Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone came out with “Did Bush Steal the 2004 Election?” — a masterful investigative piece by Robert Kennedy, Jr., arguing that Bush & Co. stole their “re-election” in Ohio, and pointing out exactly how they did it. Primarily because of Kennedy’s good reputation, and the mainstream credibility of Rolling Stone, the article has finally opened many eyes that had been tightly shut to the grave state of American democracy.
One week after Kennedy’s article appeared, Salon posted an attack upon it by Farhad Manjoo, the magazine’s technology reporter. That piece contained so many errors of fact and logic, and was throughout so brazenly wrong-headed, that several hundred readers sent in angry letters, many of them brilliantly refuting some of Manjoo’s misconceptions and mistakes, and quite a few demanding that Salon cancel their subscriptions.
A few days later, Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor, tried to calm the storm with a defense of Manjoo’s writings on the theft of the 2004 election — a theft that he had frequently addressed before, as he had been trying to “debunk”it ever since that infamous Election Day. Walsh did not answer any of the criticisms of Manjoo’s attack, but merely re-asserted Salon’s confidence in all his work for them.
At this point I decided to reply, both to Manjoo’s piece (which, as I note below, had wrongly used my own work on election fraud to further slander Kennedy’s) and to Joan Walsh’s apologia. My point was not just to pile on (there was no need for that), but to attempt an explanation as to why so many reasonable people — many of them self-described “progressives” — keep refusing to perceive the copious and ever-growing evidence that this regime has never been elected. It was my hope that Salon might at least consider moderating its position on election fraud, which now demands more serious treatment than the magazine has thus far given it.
I sent the letter to Salon on Tuesday. June 13. Two days later, I received an email from them telling me that they would not be posting it. “In terms of the Ohio election fraud issue,” wrote Jeanne Carstensen, “we don’t feel your letter, as passionately argued as it is, adds anything substantially new to the debate, which we’ve covered the hell out of already.”
I believe that that assertion too is wrong, and that the issues here are far too grave for “the debate” to be thus prematurely halted; and so I’m very pleased that HuffPost has agreed to run my e-mail as an open letter.
I’d like to thank Salon for touching off this spirited debate on Farhad Manjoo’s argument with Robert Kennedy, Jr., and also want to thank you in particular for your own personal defense of Manjoo’s writings on election fraud. I am especially impressed by your desire “to place this debate in its proper political context.” Such careful explanation is exactly what we need; and so I’d like to help shed just a bit more light upon that context, by clarifying the record as you have described it.
In defense of Manjoo’s writings since Election Day 2004, you claim (just as he has often claimed) that Salon cares tremendously about the problem of election fraud, and always has: “Salon has aggressively covered Republican efforts to suppress Democratic voter participation going back to December 2000,” and has “followed the story doggedly ever since.” In 2002, you claim, “Manjoo expanded Salon’s coverage of our flawed election system with a special focus on the problems with electronic voting.” Since then, you write, “[h]e has approached his stories on the massive problems with voting in this country in the same way, with an open mind.” In his zealous drive to learn the truth, you say, “he did not find evidence” of any widespread fraud in Georgia in 2002 (where Democrat Max Cleland lost his Senate seat, surprisingly, to Saxby Chambliss, and Democrat Roy Barnes was, also surprisingly, ousted as governor by Sonny Perdue). And, two years later, you remind us, Manjoo found nothing to confirm the view that fraud decided Bush’s re-election in Ohio.
And so Salon has, for the last six years, been searching earnestly for “evidence” of fraud, and finding nothing but “unproven charges.” If I may say so, this version of your history is not credible. First of all, it begs the question — for there is vast evidence of fraud, as the letters you’ve received make wholly clear. Certainly you have the right to keep insisting that there is no evidence, and Manjoo certainly has every right to quibble with whichever single claim he may perceive as bogus or exaggerated. Neither move per se, however, can negate the copious, precise and ever-growing evidence of massive fraud in 2004, any more than the tobacco companies could negate the evidence that cigarettes are lethal, or the US religious right suppress the evidence of natural selection, or of global warming. As it’s the evidence that matters above all, Salon’s readers ought to be encouraged to study it themselves, and not accept mere claims about it, whether yours or mine.
