Column: The Stealth Edits Helping Stacey Abrams

April 28th, 2021 5:58 AM

When Democrats get caught in a political pickle, they can count on the borrowed authority of “journalists and fact-checkers” to bail them out. Take failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams pressuring corporations to put a financial squeeze on Georgia.

In a March 31 op-ed in USA Today, her article began “Boycotts work. The focused power of No, trained on corporate actors used to being told Yes, can yield transformative results. As a Black person, a Southerner, an American, I respect and defend the right to boycott — and the advancement of civil rights has relied heavily on economic boycotts.”

On April 2, Major League Baseball announced it was yanking the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, and activists like Abrams suddenly wanted to sound less like boycott boosters.

Twitter’s sidebar came to the rescue on April 23. They proclaimed “Stacey Abrams encouraged Americans to invest in Georgia-based businesses after new voter laws were passed, according to journalists and fact-checkers.” That sounds contrary to the spirit of what Abrams wrote.   

Then came stealth edits by Abrams at USA Today. In the original article, Abrams said she wasn’t opposed to individuals choosing to boycott the “racist, classist” voter ID bill in Georgia.  “Until we hear clear, unequivocal statements that show Georgia-based companies get what’s at stake, I can’t argue with an individual’s choice to opt for their competition." She hedged a little by saying boycotts can cause “hardships” and that she thought a boycott wasn’t “necessary – yet.”

The article was “updated” so the line about “I can’t argue” with a boycott was removed. In a substantial rewrite, Abrams added a complaint that Major League Baseball’s boycott “could cost our state nearly $100 million in lost revenue” and then blamed the Republicans for caring more for voter suppression than for the people’s “economic well-being.”

According to the Internet Archive, the op-ed was revised on April 6th, but a notice acknowledging it was "Updated" wasn't added until April 22.

Fox News reported that Major League Baseball was aggressively lobbied by Abrams. “Abrams told a senior league official that she wanted him to denounce the Georgia voting rights law, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.” Commissioner Rob Manfred decided the game would be too politicized, and pulled out. 

But the “fact checkers” came to her defense. Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted that Abrams played a part in the pullout, describing the Georgia voting-law as “Jim Crow” 10 times before the baseball boycott, and that she had written “boycotts work.” CNN’s Daniel Dale cried foul: “This is misleading. Abrams wrote that boycotts work under certain conditions...but proceeded, in the same op-ed, to argue that Georgia's conditions weren't right for a boycott. In a web video that day, she explicitly said, 'Please do not boycott us.'”

He sounds like an Abrams PR guy, right? Republican strategist Matt Whitlock tweeted Dale accurately described the text, but made no mention of the stealth edits.

PolitiFact flagged Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for blaming Abrams for the baseball pullout. “Kemp’s comments are misleading; they lump together the positions of Biden and Abrams when they’ve actually taken different positions.” They also cited the USA Today op-ed, and made no mention of the stealth editing. A line cited in the fact check – “Boycotts invariably cost jobs” – was part of the text Abrams added days later.

Both these “fact checks” of Republican critics of Abrams were highlighted by Twitter’s roundup. This episode of avoiding inconvenient facts demonstrates why many people think the “fact checkers” are not independent actors, but energetic spin-controllers for the Democrats.