For all the talk of conspiracies by the ever-paranoid, no one seems to pick up on this one: Election Day being so close to Thanksgiving and Christmas (as well as several other holidays) is obviously a plot to make newspaper editors’ heads explode, what with the onslaught of politics plus the usual holiday hyperbole and rigmarole.
As for skewing of opinion on the Voices page … eh, not so much, at least according to a content analysis requested by reader Gary Lemon of Cabot, who wrote:
“Can you tell me the number of conservative/GOP letters to appear on the Voices page in the last three months compared to the number of liberal/Democratic letters that have appeared on the Voices page during the same time period? I suspect the Democrats would win by a 5 to 1 margin. If the Republicans sweep the election and rout the Democrats, how will you explain such a startling discrepancy?”
Fair enough. Gary sent his question on Oct. 29, and yes, it took me till now to complete the research; that happens sometimes, especially on content analyses (even the simple ones), and especially at such a busy time of year. There’s really not a quick, accurate way for one person to check and code 95 pages in her spare time. (Wait … I have spare time?) And yes, it’s 95 days, which, if you’re doing the math, is more than three months’ time. The analysis covered August, September and October, as well as the first four days of November in order to include Election Day.
There’s not enough space on the Voices page to delve fully into the results, but fuller results are available here.
Among my findings, the count showed that in the 95 days from Aug. 1 to Nov. 4, we ran 401 letters related to politics—only two of those days had no political letters at all. Of the political letters, 137 skewed Democratic, 127 Republican, and 137 other (other parties or candidates, both major parties, or praise and criticism of a party in the same letter). That breaks down to about a third (34 percent, 32 percent and 34 percent, respectively) for each, hardly the 5-to-1 margin predicted. And since there’s no huge discrepancy between letters and votes … sorry, dude.
I should note that at only one time in the past three months have I actually sought out more letters from one side or the other, and only because, even using a broader, election-time definition of truth, it was getting more and more difficult to find letters on that side that didn’t parrot campaign ads (especially the debunked ones), or sound like campaign press releases or every other letter; many also seemed to have been written in anger and were unsuitable for a family newspaper. I don’t aim to fill a quota, partially because creating balance in that way is unrealistic. I work with what I have at the given moment, so it surprised me to find such an even distribution.
Just for giggles (because content analysis is so laughter-inducing), I also decided to check the numbers in the U.S. Senate race between Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton, probably the most reported and debated (and parodied, rightly) race of the lot. Of the 401 political letters counted, 106 mentioned the Senate race—47 for Pryor, 39 for Cotton, and 20 for neither or both, or for another party. The breakdown here is more stark, especially considering the dearth of “other” views, but still, only a few letters separate Pryor and Cotton.
The reason for that difference is fact-checking; had more letters passed the process, the numbers would be even closer. While we don’t retain tossed letters for very long, I recall having to toss several in both the Pryor and Cotton camps for repeating something that had been proved false, such as saying that Cotton had voted five times against Arkansas disaster relief (take out “Arkansas” and it’s correct), or saying Pryor did not support the Affordable Care Act (he did, but no, he didn’t cast “the deciding vote”). Some letters never made it in because they got stuck in documentation, usually because someone threw something in that he pulled out of a certain part of his anatomy which, consequently, couldn’t be verified.
I was a little surprised, though, that we got no letters accusing Pryor of being behind the Islamic State, or claiming that Cotton single-handedly is responsible for climate change, or suggesting a cage match between the two (I’d pay to see that). Wonders never cease.
So, yeah, nothing earth-shaking here, but it does show that there is little to no skewing of the opinion on the Voices page. Whether some will accept something as truth if not vetted by their preferred “news” source is a different matter altogether, and we’ll leave further discussion of confirmation bias for another day.
My prediction is that Gary will take issue with my results. I’d be surprised if he didn’t. Hell, I’ll be downright shocked if he doesn’t, and my cat will probably have to revive me with his tuna breath.
Pray for me. That is some stinky breath.
Last week, we ran a letter from Eileen Mericle of Bentonville which might have confused some readers. In the letter, Eileen spoke of an illegal immigrant mother and her child, who was raped by two authority figures some time ago.
Thankful to work, live
With all the talk of amnesty being promised to illegals, I thought it might be appropriate to tell the story of one such family—a widowed mother with no insurance or car. A grandmother looks after the child for a time but when she dies the child looks out for herself. The mother, working 12 hours a day six days a week, can’t afford to hire someone. Maria’s mother is just thankful to have a job.
Maria at 11 has to visit a doctor, who rapes her. When the mother finds out and confronts him, he laughs and asks who she could report him to without being deported.
Time passes. Maria is now 12. Her mother has to work on Thanksgiving because the restaurant where she works is open. She promises to bring back wonderful food. Maria wanders near a park when a man with a gun and police badge stops and asks for her help. She readily gets in the gray sedan with him. He explains he is in plain clothes and without a police car because he is working undercover.
After driving around for an hour he takes Maria to a secluded area and does what he wants with her. Maria neither protests nor cries out, realizing that to do so might end her life. Afterward the man gives her $10 and drops her off. She thinks about tearing up the money, then decides to put it in the church collection plate on Sunday.
Maria’s mother comes home with a plastic box loaded with food gleaned from the plates of less-hungry diners.
A year passes and one day Maria sees the man with a badge acting as a security guard. She immediately goes to a restroom and throws up. She leaves and tells no one as she is an illegal too. To report such an incident risks immediate deportation. She is just thankful to be alive.
The Bentonville Police Department was rightly concerned, and checked to see if the events merited further investigation. Capt. Justin Thompson wrote:
“We were able to speak with [Mrs. Mericle] and learned that the incidents she spoke of occurred nearly 60 years ago and in another state. I know there is no proper way to convey these findings to the general public, but we are concerned that someone reading the letter may be under the impression that these allegations were local and recent.”
In general, we don’t run many letters regarding crimes under investigation or possible crimes (reported or unreported) because of a whole host of legal issues. In this case, however, because no actual identifying information was presented and it was apparent to me that it was far in the past, and because it was such a powerful letter, the decision was made to run it. I stand behind that decision.
This, however, is a reminder that even if something is apparent to me, it might not be to others. My apologies for any confusion.