The Sunday Read: More Than 145 Million Reasons To Demand Transparency

The role of the journalist is to ask questions from those who have the answers.

It’s not to shut down a point of view as it’s being expressed, but to challenge it after it’s been expressed.

Let’s think about this today, after The Associated Press and the networks one by one declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election on Saturday morning and ahead of what President Donald Trump vowed would be a fight to the finish. The Center Square vows to stay with this story until the end.

Journalism cannot be practiced fairly or ethically if we silence the newsmakers – whether their opinions jibe with the truth or our own beliefs of what is truthful.

It should be more than a bit concerning to all Americans – regardless of their political leanings or affiliations – that the national legacy news media are shutting off direct access to a seated president days after the most intensely contested election of our lifetimes.

ABC, CBS, CNBC, MSNBC and NBC each cut away from a live feed of Trump speaking from a podium Thursday in the White House about alleged instances of voter fraud. USA Today dropped its online feed.

“President Trump, without evidence, claimed the presidential election was corrupt and fraudulent. We stopped the livestream of his remarks early and have removed the video from all our platforms. Our job is to spread the truth – not unfounded conspiracies,” Nicole Carroll, editor in chief of USA Today, the country’s widest-circulated daily newspaper, said.

The networks offered similarly worded explanations and justifications for their actions.

Without question, Trump can be vitriolic and hyperbolic, but he’s the president and more than 70.6 million Americans appear to have voted for him. It’s the second-highest vote total for a president in U.S. history, and more than former President Barack Obama received in 2008. The 74.8 million votes Joe Biden has been credited with thus far in Tuesday’s election stands as the highest vote total. Keep in mind that votes were still being counted Saturday and both totals will change.

Americans have every right to scrutinize election results, and to be skeptical of them in an election such as this, amid a global pandemic, when virtually everything about our lives is slightly off or different from what we remember as normal. Pandemic aside, it would be reasonable to seek answers in these election results – simply because they are so very different in the volume of returns, the expansion of mail-in votes, counting method and tabulations than any election of our time.

Biden, who had run for president three times previously in a 47-year career in politics, who until 2020 never before won the nomination, whose candidacy for this year’s race started in obscurity and proceeded through perhaps the most low-key presidential campaign of the past 70 years, just scored the most votes in U.S. presidential history – more than 4 million more votes than Obama secured 12 years before.

Precincts in some cities are reporting turnout via ballot return or onsite votes cast above 90%. It’s been reported that some precincts have been above 100%, though that’s not verified. There is so much noise on this front that still needs to be reported accurately. Regardless, that should suggest to an objective media that something outside the norm has occurred, and it should be pursued – regardless of how outlandish any individual claim of voter fraud may sound.

The means by which those votes came in, trickling in via mail-in ballots whose counts are equally unprecedented, is new territory for all of us to observe and process amidst the backdrop of COVID-19. Voting and trust in voting protocols may never be the same. I write this from the shadows of Chicago. Voter fraud is not a fairy tale.

The Americans who voted for Trump, who were so enthusiastic about early results Tuesday evening, watched as Trump’s lead dripped away in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania because of massive numbers of mail-in ballots. They also watched as Arizona was called for Biden earlier in the night, probably prematurely, in a race that remained open and still was counting ballots as of Saturday.

While the high totals of mail-ins were anticipated, and delays in declaring state winners had been forecasted throughout the campaign, the sheer size and impact of these ballots could not be adequately foretold by the media covering the election.

Therein lies the rub.

You have – at the very least – the optics of a potentially stolen election, and fraud claims from a president whose leads in states critical to his reelection chances diminished by what is arguably the least-secure voting process we’ve ever allowed as a nation.

In the moment when Trump makes this claim to the American people, the networks – acting independently, but in unison – turned off the feed.

This did nothing but disenfranchise voters, stoke divisiveness and ramp up mistrust for the media. It’s absolutely the wrong approach. We should all be fighting for transparency and openness, integrity and truth.

And you cannot get that without allowing what is nearly half of the electorate to hear from their candidate and then determine the relevance of what has been said.

