Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

AZCentral Fact Check Intern takes editorial liberties -- is nobody supervising the interns?

On Tuesday morning, azcentral.com published a fact check story with the byline Julia Shumway. Shumway's Linked In profile* says (on September 9, 2014) that she has been a fact check intern at the Arizona Republic for two months, beginning in August 2014. From the alleged fact check,
THE COMMENT: "Independents have to redo it every cycle. They have to send in a postcard to say whether they want a Republican or Democratic vote. Republicans and Democrats get their ballots automatically; independents have to request them. And the way that they request them is with a simple little postcard that comes in the mail. It's easy to overlook, it looks like junk mail and that's it. You get that one chance. And if you don't send it back, you don't get a ballot so you don't vote in the primary. That's why, in 2012, only 7.8 percent of all registered independents actually voted in the primary."
THE FORUM: Web video posted to Goddard's YouTube page on Aug. 25.
WHAT WE'RE LOOKING AT: Whether Terry Goddard, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, accurately depicted how independent voters obtain primary ballots. 
The first editorial liberty she takes is to define the question at issue in troublingly narrow terms.

You see, the video (below) BEGINS by setting the context, which Shumway summarily ignores. Yet, on her personal blog, she claims,
I’ve sat in on countless meetings of the Arizona Legislature and pored over hundreds of documents and old articles to provide context for stories. (emphasis mine)



The subject of the video is "independent voter suppression," NOT a technical analysis of state law or county elections department procedures. My hunch is that Goddard's video was intended for viewing by voters, not by the Arizona Supreme Court. He could have gotten technical about Michele Reagan's 2013 masterpiece Voter Suppression Bill (HB2305), but that probably would have taken more than two minutes. YES, that bill had her name all over it.

Regardless, candidate Goddard, a former AZ Attorney General, just might have a better grasp on the legal framework of voting processes and procedures than UNDERGRADUATE and NEW intern Shumway. And I think he probably has more insight into the perils and pitfalls faced by Independent voters than does Ms. Shumway.

Goddard opens by saying that Independent voters, now the largest voting bloc in the state, get a raw deal.
Very simply, they are discriminated against, by a system which in a lot of relatively small ways makes it much harder for them to vote. Or to be a candidate, and then frankly I put those two on the same level. In other words, participation in the elections process.
THAT is the claim that the Arizona Republic should have been looking at. Goddard then gives an example rather than a lengthy treatise which may have taken more than two mintues. Specifically, he indicated one specific concern is that Independent voters have to re-do it every cycle.

Shumway's bottom line:
Goddard's accurate in saying independent or non-affiliated voters must make more of an effort to receive a ballot than voters registered with a party. Voting at a polling place isn't any different for independent or non-affiliated voters. But such voters who are on permanent early voting lists do have to request an early ballot each election instead of automatically receiving one like voters registered in the four recognized parties do.
However, Goddard exaggerates the difficulty these voters face. Rather than having "one chance," they're able to submit requests through mail, by phone or in person, and some counties have online requests available as well.
In other words, Goddard's claim, taken in context, is TRUE. But Shumway takes editorial liberty by declaring that he exaggerated the difficulty these voters face. That is not a factual statement. It is more likely a projection of Shumway's own personal belief, not simply about Goddard, but about Independent voters. At minimum, Shumway's claim is a subjective statement of her viewpoint and is not supported by the analysis she articulated.

I wonder how many Independent voters she interviewed to find out whether they find the process burdensome. She did not list any as a source for the "fact" check. How many of the 1,152,444 registered Independent voters cast ballots in this year's primary election? How does that compare with prior cycles? How does that compare with the turnout percentages for those registered to a political party?

Anyway, in her analysis, Shumway states:
County recorders in Arizona's 15 counties distribute ballots at the polls and by mail. Independents who vote in person on Election Day request their preferred ballot at the polling place.
That is blatantly a false statement. Not every county recorder has responsibility for the election process. I first checked, Apache County. Apache County Elections Department's MISSION STATEMENT clarifies who is responsible.
Apache County Elections, under the direction of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, administers, prepares, conducts and tallies Federal, State and County elections in accordance with Arizona Revised Statutes.
Apache County's Election Director is Angela Romero. She apparently reports to the Board of Supervisors rather than Apache County Recorder Lenore Fulton.

Need I examine all 15 counties?

HERE is the bottom line. Julia Shumway, who has what, at most 30 days worth of experience as a Fact Check INTERN at the Republic, is given unsupervised responsibility by the largest newspaper in Arizona to find fault with a former Attorney General's narrative description of the suppression of Independent voters. She FAILS, at minimum, by ignoring the context and real subject of the ad and by not even understanding that there are different elections department organizational structures from county to county.

Oh, you're right. I made an assumption that Shumway was unsupervised. Here's the scoop on that. IF I'm wrong about the level of responsibility entrusted to her, then the editor who actually was responsible is the one who failed to understand the context, the subject of the ad, and the county elections organization charts. And if it's the editor who rightfully shoulder's that blame, then he or she might be a good target for the next round of Republic newsroom job cuts. The Republic's corporate media parent Gannett just last week wielded the ax in the newsroom of its flagship, USA Today.

For Ms. Shumway, this might be one of those teachable moments. But I personally will take anything she reports on politics in Arizona with a huge grain of salt. Maybe it has something to do with her political leanings? After all, she lists experience as a communications assistant with (Thucydides/John Huppenthal's?) Arizona Department of Education (dates not specified).

On Tuesday evening, at LD26 (Tempe, West Mesa, Salt River Indian Community) Democrats' monthly meeting, Goddard said his campaign would post a reply on its website and social media to answer the faulty "fact check." An additional note of irony, Republic columnist E.J. Montini's piece two days earlier, Ads teach how to bash candidates with facts -- not truth could have provided Shumway some guidance even if no editor was available.

In the meantime, intentional or not, might Shumway's "fact" check be more fairly characterized as partisan propaganda?
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