On February 6, 2014, NPR listeners heard this report about the voting rights act. A portion of the story involves Macon, GA, where I live. NPR did its listeners a great disservice in how it presented the story. But don’t believe partisan conservative me. An attorney for the local Democratic Party is calling foul too.
As Dave Oedel, the local Democratic Party attorney (who, being that Macon is Macon and it is a small world, is also my neighbor and constitutional law professor from law school), points out a number of facts that directly contradict the premise of the NPR story.
In the broadcast, the reporter, who is also local to Macon, suggests Republicans trampled the rights of black voters in Macon, GA to suppress black voter turn out in recent local elections.
In fact, voter turnout across the newly consolidated Bibb County, of which Macon is a part, was 51%, which exceeded the November 2010 election turn out. Moreso, the local districts were drawn to reflect a majority black population.
What is most troubling is the implication that two black candidates lost to to white candidates because of some sort of racist shenanigans. NPR “reports”
In the odd-month election that followed, some competitive black candidates for mayor and commission seats lost to white opponents.
“There’s certainly a lot happening in Macon-Bibb County,” said Gilda Daniels, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and now a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
“I can certainly see a Section 2 challenge based on the change in election date,” she said.
One of those white candidates, Mayor Robert Reichert, won even in overwhelmingly black precincts. The other candidate, Rabbi Larry Schlesinger, won a district that had a 60% black voting age population — and has consistently won in black districts. The NPR reports leaves out that the Schlesinger race did result in litigation started by the losing black candidate, Henry Ficklin. Ficklin won his case and a new election was ordered in which he lost again.
NPR seemingly suggests that black voters are being suppressed in Macon, GA because white candidates won in majority black districts. It seems foreign to NPR that perhaps black voters might have voted for the white guys — which is actually what happened.
There are plenty of problems with race in America and in Middle Georgia. But the recent local elections were not part of the problem. A majority of black and white voters in Bibb County, Georgia united behind a number of candidates, some of whom were black and some of whom were white.
But NPR chose to engage in advocacy journalism — starting with how it wanted the story to end and shaping the facts to get there. As Dave Oedel pointed out in his recent local newspaper column:
I learned that NPR’s characterization of Macon elections as being controlled under the radar by racist whites was constructed out of a pastiche of slightly misstated facts and law, unencumbered by explicit expert local analysis. It was the work of Adam Ragusea with Macon’s local NPR affiliate. Supporting his NPR piece, Ragusea quoted two distant law professors who told me later they knew little or nothing firsthand about Macon politics except what Ragusea told them.
I tend to listen to NPR in the mornings and afternoons for a change of pace. But this is just another example of NPR skewing facts to support the comfortable liberal opinions of the bulk of its listeners.