In the jeers and insults hurled each other’s way during the first debate, many more of them authored by Trump than Biden, it was Biden who said, “Will you shut up, man?”

But for media to willfully shut up a seated president, considering all the angst around this election, is reckless and dangerous.

When that silencing is done in what appears to be an act of unison, or comfort within a pack – as was the case Thursday night when the networks dumped the Trump feed – it further feeds the notion that media is a team sport rather than races run by individual, free-thinking journalists.

Americans have a right to hear from the president and the former vice president who may be our next president, uninterrupted, and to consider their words before journalists report on them in whatever way they may choose to interpret the news. Media cutting the cord and then taking the news wherever they’d like is not journalism. It’s censorship. It’s elitist. And it’s wrong.

When media companies say they are sparing their readers or viewers from the news, they’re taking a position that is not theirs to hold. Journalists are not arbiters of the truth. Live-action fact checking is not fact checking. It’s quite literally interference. It’s an attempt to control what is being said rather than reporting on what’s being said.

Look, we’ve watched the frustration that journalists have had in covering the Trump presidency. The flip side of that is that at least 69 million Americans have watched the president’s frustration with the media covering his presidency.

But what is our responsibility as an industry?

I look at it this way: Media silencing a president is a sin as great as – if not greater than – a president attempting to silence the media. Journalists must rise above not being appreciated, liked or respected and do a difficult job that this country needs to be done.

* * * *

NATIONAL

Oilprice.com, a primary source for oil and energy news, warned that a Joe Biden presidency would cause a “huge new oil glut” because of his policies with Iran. An official from Bahrain, an Islamic country that recently signed a peace deal with Israel and the U.S., warned that a Biden win could jeopardize peace deals in the Middle East in addition to flooding the market with oil. On top of that, Biden also pledged to phase out oil and gas production in the U.S., which the industry said would cost millions of jobs nationwide. On Thursday, The Center Square reported from Louisiana that Shell was eliminating 700 jobs in the state.

ILLINOIS

progressive tax ballot initiative, which would have eliminated the state’s flat-tax standard for income, was defeated by a majority of voters Tuesday in Illinois. With more than $56 million spent on messaging by Democrat Gov. J. B. Pritzker, and an initial promise of a tax cut for the majority of Illinois taxpayers, what was it that swayed millions of voters away from supporting the measure? The argument over whether Illinois should change its flat income tax to one that allows lawmakers to tax incomes at different rates saw more than $100 million in combined campaign spending. Illinois lawmakers had even enacted legislation that, should the measure have succeeded in getting either 50% of the total vote or 60% of those who voted on it, would have lowered the income tax rate on any taxpayer making less than $100,000. Despite supporters’ best efforts, the initiative garnered less than 45% of the vote, in part because Illinoisans don’t trust politicians in Springfield.

Pritzker also joined with the state’s U.S. senators to suggest that the longtime Illinois House Speaker step down from his political position. The governor said Thursday that he agreed with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan should no longer be the leader of the Democratic Party of IllinoisThe outcome of Tuesday’s election, on several fronts, wasn’t good news for Madigan, D-Chicago, and the party he controls. Voters rejected the progressive income tax amendment supported by Madigan, Pritzker and other top Democrats, booted a Madigan-backed Illinois Supreme Court justice, and handed several Illinois House seats to Republicans. Madigan has been implicated in a nearly decade-long bribery and patronage scheme. Exelon subsidiary ComEd admitted paying lobbyists and others for jobs that required little or no work to curry favor with Madigan. The utility told a House committee investigating the speaker that the company paid $1.3 million in bribes to Madigan allies to influence the speaker. Madigan hasn’t been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.

WISCONSIN

Amid concerns before the election, The Center Square reached out to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, who said that the probability of voter fraud in the state would be low. But the chance that it might occur was not zero.

MINNESOTA

Three taxpayers of a Minnesota school district filed a lawsuit in Anoka County District Court seeking a declaratory judgment against what they claim is taxpayer-subsidized union political activities. The lawsuit targets the collective bargaining agreement between Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota (AHEM) and Independent School District 11, which requires the district to allow its teachers 100 days of paid leave per school year to work for the union.

