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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Show, don't tell

Not a good week for national media April 7, 2021 at 3:43 a.m.

The best editor we've ever known once told us: Show, don't tell. Actually, he said it about once a week. We'd have a great idea for an article, would approach him with the plan, and he'd wave us off. Show me the end result, he'd say. Don't tell me about it.

The big national news of the past week has come from Georgia, and soon enough--as soon as the national press discovers Arkansas again--the datelines will be out of Little Rock, too. For Arkansas has a couple of bills before its General Assembly that would tighten the voter laws here as well.

We predict it won't be long before activists, maybe even the president of the United States, starts comparing a ban on unsolicited ballot applications in this state to Jim Crow.

Speaking of President Biden, he's already compared Georgia's new laws to Jim Crow, but called them Jim Crow "on steroids," and even got off a one-liner about the new laws being "Jim Eagle." He should leave the jokes to those who can pull them off.

But you'd expect that from partisans in government, even the top partisan. What's really been disappointing, and more than a little surprising, is the press accounts we've seen. They keep telling readers that these laws amount to voter suppression. But they rarely show us anything of the sort.

Instead, we're given back-and-forth between the principals. Early this week, the Senate majority leader said the president's statements on the matter weren't true. Then reporters go to the president's people, who disagree. Then another senator gives his opinion. And the stories are filled with quotes, with a lot of heat but little light.

We remember a time, only a few months ago, when a president would say something obviously false, and the press would detail how, exactly, the statement was false.

But the current president said the new Georgia laws would close polls at 5 p.m. when people are just getting off work. That simply isn't the case. It's not true. It's false. How else say it?

President Biden also said it was "sick, sick" to prevent people from handing out water at the polls. That's a distortion. The precincts can offer water and snacks, but electioneering by people holding signs and bullhorns while breaching the distance restrictions at polling places by "handing out water bottles" is restricted.

Karl Rove--yes, that Karl Rove--wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal last week that compared Georgia's new voting laws to those in Delaware, the home state of a certain current president: "Iowa and Georgia both allow unlimited no-excuse absentee voting by mail. Any registered voter can vote by mail rather than waiting for election day. Neither state's new reforms restrict the practice. Unlike Iowa and Georgia, Delaware forbids no-excuse mail-in absentee voting."

And Delaware has fewer drop boxes for absentee ballots, per capita, than Georgia. Mr. Rove made other comparisons between the states. We've heard these numbers nowhere else.

Georgia is criticized for the new voter ID requirements that Delaware also has. When the president said at his news conference that Georgia's laws were "sick, sick," nobody in the press challenged him. More concerning, a week later most columnists were still taking his word for it.

Now comes the decision by Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star Game out of Atlanta. The league can do whatever it feels is good for its business. But when CEOs of major companies in Atlanta like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines are quoted in the papers as saying the new Georgia laws are "undemocratic" and assault "fundamental tenets of our democracy," the press simply quotes them and runs to the other side to ask for another quote. Madness, madness.

We're not suggesting that news reporters become commentators (although many have been over the last, say, four years). But it doesn't break any J-school rules to give readers context. And to say, at a news conference, "Mr. President, the polls don't actually close at 5 p.m. Would you consider clarifying what you meant?"

And we wonder why the national media is so mistrusted by a certain segment of voters. The industry has got to be better than this.


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