A piece of legislation working its way through Congress would upend further the way Americans conduct elections.
But the way many media outlets are covering it, one would think the bill—which Democrats designated as HR 1 or the so-called For the People Act—is just a simple, uncontroversial “reform” that most Americans agree with.
It’s far from that.
Beyond the name of the legislation, which declares that it’s “for the people,” much of the media coverage has been deceptive and clearly intended to present the bill in the best, most innocuous light possible.
For instance, media outlets frequently portray HR 1 as a “voter rights” bill.
Outlet after outlet describes the legislation this way, despite vagueness about exactly what voting rights are being threatened.
A New York Times headline calls HR 1 a “voting rights expansion.”
Make no mistake, the Democrats’ bill really is sweeping in what it aims to do. It’s hard even to summarize HR 1 because of the scope of the changes it would make if signed into law by President Joe Biden. The editors at National Review made a solid attempt to do so:
It would override hundreds of state laws governing the orderly conduct of elections, federalize control of voting and elections to a degree without precedent in American history, end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts, turn the Federal Elections Commission into a partisan weapon, and massively burden political speech against the government while offering government handouts to congressional campaigns and campus activists. Merely to describe the bill is to damn it, and describing it is a Herculean task in itself.
Does this sound like a bill that just protects “voter rights?"
As I wrote about HR 1 when Democrats first floated the legislation in 2019, it’s really a massive grab bag of progressive priorities that run the gamut from bad policy to outright unconstitutional.
HR 1 would fundamentally change the way in which our federal, constitutional republic functions. That progressive activists desire this is one thing. It’s not like they ever have been entirely enamored of our constitutional system.
The bigger problem is with media outlets distorting what kind of changes are really on the table and how all-encompassing they would be.
Are Americans really uniformly in favor of effectively nullifying state voter ID laws, or handing over all power for overseeing elections to an increasingly partisan federal agency?
As studies have shown, voter ID laws don’t appear to affect minority voter turnout at all. So why is that election integrity measure considered voter suppression?
It looks like HR 1 has nothing to do with protecting voter rights and everything to do with manipulating and nationalizing how we conduct elections.
When former Vice President Mike Pence laid out his objections to the legislation in a commentary for The Daily Signal, critics attacked him in a deluge of media stories.
One particularly egregious “fact-check” from CNN distorted Pence’s position while misrepresenting what HR 1 really would do if enacted into law.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow and election law expert at The Heritage Foundation, did an excellent job of refuting CNN’s fact-check. His piece is well worth reading.
I’ll add that the left and its media allies are peddling a curious line of argument.
They insist that any questions about the conduct of the 2020 election, or electoral integrity in general, are promoting the “Big Lie,” as the CNN fact-check claims. They also argue that our voting system is hopelessly broken and requires massive, sweeping changes, or democracy will end.
They want to have it both ways.
They treat one side as inherently illegitimate, the other as beyond even questioning.
The bottom line is that HR 1 would change drastically the way our elections work. Progressive activists are downright giddy about what the effects will be after it’s passed.
We should expect that supposedly nonpartisan media outlets, such as The Associated Press, would attempt to create balanced portrayals of what HR 1 is. Instead, we get skewed reporting such as this:
I lost count of the things wrong with just these two paragraphs about HR1.— Lyndsey Fifield (@lyndseyfifield) March 3, 2021
And this isn't from an opinion piece—this is @AssociatedPress “reporting.”
Just kicking off: Voter ID laws are proven to INCREASE voter turnout—including minority turnout. pic.twitter.com/QAgmduOl2k
It’s worth noting here that “HR” stands for House of Representatives, not “House Resolution,” so The Associated Press couldn’t even get that right.
Again, the AP portrays Democrat intentions as good, Republican intentions as bad.
All of this is just the latest in a long list of examples of why Americans have lost faith in big, powerful media institutions that used to act as though they were objective and unbiased.
The problem is getting worse. Instead of reforming how they do business to regain the confidence of Americans, powerful media outlets go further down the road of partisanship and ideological purity. And some even look to outright silence dissenting voices.
Guardians of the free press, indeed.
Jarrett Stepman is a contributor to The Daily Signal and co-host of The Right Side of History podcast. Send an email to Jarrett. He is also the author of the new book, "The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past."
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in The Daily Signal.