New Report Examines Media Bias in Coverage of Voter ID

September 12th, 2012 1:25 PM

Media reporting of Voter ID fails to meet basic standards of objectivity and integrity, says a new report released today, "Media Shows Pervasive Bias When Covering Voter ID" by Justin Danhof.

In fact, Danhof says, the media in many cases is openly hostile to Voter ID, using three primary tactics to attack it: rhetoric, flawed data and selective coverage.

According to Danhof, the news media has had a "near-total blackout" of mentions of the seminal Voter ID U.S. Supreme Court case, 2008's Crawford v. Marion. In Crawford, liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, upheld Indiana's voter ID law against a challenge from the ACLU. Crawford has been used as a guide by state legislators writing Voter ID laws since that time.

A Google search for the phrase "voter ID laws" yielded 27,700 results, Danhof found, but only 31 of these results also mentioned Crawford. The 31 mentions could be traced to a mere eight primary sources, two of which were Danhof's employer, the National Center for Public Policy Research (full disclosure: my employer as well).

Danhof then searched Google for media references to Voter ID being racist, receiving 4,450 results.

Says Danhof, "The media unnecessarily infuses race into voter ID stories 145.5 times more often than they report on binding legal doctrine. While some of these articles are likely defending voter ID laws against charges of racism, the results are nonetheless instructive on the media's wayward focus on the voter integrity issue."

Danhof also reviewed media coverage of an August 13, 2012, Washington Post poll showing that 74 percent of Americans support voter ID laws, and that support for voter ID transcends race, political party and gender. The poll reached results similar to an April 2012 Rasmussen poll finding 73 percent support for Voter ID.

Even the Washington Post, Danhof said, played down the results of its own poll. Other media ignored it entirely.

"From the time the poll was released [on August 13], through August 16, 2012," says Danhof, "MSNBC ran 19 stories on voter ID. Not a single one mentioned the Washington Post poll. Instead, according to Mediate, MSNBC hosts Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and their guests attacked voter ID laws with racist rhetoric such as 'voting suppression,' 'poll taxes' and 'literacy tests.'"

MSNBC, Danhof says, "is guilty of dishonesty by omission."

Danhof's report also examines the news media's use of materials by anti-Voter ID advocacy groups to put a supposed "academic veneer" on the bias in their stories. He notes the Washington Post publishing on August 11 a report by News21 claiming only ten cases of voter fraud have occurred since 2000. But the report was seriously flawed, suffering from incomplete data, making the Washington Post report highly misleading, Danhof says, citing an in-depth analysis by his colleague David Almasi.

Also, Danhof notes, "The authors of the News21 report are actually college students who wrote the accompanying Washington Post article, trumpeting their own work."

Despite its serious flaws, the News21 report was covered elsewhere in the mainstream media, including by NBC News and USA Today.

Danhof also reviews the news media's frequent reliance upon work in opposition to Voter ID by the Brennan Center for Justice, as if the Brennan Center, which has received more than $7 million from George Soros, is an objective academic source.

Danhof's entire paper can be read at