The Show: ABC's 20/20 Friday 10th October. The message: young people are too dumb to vote and should stay home instead. That's the thrust of a segment by John Stossel, self-proclaimed "libertarian" and regular contributor to the hard-right's fanzine, Commentary.
Watch it here.
The folks at Future Majority are understandably ticked, calling the segment an attack on the very idea of American democracy.
There is a lot that is wrong with this piece. Yes, there are many uninformed voters, but that category is not limited to young people, who are unfortunately the main target of this piece. Anyone who has ever watched Jay Leno could tell you that many Americans are uninformed about current events. Unfortunately, some see that as an excuse to rob people of their constitutional rights, and Stossel and ABC are happy to play along.
But all is not as it appears in this report. In talking with HeadCount, the group featured in the piece, it's clear that Stossel and 20/20 were not interested in giving the young people they interviewed a fair shake. They had a narrative to their story and stuck by it - facts be damned. More than that, they worked -um, creatively - to make sure their point of view dominated the piece.
According to Head Count, Stossel's team cherry-picked responses for their piece, giving the impression that respondents were far less knowledgeable than they were. "Far more ... were knowledgeable than implied by the report" and:
Many interviewees were knowledgeable about some issues, but less so when it came to other issues. The young voter responses included in the report were cherry-picked by Stossel and ABC producers to highlight only the incorrect answers.
Indeed, the show's one producer got into an argument with one young voter when the producer tried to say that the length of single term for a congressional representative was four years. The "young and dumb" voter had the correct answer of two years.
Stossel, in the segment, also interviews a fellow "libertarian", Bryan Caplan, who courted sensationalist fame with his book "The Myth of The Rational Voter". HeadCount also say that Stossel misrepresented their own work, not showing the educational work they do alongisde their voter registration drives. But then again, he's no stranger to creative editing to make people apparently support his own narrative.
Michael Connery at Future Majority is right when he says that voters may not always be able to identify Joe Biden or Ted Stevens on sight - but they do know their own lives: the ups and downs of medical costs, travel costs, food costs, their own sense of morality. That's all you need to be a participant in democracy.
Democracy is for all of us, not just a select few. As a nation, we eliminated the idea of literacy tests decades ago, and rightly so. Kudos to HeadCount for pushing back on this argument to the extent that was possible within the piece, and shame on Stossel and ABC for enabling it. Young voters have faced a hostile media for decades, always pining about youth apathy. Now, on the cusp of a record breaking turnout, for a major media outlet to question the validity of those votes on such flimsy grounds, in opposition our constitutional rights, is the height of irresponsibility. Dare I say it, it's unamerican.
If you would like to express your displeasure about this piece to ABC, send a polite but firm email to the producer, Andrew Sullivan, outlining your concerns: Andrew.G.Sullivan [at] abc [dot] com
It's probably significant that the party John Stossel is most likely to support (given his prolific Commentary output) has the least support among young voters. Encouraging young voters to stay home, because they're allegedly too dumb to vote, is tantamount to a booster for the GOP. ABC should be held to task for such a shameless piece of partisan "reporting".