Yesterday afternoon, President Obama delivered an unsparing speech in Washington, rejecting Republicans' budget, their shift to the very far right, and their entire approach to governing. Fox News viewers got to some of the early portions of the remarks, but the network soon broke away to cover a breaking story ... which happened to be a four-year-old incident.
What had Fox so excited? Ed Kilgore explained that the right has taken a keen interest in an obscure Indiana indictment.
The Fox lede makes it sound pretty lurid: "Felony charges related to election fraud have touched the 2008 race for the highest office in the land." And the headline, below which are arranged mugshot-style photos of the malefactors, reads: "4 Indiana Dems charged with election fraud in 2008 presidential race."Elsewhere are bloggy headlines and shouts about "voter fraud" and, inevitably, "voter ID" .... Republicans promoting franchise-shrinking Voter ID laws, you see, are hard-pressed to supply evidence of any actual voter fraud, so anything that sounds remotely like it will get a lot of attention.
That's true, though the details in this case help make a very different kind of point.
In Indiana, four county-level Democratic Party officials in South Bend are accused of falsifying some petition signatures to get all of the party's major presidential candidates on the primary ballot in 2008. It's unclear why they bothered -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton enjoyed ample support in the area at the time -- but whatever the reason, some local officials cut corners and got caught. Now they're facing charges as a result.
Who cares? Well, those orchestrating a "war on voting" care a great deal -- they're desperate to find real-world examples of actual fraud in order to justify sweeping new restrictions on Americans' ability to participate in elections. Fox has no qualms about breaking away from a major presidential speech to cover this Indiana story, because if the public can be convinced that election fraud is real, then voter-ID laws will appear more legitimate and less like efforts to rig elections.
But Fox may not have thought this one through enough.
For one thing, even if voter-ID laws existed everywhere, they wouldn't prevent troublemakers from screwing around with petition signatures. The solution doesn't address the problem. For another, there are already laws in place that do address the problem -- it's why these four are being prosecuted.
Moreover, when Republicans are so eager to justify a war on voting that they cling to a four-year-old incident about a county primary ballot, they're actually proving the opposite of the intended point -- the takeaway here is that real examples of fraud are incredibly rare. If they were more common, minor incidents like these would be easily overlooked as legal trivia, and Fox would shine a light on more compelling proof.
Indeed, Texas recently went looking for examples of voter fraud and found fewer than five incidents of "illegal voting" out of more than 13 million votes cast in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Five out of 13 million helps prove just how exceedingly uncommon this is, and helps underscore just how unnecessary new voting restrictions are.
And finally, if Fox is serious about reporting on election fraud, the network would have more of an interest in more meaningful examples of recent voter fraud -- most of which have come from Republicans.