So let me move beyond that fundamental argument, and make a more specific criticism of your recent statement in defense of Salon’s treatment of election fraud. That statement obscures the fact that Manjoo’s attitude toward his subject — and, therefore, Salon’s position — has been strangely inconsistent. On the one hand, you are surely right to say that he has done some excellent reporting on the looming danger of election fraud — before Nov. 2 of that fateful year. Back then he did a fine job covering several sinister developments, including the shenanigans of Nathan Sproul, a theocratic activist whose firm, Sproul & Associates, conducted bogus voter-registration drives in at least six states, covertly registering people as Republicans without their knowledge, and often trashing forms filled out by Democrats. (As I point out in Fooled Again, my book on the 2004 election, SEC records suggest that Sproul may also have abetted the subversion of the recount in Ohio.) In fact, I thought so highly of Manjoo’s reporting pre-Election Day that I was often guided by it in my own research for Fooled Again, and therefore even thanked him warmly in the book’s acknowledgments (p. 349). Considering such trenchant work throughout the presidential race, it seemed, to say the least, quite odd that Manjoo suddenly and absolutely shifted ground as soon as Bush’s unexpected victory was official. Where he had indeed been dogged and impartial in exposing some real threats to the integrity of the election, ex post facto he seemed far less interested in dealing with the evidence of GOP malfeasance than in jeering every effort to discuss it. Instead of careful scrutiny of that evidence, he resorted mainly to sarcastic hooting and ad hominem assault — the same tactics that the Bush Republicans themselves have always used to cast all argument about their unexpected win as sheer insanity.
That is what Manjoo did in his review of Fooled Again, accusing me of “fraud,” “pseudo-journalism,” lying and venality. (My reply to that piece is here.) In his attack on Robert Kennedy’s article he has done the same thing once again — trashing Kennedy’s motives, and accusing him, essentially, of plagiarism: “Nothing here is new. If you’ve … read Mark Crispin Miller’s ‘Fooled Again,’ you’re already familiar with everything Kennedy has to say.” That claim
is quite false. Kennedy and Rolling Stone have given us a shattering new view of the Ohio travesty, based both on prodigious journalistic synthesis and remarkable firsthand research. Its interviews alone — especially with Lou Harris, the polling eminence, who deems Ohio stolen by Bush/Cheney — are, or ought to be, big news. While I am proud to say that Kennedy considers Fooled Again a major inspiration, I cannot claim that he derived much information from my book. His focus is entirely on Ohio, whereas Fooled Again devotes only some 15 pages (out of 350) to the crimes and improprieties committed in that state. My book deals with the election fraud committed nationwide in 2004 — as Manjoo knows. Why, then, would he say that Kennedy had cribbed it all from me? Far from wanting Salon’s readers to assess the evidence themselves, he seems to want people not even to know about it — certainly a strange objective for a writer with “an open mind.”
What explains this eagerness to kill all conversation on an issue of such grave importance? This is not a question just about Farhad Manjoo and/or Salon, because your way of dealing, or not dealing, with this all-important matter has been typical of the entire US political establishment throughout Bush/Cheney’s reign. This general silence has prevented us from facing an enormous threat to our democracy, which is now at unprecedented risk. We might start to illuminate this problem by doing now exactly what you claim you want to do: “place this debate in its proper political context.” Let us therefore reconsider your reporter’s violent post-election U-turn, which had him all at once reflexively deriding the very story that he had himself been very capably reporting.
