President Joe Biden repeatedly misstated one provision of Georgia’s new restrictive voting laws, and the media is determined to weaponize that in order to undermine the efforts of activists to protect Black voters from voter suppression efforts across the country.
In several interviews and speeches, President Biden cited several provisions of Georgia’s new voting laws, including one that he characterized in a way that was misleading, at best. Biden said that the law “ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over,” but the provision in question actually refers only to early voting, and defines the hours of 9 to 5 as the standard, with the option to extend them to 7 am to 7 pm.
It earned a “Four Pinocchio” rating from a Washington Post fact-check in which Glenn Kessler failed to contextualize either Biden’s broader statement, which included characterizations of several other provisions that are not in dispute, or the broader nationwide trend in which hundreds of restrictions are being proposed or enacted by state legislatures in order to make it more difficult to vote.
Now, you can defend Kessler if you want, I’m sure there are examples of him providing or not providing context to the tens of thousands of lies Trump told. Maybe it’s not his job to contextualize, maybe there are limits to the context obligation that just happened to kick in here at the worst moment. And President Biden did repeat the claim after it had been called out, that’s an own goal that he and his administration need to deal with.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki previewed a little bit of that last week when she was pressed by Fox Business reporter Edward Lawrence, who was, himself, previewing the media’s tack going forward.
Psaki’s initial response took two forms, the first being to attack the provision, saying “It standardizes the ending of voting every day at five, right?” and later criticizing the bill for “not standardizing longer hours.”
But much more to the point was her broader response, and Lawrence’s follow-ups were much more revealing.
“So my question is: Is the tone going to change out of the White House?” Lawrence asked.
“Well, I think that is not based in fact what the governor of Georgia has said,” Psaki replied and added “So, no, our tone is not changing. We have concerns about the specific components of the package, including the fact that it makes it harder and more difficult for people to vote by limiting absentee options; by making it not viable, not possible for people to provide water to people who are in line; by not standardizing longer hours. So, if you’re making it harder to vote, no, we don’t support that.”
Then, at Monday’s White House briefing, two more reporters — Fox News’ Peter Doocy and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins — pressed the issue, and tried to extract a change in tone from the White House based on this one misstep.
Thankfully, Psaki’s response was much more focused on the totality of these voter suppression efforts. Doocy cited the fact-check, and told Psaki “I’m just curious if the President is going to change the way that he’s talking about it.”
“Well, fundamentally, the President doesn’t believe it should be made harder to vote; he believes it should be easier,” Psaki said. “And this bill makes it harder to request and return an absentee ballot. It collapses the length of Georgia’s runoff election, making it harder for large jurisdictions to offer early voting. It imposes rigid new restrictions on local officials’ ability to set polling hours to suit the needs of voters in their county. Those are all pieces of the bill. So his view is that we need to make it easier and not harder to vote, and that will continue to be what he advocates for.”
“But the thing he said has been determined by election law experts to be not true. So I’m just curious if he’s going to stop saying that,” Doocy said, notably using the singular “thing he said.”
Moments later, Collins followed up, and Psaki stressed the point again, while copping to the inaccuracy of the statement in question.
Psaki: Well, look, Kaitlan, it also doesn’t expand them for early voting, and makes early voting shorter. So there are a lot of components of the legislation he is concerned about, and that’s what he was expressing.
Collins: Right. But does he — he does acknowledge that? Because his comments had been confusing about closing it at 5:00 p.m.
Psaki: That’s correct.
Collins: So he does acknowledge that it doesn’t change the voting —
Psaki: I think what’s important is to report on all of the components that make it more difficult to vote in the package in the legislation.
Does it suck that President Biden blew this? Yes, and it’s totally fair for people to call it out, especially when he kept saying it. Was Trump worse than this on his most truthful day in his sleep? Also yes. But none of that is really very important.
To go along with this one-sided assault on Biden’s statement, there’s also an entire cottage industry of white experts whitesplaining how the Georgia laws aren’t all that bad, and that’s not even to mention the strange arguments coming from right-wing media.
The fact is that you can do both — you can call President Biden out while contextualizing his broader point, and if you don’t think the Georgia laws, or the hundreds of others across the country, are all that bad, you can ask someone whose vote is being suppressed to explain it to you.
And ordinarily, the failure to contextualize or to properly frame can be viewed as matters of taste or opinion, but given the history behind this issue and the stakes involved, they are vile abdications that are made more inexcusable, not less, if they are unwitting.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.