Ohio) announced that he'd only accept registration forms on a certain card stock? The three Times reporters don't stumble across that in their "comprehensive" reporting -- maybe their eyes were gazing upward toward a star that would guide them. Regardless of where they were looking, the story suffers from a lack of perspective.
(I thought newspapers were big on connecting the dots? I thought stories in isolation were the providence of TV "news" as they gave you a factoid or two between chatter between the anchor and the correspondent?)

Today's piece walks you through the basics (which were known weeks ago) in a very limited manner. That the public hearings aren't discussed may demonstrate the lack of concern for the public. More surprising is that the issue of disenfranchisement isn't dealt with. I'm not speaking of angry words from the reporters as they take on a righteous cause. I am saying don't expect Conyers or Jackson to be quoted in the article. It's a non-story, in this story.

All the three wise men can see is that apparently something may or may not have happened in Ohio and that maybe punch card voting might be a problem. Blackwell lets us know that he's on the issue of what is basically scantron voting. Of course, he could have been "on" that after the problems in Florida's voting in 2000. But picking out card stock must take a lot of time.

(Remember that scantron voting -- the term Maria and Ben use for it and one I find short hands the term rather well since many of us can visualize that easily -- only works if the machine's read function is turned on while the voters feed it through. I voted on that this election and an elderly man in front of me was able to "save" his vote when the machine rejected it.)

Zeller's toned down what Kara calls his "snide, surly, mean spirited A-- face manner" in this article. Or maybe Dao and Fessenden were able to temper it? But perspective's missing from this story as well as any sense of what's gone on in Ohio regarding the feelings of voters who feel they were disenfranchised. (We don't even learn about the "Homeland Security" lock out that's been reported in other papers.) The writers seem to be either lost or summarizing quickly so that someone can say, "Hey, we dealt with Ohio! Get off our case!" The result is that they file a front page story that's largely useless and misses just about everything that's gone on since election day.

What might have helped guide them? Adding a fourth reporter: Albert Salvato. It's certainly surprising that Salvato was left to write the one paragraph summaries in the national briefings but is nowhere to be found on this article.

As far as holiday presents go, denying Salvato a front page byline may be one of the more Scrooge-iest things the paper has done to their reporters. Oh well, maybe Salvato got to use the down time to enjoy the holidays?

Wait, no. Salvato "contributes" to Gretchen Ruethling's A12 report on . . . snow. And ice. And winds. And travel. Doesn't get to share the byline. But gets a "contributed reporting" credit for the piece. And where is he located? Cincinnati. Oh, that's in Ohio! Hmmm.

So if you read the Times' piece and you're disappointed, remember Alberto Salvato. He's been left to do the one paragraph summaries following Zeller's dismissive Nov. 12th piece on voting in Ohio. He did the grunt work and got at least one byline out of it for a story that ran inside the paper.

Blame it on the season, or on the Times ignoring a third of the adult population in this country with their "America has spoken and it is of one mind" nonsense this week [see], but my expectations weren't high as I read the headline for this Ohio voting story. It's too late, too late from the Times re: Ohio. (Not unlike the Kerik coverage.) But it seems to me that Salvato has been the one to cover this story in the day to day process and Salvato got screwed.

I don't think the story would have been much different had he received a "contributed to this report" credit or even a byline. But I do wonder where the "holiday spirit" was at the Times when the person who's been required to do the grunt work on this story is denied what should have been a front page byline. I also question why the paper fails to utilize the one reporter that's been on the ground in Ohio and filing the national briefing reports on the issue?

A lot of you will read Zeller's byline and stop right there. I don't blame you. I never did -- to be Cat Power about it.

Been around the world
In many situations
Been inside many heads
In different positions
But you never wanted them that way
What a cruel price you thought
That you had to pay
. . .
But it never made sense to them anyway
Could you imagine when they turned their backs
They were only scratchin' their heads
Cuz you simply deserved the best
And I don't blame you
. . .
But I don't blame you
They never owned it
And you never owed it to them
I don't blame you.
-- "I Don't Blame You" words & music by Chan Marshall
"I Don't Blame You" can be found on Cat Power's You Are Free

If you're upset and angry (and Ben and Brad have already e-mailed that they are) by this story, I don't blame you. If you live in Ohio and feel you were disenfranchised in the voting and now in the Times' coverage, I don't blame you. If the idea of one person = one vote means something to you and you're wondering if it means anything to the paper, I don't blame you. If you're someone's who e-mailed in the last month to voice your anger/disbelief that the spotlight the press used to shine on voter disenfranchisement has burned out, I don't blame you. But if you're feeling screwed (and I don't blame you if you're feeling that way) remember that despite the "spirit of the holiday," the paper denied Salvato the front page byline that he had more than earned today. Too little, too late is the only summary for today's front page story. I'm sure that will surprise few of you but let's remember that the single paragraphs the Times ran by Salvato indicated not only their lack of concern for this story but also their apparent lack of respect for the work Salvato was attempting to do. May the new year find the readers and Salvato better served by the paper.

[For your comments on Zeller's reporting see]

[Note: This post has been edited. Chan Marshall's Cat Power album has been credited and two typos have been fixed. Thanks to Shirley for catching them.]