Since January, Republican state lawmakers have introduced hundreds of aggressive bills to restrict voting access. In response, Congressional Democrats introduced the For the People Act to expand voting access by establishing a national baseline for ballot access and easing registration processes. On Sunday, Joe Manchin—the Democratic senator from West Virginia whose relative conservatism in a Senate with the slimmest Democratic majority gives him enormous leverage—published an op-ed in Sunday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, announcing that he would not vote for the For the People Act, nor would he vote to eliminate the filibuster, one of a minority party’s strongest tools for obstructing legislation. The contemporary debate over the protection of voting rights, Manchin wrote, “is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage.”
The media machine whirred into action: the Manchin story was aggregated, re-posted, tweeted about, and became the subject of responding op-eds. Many headlines focused on the politics of the issue, emphasizing a blow to the Democratic Party and wondering over Manchin’s fate. “Joe Manchin just *totally* screwed Democrats,” a CNN headline announced, while a Post opinion columnist warned that Manchin’s “awful new stance could blow up in his face.” Other columnists and opinion contributors used the occasion to proclaim that Manchin “is right,” focusing their attention on Manchin’s calls for bipartisanship at a time of political polarization. At The Hill, a writer from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, re-raised the specter of voter fraud, which is extremely rare, for a piece whose headline argued that Manchin “may have saved America.”
Much of the coverage focused on Manchin’s “bipartisanship” premise for rejecting the bill. (The terms “partisan” and “bipartisan” appeared in the Senator’s op-ed thirteen different times.) Several used Manchin’s framing to characterize the act itself: A Bloomberg article used the phrase “partisan voting rights bill” in its headline, as did a Newsweek article. A headline from a widely syndicated Associated Press story put the word “partisan” inside quotation marks, but fixed the term to the bill all the same. Some outlets, like the Chicago Tribune, ran the story under a slightly altered headline: “Sen. Joe Manchin says he’ll vote against Democrats’ election bill, calling it ‘partisan’.”
Headlines aren’t the entirety of a piece, nor are they the best place to convey complex information. Still, as many pointed out, the “partisanship” of the For the People Act is a symptom of a problem, rather than the problem itself. “I don’t recall Republicans asking for bipartisan support before they introduced 400 voter suppression bills & enacted 22 new voter suppression laws in 14 states so far this year,” Ari Berman, the voting-rights reporter for Mother Jones, tweeted. For NewsOne, Anoa Changa noted that the For the People Act has received support from nonpartisan organizations, and that the filibuster, whose end Manchin objected to, has deep roots in racist policies. Kevin Kruse, a historian, tweeted, “As we all rightfully complain about Joe Manchin’s dumb oped, don’t lose sight of the fact that federal voting rights protections have become ‘partisan’ solely because Republicans have chosen to make it so. Throw a microphone to every Republican in the Senate and ask why.”
That question—“Why?”—informs all of the best voting-rights coverage. In February, I talked with Jessica Huseman of Votebeat about the importance of covering the details of elections year-round. “People who think voting is important are not in short supply,” Huseman told me. “People who are entertained reading about voting might be.” The Manchin story has a level of conflict and intrigue that draws eyeballs, but it can be just as compelling—and arguably more important—to dig beyond the political fisticuffs and focus instead on the circumstances underlying Manchin’s position, the state of voting rights in America, and the consequence for the disenfranchised. Little more than a week ago, Democratic lawmakers in Texas left a legislative session in order to block restrictive new voting laws—a move that, Huseman reported, came “after Republicans threw out all of the previously agreed upon concessions in a closed-door session at the very end of the term last weekend and refused to allow questions about provisions they’d added.”
That episode, however, hardly registered in coverage of Manchin’s decision. And while Manchin’s belief is his own, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Reporters are responsible to test his words against the present moment as well as the past. The stakes of our voting-rights debate extend well beyond one man’s ideas; coverage ought to treat them accordingly.
Below, more on politics and telling the whole story:
- Saving democracy: As part of his “six-point plan to stop the Republicans’ anti-democratic moves,” Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon, Jr., argues that the press should “permanently adopt the avowed pro-democracy posture it took as President Donald Trump sought to overturn the 2020 election,” prioritizing coverage of democratic erosion as one of the most important stories in the country.
- The limits of the national conversation: In a recent interview with Ezra Klein, former president Barack Obama talked about the changes he has seen in the local news ecosystem, noting the way news diets can ossify political predispositions. Last night, in an interview with Anderson Cooper, Obama talked about the siloing effect created by the “nationalization” of the media, which begets and reinforces “nationalized politics.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, management at The Atlantic voluntarily recognized The Atlantic Union. In a note to staff, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, “We believe that the process before us can be collaborative in a way that reflects our culture and editorial mission.” Meanwhile, as The Atlantic moves toward unionization, HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson reports that New Yorker staffers are preparing to strike.
- The New York Times published research illustrating that tech platforms’ January decision to ban President Trump from their platforms curbed the spread of disinformation, though Trump’s supporters—including many right-wing media outlets—continued to spread his messaging. “Deplatforming works,” Joshua Benton wrote for NiemanLab, noting that Trump gained material from Twitter as much as he created it: “It’s the whole package of affordances that a platform offers that makes for a successful loudspeaker.”
- Last week, the California Senate passed a bill that would require journalists reporting on a rally or protest to obtain press authorization from an officer at the scene. “It’s important for journalists to have unlimited discretion on what, where, and how to cover an issue in the public interest, and it’s critical that the definition of ‘journalist’ be as broad as possible, without dictation by the state,” reporter Aarón Cantú tweeted. (For CJR’s Existential Issue, Savannah Jacobson reported on the exclusionary history of the press pass.)
- VTimes, one of Russia’s last remaining independent news outlets, is set to close this month, fearing its journalists could be prosecuted after being designated as a “foreign agent.” Russia has increasingly cracked down on independent media and opposition reporting.
- A podcast dramatizing the racially motivated murder of an Chinese-American man named Vincent Chin in 1982 has been pulled after family members protested that they had never been contacted or consulted about the project. Journalist and activist Helen Zia, who was involved in the civil-rights movement catalyzed by Chin’s murder, wrote in an Instagram post that creators ought to “check in with community people who lived these experiences, including the estate of Lily and Vincent Chin—the AAPI community and its activists deserve that respect.”
- Two days after Twitter removed a post from Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish secessionists, the Nigerian government blocked Twitter access in the country with the help of major telecoms networks. Nigeria’s information minister said that the government had decided to block Twitter for “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
- Hunter Walker, a political writer who publishes his work on Substack, was issued a “hard pass” that will give him entry to the West Wing, The Washingtonian reported. Walker is the first independent Substack newsletter writer to join the White House press corps.
- Choire Sicha—a former Gawker editor who was instrumental in reinventing the New York Times Styles section after being hired as senior editor in 2017—will join New York magazine as an Editor-at-Large, writing short-form pieces for the news and politics vertical, Intelligencer, in addition to longform essays and criticism. In May, media reporters at The Daily Beast reported on Sicha’s abrupt departure from the Times Styles section.
- Deadline announced that Universal Pictures is in the process of producing a movie based on She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, which chronicles New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s powerful reporting on sexual assault allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Actresses Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan will play the Times reporters.
- This morning, websites and apps all over the world—including news sites like The New York Times, CNN, and The Guardian—went down for around an hour when Fastly, a cloud service provider, experienced an outage. The Verge reported news of the outage by sharing a Google document on Twitter, but forgot to make it view-only, meaning users could edit the document.