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Headline Fraud

NewsMax moves from making vague, unsupported allegations of Democratic vote fraud to writing misleading headlines about it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/11/2004

NewsMax has been hammering away at its big election meme -- that Democrats are planning to steal the election.

Its efforts have started quietly, mostly in its "Insider Report" received by e-mail subscribers only (though occasionally posted on the NewsMax web site). The problem is, the only evidence NewsMax offers to back up its fraud allegation is a documenting of activities that are perfectly legal.

A Sept. 28 "Insider Report" article, headlined "Democrats May Steal Election as Voter Registration Grows," claimed that Democrats plan to win the presidential election "[p]erhaps by the old fashioned way: stealing the election." It cited "voter turnout" efforts operated by "the 527 groups supporting [Senator John] Kerry, and backed by the likes of billionaire George Soros." But provided no evidence as to how completely legal efforts to get voters to the polls -- efforts that conservative 527 groups are also involved in -- translates into the serious accusation of "election theft."

That same day, another NewsMax article, this one headlined "Democrats Preparing to Steal Iowa Too?" claimed that "an unprecedented $300 million 'get out the vote' effort to defeat President Bush" is "laying the groundwork for massive vote fraud on Election Day." The only pieces of evidence the article provided were a statement that "the Democrats are preparing to snag that state through 'voter efforts'" and a note that "roughly three times as many Democrats as Republicans" have requested absentee ballots. It is completely legal for voters to request absentee ballots.

On Oct. 4, another e-mail-only "Insider Report" went out claiming that "Democrats and their supporters may be laying the groundwork for a massive effort to 'steal' the election come Election Day." As its sole source to back up this claim, NewsMax cited an October 4 New York Times article about a surge in new voter registrations, which made no mention of fraud. The NewsMax article stated: "Republican strategists tell NewsMax that by increasing voter registrations in inner city and heavily Democratic areas, there is an increased worry that multiple voting schemes will take place on Election Day." But the article contained no evidence to support that allegation.

The article, unlike the others, does note that "[t]here is no evidence that any of these groups registering new voters are doing anything illegal -- or planning to do so," though this was not mentioned until paragraph 23 of the 27-paragraph article.

NewsMax isn't the only one on the conservative side promoting the idea of Democratic election fraud; Rush Limbaugh and Robert Novak have as well (full disclosure: I wrote the linked article at Media Matters for America).

NewsMax has moved onto the next step in its campaign -- blowing headlines on its home page out of proportion to the articles they're linking to. It is pretty much relegated to doing that, since it can't mess with copy on other sites NewsMax links to.

Nor can NewsMax mess with the Associated Press copy it posts on its own site (as it used to do with UPI wire copy); the tagline at the end of each AP article on NewsMax reads: "This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed."

But since NewsMax can't slant the copy, it does its best to slant the promo. For instance, a straight AP story Oct. 8 on the latest unemployment figures was promoted this way on its front page: "The economy continues to grow and create jobs, and the unemployment rate is only 5.4 percent, but John Kerry and his naysaying pals in the establishment aren't satisfied." That copy appears nowhere in the AP story.

With that M.O. as a primer, it's easy to suspect something when NewsMax parades a fusillade of liberal-bashing headlines on its front page, as it did Oct. 8, 9 and 10:

  • Kerry's Thugs Try 'to Intimidate Voters'
  • Left-Wing Vote Fraud in Ohio
  • Left-Wing Vote Fraud in Pennsylvania
  • Left-Wing Vote Fraud in Minnesota
  • Left-Wing Vote Fraud Across Florida
  • Democrat Vote Fraud in Jacksonville

A quick look at the linked stories, though, shows that NewsMax's take is overblown, if not fraudulent. The "Kerry's Thugs" is the most egregious: It links to a press release by Minnesota Republicans about a protest by Democrats at his headquarters. (This harkens back to the days when NewsMax considered Judicial Watch press releases as news.) The news story the Minnesota Republicans link to, ironically, puts the lie to the GOP's hyperventilating about an "armed siege" that "intimidated voters." The alleged "protesters" were trying to deliver postcards that "bore the signatures of 10,000 Minnesotans protesting the change in overtime rules that went into effect in late August," according to the news story, which concludes: "St. Paul Police Commander Tyrone Strickland said that Tuesday's protest 'was peaceful' and that the group had a permit."

The other "vote fraud" headlines are overblown interpretations of others' stories. The "Left-Wing Vote Fraud in Ohio" article is about a mere 19 possibly fraudulent voter registrations detected in one county -- hardly the widespread fraud that NewsMax wants you to believe exists. The "Democrat Vote Fraud in Jacksonville" article involves only 25 suspect registrations.

And the "Left-Wing Vote Fraud Across Florida" article also notes that election officials in one county "are investigating 1,500 applications. ... All were for registration as Republicans."

Needless to say, NewsMax is overlooking lots of things done by Republicans that, under its extremely wide scope, would be considered "vote fraud" -- such as the attempt by Ohio's Republican secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, to throw out thousands of voter registrations because the paper they were printed on allegedly wasn't thick enough, as well as trying to block the casting of perfectly legal provisional ballots. (A NewsMax story does note, however, that Blackwell is among several "top black leaders" to endorse George W. Bush).

At this point, NewsMax seems to be guilty of a lot more fraud than Democrats are.

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