What Manjoo did after Election Day was simply gallop off into the journalistic herd as it went thundering rightward, parroting the Bush machine’s own talking points. According to Ken Blackwell, Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Karl Rove and others, the election was a simple slam dunk for the president, however many and astounding the anomalies, and even if the numbers actually did not add up, or the official explanation (“family values”) make a lick of sense; and anybody who suggested otherwise was, a priori, a “sore loser” and/or “paranoid,” a “moonbat” venting mere “conspiracy theory,” etc. “No voter disenfranchisement occurred in this election of 2004,” said Tom DeLay. “It was, at the end of the day, an honest election,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA). Between such propaganda and the post-election coverage in the US press there was no difference whatsoever. With the heroic exception of Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, right after Election Day the mainstream press re-echoed the Republican barrage with groundless catcalls of its own. “Election paranoia surfaces; Conspiracy theorists call results rigged,” laughed the Baltimore Sun; “Internet Buzz on Vote Fraud Is Dismissed,” chuckled the Boston Globe; “Latest Conspiracy Theory — Kerry Won — Hits the Ether,” the Washington Post giggled; and the New York Times was most derisive of them all, with a broadside — “Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried” — that mocked not just the rampant “theories” of election fraud but cyberspace itself, with its “Web log hysteria,” “on-line market of dark ideas,” and “breathless cycle of hey-check-this-out,” etc.
Such was the consensus that Manjoo too suddenly embraced, thereby bringing Salon fully into line with all the corporate media; nor was Manjoo’s a lonely voice in the progressive media, which also either laughed off or ignored the evidence of fraud. No left/liberal publication, whether on- or off-line, focused on that evidence, nor did the story make a national splash on leftist radio, nor, aside from John Conyers and Jesse Jackson, did any lefty media stars take up the cause. By and large, the left press based its blithe dismissals of the issue not on any careful sifting of that evidence but on the mere say-so of certain politicians. Mother Jones ran a piece by Mark Hertsgaard, purporting to debunk the “theory” that Bush/Cheney stole Ohio. For evidence Hertsgaard relied on the assurances of various Ohio Democrats, who swore to him that there had been no fraud. Posting on TomPaine.com, Russ Baker likewise mocked the widespread “theories” of election fraud, on the basis of a brief trip to Ohio where he also talked to Democrats who swore to him that there had been no fraud. Once Election Day was past, The Nation also, like Salon, at once forgot its pre-election coverage of impending problems — in particular, a powerful overview by Ronnie Dugger — and simply dropped the subject, other than to ridicule the “theory” that Ohio had been stolen; David Corn, for instance, took that line, basing it on what he’d heard from certain Democrats who swore to him that there had been no fraud. And when we look back at the corporate media’s non-coverage of this crucial story, we find that the consensus came not only from the bellicose Republicans, but also from those Democrats who swore repeatedly that there had been no fraud.
On the other hand, those maverick Democrats who had seen evidence of fraud, and who were keen to publicize it — Conyers, Jackson, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and others — weren’t consulted by the press, which largely snubbed those activists and statisticians who had studied the election fraud in depth. (Robert Koehler of Tribune News Services was a heroic exception.) Thus the media, both corporate and left/liberal, favored only those who genuflected at the party line, which both parties were assiduously toeing. According to the journalistic groupthink, any Democrat who duly exculpated the Republicans was necessarily (a) well informed about what really happened on Election Day, and (b) being completely honest, on the record. In fact, some of those Democrats were clueless, or reluctant to go public with the truth. For instance, Bill Anthony, the Democratic chair of Franklin County’s Board of Elections, has quietly contradicted what he said both to Manjoo and Baker, telling Bob Fitrakis, on the record, that he does believe Bush/Cheney stole Ohio, largely by fiddling with the numbers in the rural counties in the state’s Southwest (a major vote-theft, as Kennedy explains in Rolling Stone). On the issue of election fraud, the Democrats observed the code of omerta. In Who Counts?, Dorothy Fadiman’s forthcoming documentary on Republican election fraud, Bob Hagan, a Democratic state senator from Youngstown, tells of having had his own e-vote for Kerry flip to Bush — a glitch that wiped out Kerry votes throughout Ohio (and at least a dozen other states), and yet the Democrats told Hagan not to mention it: “The Kerry campaign said, ‘Leave it alone. Don’t talk about it. It’s not something we want to get out.'”