NEW JERSEY & NEW YORK

New York has long enjoyed a significant revenue stream by taxing the income of New Jersey residents who drive to the Empire State for work purposes. During the pandemic, many of those workers have been staying at home – but so far, that hasn’t stopped New York from collecting those taxes. Lawmakers in New Jersey are moving to get a handle on how much money is at stake, with an eye toward possibly putting a stop to the outflow of tax revenue. “It’s no surprise that New York wants to keep padding its budget at the expense of New Jersey, even if it no longer has a legitimate claim to our residents’ tax dollars,” said state Sen. Steven Oroho, the Republican budget officer in the Senate.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania Republicans have been staving off for years a series of attempts to impose a severance tax on natural gas, which industry proponents fear would damage a key industry that already provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the state in the form of impact fee payments. Now, the Wolf administration has found a new way to extract money from the industry in the form of massive hikes in permitting fees. The increases were imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection and raised the fee from $4,200-$5,000, depending on well type, to $12,500 regardless of the type.

OHIO

An indictment, an arrest, two guilty pleas and a $60 million bribery scandal did not stop former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder from returning to the statehouse. Householder, who faced opposition only from four write-in candidates in Ohio’s 72nd District, easily won re-election in a wide-ranging district that covers mostly rural areas in central and eastern Ohio but also includes some affluent and growing Columbus suburbs.

KENTUCKY

A tax hike for public schools in Kentucky’s most populous county will take effect, for now, after a judge threw out a petition that challenged the increase and called for a referendum on the measure. The ruling by Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian Edwards came too late for the question to come off the ballot. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Edwards said the Jefferson County Clerk’s office erred in validating signatures and failed to certify that the petition calling for the referendum had enough valid signatures.

TENNESSEE

An effort to enshrine the state’s right-to-work law in the Tennessee Constitution took another step Thursday. Legislation was filed in preparing the proposed constitutional amendment to advance through the Tennessee Legislature for the required second time. Any amendment to the state constitution must be approved twice by the Legislature; once by simple majority and again by two-thirds majority after an election. The amendment then would go on the ballot for voter approval during a gubernatorial election. The amendment passed the Tennessee House in June after clearing the Tennessee Senate.

FLORIDA

Amendment 2, the state constitutional amendment that increases Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, received 60.8% of the vote in Tuesday’s election, narrowly securing the 60% majority required to amend the state’s constitution. With its passage, Florida became the eighth state to adopt a $15 minimum wage. The amendment increases Florida’s $8.56 an hour minimum wage to $10 an hour next September and then $1 an hour more each year until it hits $15 an hour in 2026. “Thousands of businesses” in the state will suffer because of Amendment 2, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO Carol Dover said.

TEXAS

Democratic strongholds in Texas received millions of dollars in funding from social media giant Facebook, according to an analysis of their funding efforts by the Amistad Project. Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, and his wife, donated $250 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) “to promote safe and reliable voting in states and localities during the COVID-19 pandemic.” But according to the Amistad analysis, of the 17 cities and counties that have received the largest grants from CTCL, totaling more than $51 million combined, less than $300,000 was given to Republican-leaning counties.

COLORADO

Colorado saw record-setting voter turnout in the general election this week, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. About 3.3 million ballots were cast at an 86.8% turnout rate among active registered voters in the Centennial State, which is one of five states that allowed mail-in voting prior to the pandemic.

OREGON

While Oregon Democrats expanded their hold on every statewide office on Tuesday night, the Democratic majority in the state legislature is not likely to balloon its numbers to the super majority it hoped for, according to election results. This means they likely won’t gain key seats needed to reach quorum – or the minimum number of lawmakers needed to do business – in both chambers of the legislature, and Republicans will hold just enough seats to deny the Democratic majority quorum as they have for the past two years.

Chris Krug is publisher of The Center Square. Executive Editor Dan McCaleb, and regional editors J.D. Davidson, Derek Draplin, Dave Lemery, Brett Rowland, Jason Schaumburg and Bruce Walker contributed to the column.



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