With the U.S. Senate in the balance, Florida’s largest newspaper chain published a last-minute hit piece on Gov. Rick Scott, an apparent attempt to undermine his campaign to unseat 46-year Washington politician Sen. Bill Nelson — the man Forbes magazine once famously depicted on their cover with, literally, an empty suit.
The pre-planned package of stories was published by GateHouse Media, which owns 21 newspapers in the state, including dailies in Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Daytona Beach, Panama City, Gainesville, St. Augustine and many more.
The newspapers ran an astonishingly bad piece of journalism out of the Palm Beach newsroom entitled “Florida felon voting rights: Who got theirs back under Scott” with the subhead reading “The governor restored rights to the lowest percentage of blacks, highest percentage of Republicans in 50 years.”
This came just days before Tuesday’s huge election, early enough to influence voting underway and election day, but not enough time to mount much of a pushback by the Scott campaign. It also tied in with Amendment 4, which would amend the Florida Constitution to automatically restore the voting rights of felons once they completed all of the conditions of their convictions.
It’s pretty clear from the “reporting” where the media stands on Gov. Scott and Amendment 4. The days of even pretending to hide partisanship are fading into a distant memory.
The long piece, essentially an agenda-driven package, is truly painful to read through if you are not an ardent Democrat. The reporting team draws conclusions of motivational fact on the part of Scott from nothing more than a correlation or one set of numbers significantly lacking context and the rest of the data.
For instance, one conclusion the piece draws is: “Scott’s system of restoring voting rights has for years discriminated against black felons, boosting his own political prospects and those of other Republicans throughout the state, a Palm Beach Post analysis has found.” [emphasis added]
Don’t be fooled by the word “analysis,” as though it means some green eye-shade look at the numbers. It’s not an analysis in any honest sense.
Reporters playing with statistics frequently mistake correlation with causation, sometimes out of ignorance, but often because even minor correlation can be enough for them to build their predetermined storyline.
In this case, the logic is as follows: A higher percentage of blacks than whites are arrested, so cops are racist. A higher percentage of blacks than whites are incarcerated, so the courts are racist. A higher percentage of blacks than whites are denied the restoration of voting rights, so specifically Gov. Scott is racist.
But the numbers do not show “discrimination,” which would be causal, they just show resulting numbers. Never truly asked or delved into in any of those numbers-conclusions scenarios is the bottom line question: Are a higher percentage of blacks committing crimes? That is the golden data point to be mined that the media has very little stomach for even looking at. Further in the data underlying this sentence, how many blacks requested restoration of voting rights?
The story is just riddled with truisms from Will Rogers’ observation, “There are three types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics.” This story is chockaful of just such “statistics.”
Let’s bullet point some of their bullet points:
➞ Story: “During his nearly eight years as governor, Scott restored the voting rights of twice as many whites as blacks and three times as many white men as black men.”
Leaving aside what the felond did in the years after release — jobs, marriage, family, church, community involvement, that would suggest lifestyle stability — this bullet point sounds terrible until you read way down into the story and comb through one of the charts. Because the context for this is just during his term, and just between blacks and whites. But it turns out Scott had a higher ratio of blacks to whites than the last Democratic governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, in the 1990s.
But that does not fit the agenda, so there was no real truthfulness of conclusions.
➞ Story: “Scott restored rights to a higher percentage of Republicans and a lower percentage of Democrats than any of his predecessors since 1971.”
By a little. And, by the way, he still restored a much higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans. Again, you have to find the data box to discover this. It’s not in the narrative “analysis.”
➞ Story: “Blacks accounted for 27 percent of those who had their voting rights restored despite the fact that 43 percent of those released from state prisons over the past two decades were black.”
This tells us nothing of causation. Again, as in the first bullet point above, what is causal is not the percentages but what each felon did in the years after their prison release — jobs, marriage, family, church, community, etc., that would suggest the sort of stability that a clemency board would be looking for in order to return full rights.
There is simply a lot of bad journalism in this story.
Of course, it was probably never intended to be groundbreaking investigative journalism digging into the truth. The consistently slanted “statistics” suggest the real intent was to sway votes in the midterm elections toward Sen. Bill Nelson. Between Gillum’s nomination and this story blasted across the state, it seems like that succeeded.
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.