So much for the democratic spirit of the Democratic Party, which, in burying the most important civic issue of our time, has been just as complicit as the GOP, although they cloud the issue far less rudely. Take “Democracy at Risk,” the DNC report on the election in Ohio, which came out in the summer of 2005. The document appears to be a very damning study of Republican malfeasance in Ohio. It offers many harrowing statistics, and some strong firsthand accounts, of Democratic disenfranchisement throughout the state — only to deny that fraud had anything to do with it. The problem, rather, was “incompetence,” which was somehow epidemic in Ohio on Election Day, and which, stranger still, invariably helped Bush/Cheney and hurt Kerry/Edwards. The report is not exactly readable, with long abstruse equations covering page after page — a haze of math that does not quite conceal the bald self-contradictions that distort the document like heavy cracks across a windshield. For instance, the report confirms, in various ways, that there were far too few machines only in Democratic precincts, while the number of machines in GOP strongholds was mor
e than adequate. Then, out of nowhere, toward the end, we’re told that members of both parties were affected equally by the statewide shortage of machines, so that the glitch did not, of course, affect the outcome of the race.
The whole report is twisted thus, the authors tortuously bending over backward to assure us that DeLay et al. were right: “No voter disenfranchisement occurred in this election of 2004.” If we look deeper into the report (and also read the pertinent exposÃ©s by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman at freepress.org), we find that it is less an earnest study of the fraud committed in Ohio than a political statement, meant primarily to distance the committee, and the party, from John Conyers and those other Democrats who had been so tactless as to harp on the abundant evidence of systematic fraud by the Republicans. This fact is highly relevant to Manjoo’s attack on Robert Kennedy, as Manjoo’s case is heavily dependent on the DNC report. Manjoo invokes it several times, accusing Kennedy of quoting only certain parts of it and pointedly ignoring all those later parts that clear the GOP of fraud. Your reporter calls this a “deliberate omission of key bits of data.” And yet that charge is groundless, as the DNC report is only partly accurate, and Kennedy, quite rightly, quoted only its sound figures and ignored its weird exculpatory spin.
The DNC report is typical of that cowed, calculating party, whose managers consistently deny the evidence of fraud, even though the consequence is their assured political castration. Why exactly would they take that suicidal course? The reasons generally given for their silence on the subject are preposterous on their face. Kerry won’t discuss the issue frankly on the record, we’ve been told, because he’s worried that the media will smack him for it. (“They’re saying that, if I don’t concede, they’ll call us sore losers!” he reportedly said to a stunned John Edwards just before he called it quits the morning after.) That may be what Kerry, among others, actually believes, but it’s absurd, as no amount of public scorn, however withering, could ever be as frightening to a democratic politician as the twilight of democracy itself.
We also hear that Democrats have been reluctant to speak out about election fraud because they fear that doing so might cut down voter turnout on Election Day. By such logic, we should henceforth utter not a peep about election fraud, so that the Democratic turnout will break records. Then, when the Republicans win yet again, because they’ve rigged the system, how will all those Democratic voters feel? Maybe those who haven’t killed themselves, or fled the country, will recover just enough to vote again. Would it then be prudent for the Democrats to talk about election fraud? Or would it still seem sensible to keep the subject under wraps?
The argument is idiotic, yet the people who have seriously made it — Bernie Sanders, Markos Moulitsas, Hillary Clinton’s and Chuck Schumer’s people, among others — are extremely bright. The argument, as foolish as it is, does not bespeak a low I.Q., but, I would suggest, a subtler kind of incapacity: a refusal and/or inability to face a deeply terrifying truth. The Democrats refuse to talk about election fraud because they cannot, will not, wrap their minds around the implications of what happened in 2004, and what is happening right now, and what will keep on happening until we, as a people, face the issue. In short, whatever clever-sounding rationales they may invoke (no doubt in all sincerity), the Democrats won’t talk about election fraud because they’re in denial, which is itself based on a lethal combination of inertia, self-interest and, above all — or below all — fear.
Such fear is understandable. For the problem here is not simply mechanical or technological, legal or bureaucratic, requiring that we merely tweak the rules and/or build a better mousetrap. Any such expedient will naturally depend on a consensus of “both sides” — and there’s the rub, because in this great clash the “other side” detests American democracy itself. The movement now in power is not conservative but radical, intent on an apocalyptic program that is fundamentally opposed to the ideals of the Enlightenment, on which, lest we forget, this revolutionary secular republic was first founded. The movement frankly disbelieves in reason, and in all the other worldly goods that every rational American still takes for granted: pluralism, checks and balances, “the general welfare,” freedom, progress, the pursuit of happiness. For this movement, condom use is worse than death by AIDS, however many millions the disease may kill; the ruination of the planet should be hastened, not prevented, as it means that He will be returning soon; the “war on terror” is a matter not of geopolitics but metaphysics, as our national enemy is “a guy named Satan”; homosexuals should not be citizens, the US having been conceived as a “Christian republic”; and — most relevant to this debate — the movement’s adversaries, which means all the rest of us, are not human beings with divergent interests but literal “agents of Hell,” demonic entities against which any tactic, however criminal or sinful, is permissible, because they are likely to use any tactic, regardless of its sinfulness or criminality, to force their evil program on the Righteous Ones.
Of course, that theocratic bloc does not comprise the whole Bush/Cheney movement, which, at the top, is heavily dominated too by frank neo-imperialists, corporate profiteers, careerist sociopaths and livid paranoids compelled by the intense self-hatred typical of such perennial types as Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. Revolution tends to work by unifying the energies, or bile, of only roughly complementary interests. This revolution certainly is no pure upsurge of religious fervor, for its plutocratic animus is just as powerful, apparently, as its crusade to “Christianize” the world. However, while it would be very foolish to ignore the movement’s secular agenda (i.e., the avarice and power lust of Cheney/Rumsfeld and their corporate cronies), it is just as foolish to imagine that the movement’s theocratic program is mere smoke, calculated just to daze the pious masses so that Congress and Wall Street can rob them blind.
This theocratic program is no secret, as the conquest of the GOP has been the top priority of US Christianist extremists since the early Nineties. It was their aim to put George W. Bush in office, and then to keep him there, despite the will of the electorate; and having done so, they have rapidly transformed our government into an instrument of their crusade. “George W. Bush is our agenda!” as the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, boasted candidly to Salon’s Michelle Goldberg a few years ago. He had every right to crow. The executive departments and top federal agencies are now in theocratic hands, and this government pursues no policy, foreign or domestic, that has not been devised or vetted by the party’s theocratic apparat. The government now generously subsidizes many theocratic groups that proselytize explicitly, pushing both their own creed and the interests of the Bush Republicans. And now that Congress too is full of theocratic militants (who seem to have no strong opponents), the Supreme Court is just one seat away from an entrenched majority as frankly hostile to the church/state separation as it is to voting rights for all Americans.
The power and fury of the US theocratic movement have been amply documented by a range of keen observers, including Esther Kaplan, Paul Craig Roberts, Kevin Phillips, Stephenie Hendricks, Max Blumenthal, Frederick Carlson, Katherine Yurica, Michael Lerner and Salon’s Michelle Goldberg, among others, as well as in my own books Cruel and Unusual and Fooled Again. The threat has also sounded strong alarms on solid Christia
grounds, in writings by Jim Wallis, John Danforth, Jimmy Carter, Davidson Loehr, Rich Lang and Bruce Prescott. (Of course, the theocratic program is explicit also in the oratory and writings of the theocrats themselves.) It now remains for us to face the crucial fact that this regime’s miraculous “re-election” in 2004 depended heavily on the countless block-the-vote activities of theocratic true believers, who did whatever they could do, from coast to coast, to cut the Kerry vote and pad the Bush vote. That effort was essential to the regime’s inexplicable political success. Of all the interests collaborating in Bush/Cheney’s drive against democracy, the theocrats alone have a grass-roots constituency — not large enough, by any means, to sway elections honestly, but large enough, and fierce enough, and with sufficient funds and discipline, to help Bush/Cheney disenfranchise the majority. Although the corporations and the neo-cons wield awesome clout, they have no grass-roots muscle. The theocrats alone can claim that necessary asset, and it has given them enormous power.
It is a terrifying development — although not insurmountable, unless we let ourselves be blinded and/or paralyzed by fear. Since the last Election Day, that terror has silenced nearly every sector of what ought to be the opposition, including most top Democrats, the press, a lot of principled conservatives — and outlets like Salon. In his dogged effort to explain away the massive evidence of fraud by the Republicans, Manjoo has based his case not on the facts but, finally, on denial — as he himself made very clear in his review of Fooled Again. “If you want to improve how Americans vote, here’s one piece of advice,” he wrote:
Don’t alienate half the country by arguing, as Miller does here, that the president and his followers — whom Miller labels “Busheviks” — think of their political enemies as “subhuman beings” and believe they must “slaughter” their opponents in the same way that religious fanatics slaughter their holy foes. Even if you believe this to be true, and even if it is in fact true, shut up about it; this sort of unhinged rhetoric can’t help, and can only hurt, our capacity to solve the problem of voting in America [emphasis added].
That an American reporter would make such a statement, and that any liberal magazine would publish it, suggests how thoroughly we have repressed all memory of what America was once supposed to mean. “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1816, in a spirit of scientific progress and republican self-liberation. “Even if it’s true, shut up about it,” Farhad Manjoo wrote in 2005, in the spirit of Bill O’Reilly. Luckily, Manjoo was not a major player when the colonies were trying to get their act together, or we’d all be subjects of the House of Windsor. Although they once were a minority, the first republicans did not “shut up,” but made their case until the people came around and finally took the crucial step toward liberty for all. In any case, Manjoo’s command is as illogical as it is craven, for there is no convincing evidence that “half the country” voted for Bush/Cheney’s re-election, nor is it clear how “shutting up” about the theocratic threat to our democracy could help “improve how Americans vote.” The assumption there is that the theocratic movement might somehow be lulled into allowing us to have a functioning democracy, if we’re very careful not to tell the truth about them, which will only make them mad. “Even if it’s true, shut up about it.” That is not the statement of “an open mind,” but a plea for willful ignorance and wishful thinking.
If that were just Farhad Manjoo’s position, Joan, I certainly would not have written you this letter. I write because that view of his, and yours, has paralyzed the whole political establishment, the press included; and Manjoo’s latest piece, and your defense of it, provide a fitting opportunity to point that out. If, as you say, you want to see the system fixed, you must admit that it needs fixing now — a great step forward that has just been taken by Bob Herbert of The New York Times as well as Robert Kennedy and other reputable people. It is past time to take that step, for there is every indication — as Salon should now be pointing out — that the Republicans are readier than ever to subvert the process once more on this next Election Day.
While they gear up to strike again, the Democrats and media keep trying to “solve” the problem of election fraud by claiming endlessly, and groundlessly, that there’s no problem, or by charging that the problem somehow lies with all those trouble-makers who insist on trying to talk about it, or that the problem is not partisan malfeasance but “incompetence.” Salon must finally break away from that impossible consensus, which means no longer seconding the Democrats as they keep struggling to avoid the issue, but calling on them to behave, at last, like democrats — and, for that matter, like republicans — which is to say, at last, like good Americans.