No, Canary, the election results haven’t been leaked

A recent article on the Canary website has really got my proverbial goat. It’s not just stupid, paranoid, yellow journalism; it’s badly-written, stupid, paranoid, yellow journalism, and it bothers me.

It bothers me, because friends of mine read and share stuff by the Canary.

It bothers me, because people will just see the headline, and it will add to the drip-drip that assumes the elections are rigged.

It bothers me, because people will skim through it, and lines from it will sit in their memory, unquestioned, to be brought out in conversation.

It bothers me, because it’s so clearly bad.

I go through and conduct what I think the youth of today would call a Fisking of the article in question below. What emerges, though, is the low quality of the writing, the lack of sub-editing, and the apparent absence of any serious investigation. The core argument is that a leak (spoiler: it’s not a leak) of the election results (spoiler: they’re not the election results) by a major media outlet (spoiler: it’s not a major media outlet) shows that the elections are rigged (spoiler: oh, why do I even bother?).

The article, by one Jessica Gay, is entitled “A major media outlet just revealed who won the US election… a week in advance”. The date of publication is November 4th; election day is November 8th. ‘Four days in advance’ is not the same as ‘a week in advance’, but it’s a good indication of the shoddy reporting that follows.

The first paragraph reads

The US election is in full swing. The US public has until midnight on 8 November to cast their vote. But despite polls not even being closed, one major media outlet just inadvertently published what appears to be the election result.

I suppose we must congratulate the Canary on the first sentence of that paragraph; the US election is, indeed, in full swing†.

I mention the next part just as an indication of the poor quality of the article; it seems to me that the author has just searched for when polls close, and used the first link they found.

The second sentence concerns when the polls close in the US. I can accept that the Canary, being based in the UK, is using GMT. Unfortunately, they choose to use Metro as a source for when the polls close. A quick search, or a basic understanding of time zones, shows that this is wrong. The first states polls to close are some parts of Indiana and Kentucky, at 2300GMT. The remainder of Indiana and Kentucky, along with Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and parts of Florida close at 0000GMT. The rest of the US then comes in, with the last polls, in the Aleutians, closing at 0600GMT.

The third sentence is the kicker; it seems that a “major media outlet” has given away the game — they’ve published the election results.

Except they haven’t, and they’re not a major media outlet. While I’m sure that WRCB-TV, of Chattanooga, Tenn., is an entirely admirable channel, they are an affiliate of NBC. They are not NBC. They are not owned by NBC; they run some NBC programming. They do, however, run some of their own news programming. Apparently, David Carroll’s School Patrol is a popular feature‡. Not only does this suggest that the Canary doesn’t know how US media works, it suggests they haven’t spent any time looking around the WRCB-TV website; a shame, as the writer would have learnt to avoid the Thai Esan restaurant on Ringgold Road, local restaurant health and safety reports being exactly what a “major media outlet” would cover.

So, noble reader, let us move on into the article and ask, ‘where’s the beef?’

WRCB, an affiliate of NBC, accidentally posted the results on its site earlier this week. It immediately took them down. But the post is still available to see on the internet archive. The page was pulled from the content management platform WorldNow.com. This platform is owned by Frankly, and is also used by other major networks such as NBC, ABC and Fox.

Let us deal with this shocking, Pulitzer-winning news; a news website uses a content management platform. Some other news websites use the same platform. I have the distinct impression that using a screenshot from the Wayback Machine, and mentioning who owns the platform, is meant to be a substitute for journalism. It seems that it was the Associated Press, rather than any of the networks mentioned, that provided the test electoral data.

WRCB released a statement after others noticed the error. They claimed that the post was a test[.]

We do here have, of course, the meat of the article; that the results were posted early. WRCB-TV claim — claim! — that it was a screw-up during testing. Which is more likely? A conspiracy to rig the US presidential election, or an intern at a local TV station pressed the wrong button when they were doing a test?

Obviously, the Canary in general, and this article in particular, are purveyors of the paranoid style in politics. What bothers me is the level of blatant incompetence. The article has a quote, linked from this page.

Unpublished test election data appeared for a brief time on public servers this week for multiple news organizations that subscribe to the Associated Press election results service, including WRCB. Part of the test is to determine how the “winner check-mark” graphic and layout will appear on different platforms.

That quote does not appear on the linked page. I don’t know if this is a screw-up, or if the page has changed (one would expect a screenshot or link to the Wayback Machine, assuming the Canary isn’t just publishing someone else’s reheated bile), or if the wrong page was linked.

The article, though, is suggesting a plot to rig the election of the leader of the free world that has been screwed up by Chattanooga local news.

Let us continue with a section called ‘Rigged election?’

Alongside this, many have suggested the election is rigged. In October, the BBC and The Guardian both ran stories questioning the veracity of the election results.

No, they didn’t. I’m not going to trawl through the Guardian to find the link that the author didn’t put in, but the link that is there, to the BBC, includes the line

However, studies suggest voter fraud isn’t a widespread problem in the US.

Indeed, if you actually read the article, it is pouring cold water on the idea that there will be any rigging; some of the people around Trump have been talking about the election being stolen, and this article looks to see if their claims have any credibility. They do not.

Julian Assange, the man responsible for bringing Clinton’s email scandal to life, also stated that Trump will not be allowed to win the election. In a discussion about Clinton and the election, he said:

Julian Assange. Oh, joy! Oh, rapture! I suppose that decent sub-editing is too much to ask for the Canary, but the idiom is ‘bring something to light’, assuming that Assange wasn’t performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an email server. A quote follows from Assange to suggest that an array of elites would not permit a Trump win.

In short, not only is no evidence provided to suggest the election is rigged, one of the citations actually provides evidence that it is not rigged.

We then move onto a section called ‘Answers’.

With days to go until polls close, some still doubt WRCB’s story. After all, Clinton has suggested rigging elections in the past. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time media outlets have appeared to be on Clinton’s side.

The link about Hillary’s previous suggestion of rigging elections goes to another page on the Canary, which links to a page on Middle East Monitor. The comments were made in 2006 about the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council earlier that year. In the comments, Clinton says

I do not think we should have pushed for an election in [the] Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake and if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.

Except, that’s not quite what she says. The audio presented on the linked page on the Canary ends after ‘…who was going to win’. There is more of the interview at the Jewish Press website (edit at 1256 to add hyperlink). The quote there reads (emphasis added)

First, I don’t think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win instead of signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas.

Clinton goes on to suggest that the electoral system’s favouring of Hamas led Hizbullah to “kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers and fire missiles into Israeli population centers”, and that US intelligence on Hizbullah was, at the time, poor.

It is pretty basic comparative politics that different electoral systems can advantage or disadvantage particular parties. The first-past-the-post system used across the US advantages the Democrats and the Republicans, and disadvantages everyone else. Now, you may consider arranging the electoral system in a particular way to be a good or a bad thing to do, but it is no more rigging the election, in the manner that the article implies, than was the 1947 Constitution of Japan.

On 6 June, the day before Democratic delegates pledged their vote, The Associated Press announced that Clinton had secured the Democratic nomination. Instead, Clinton had just won in a secret Associated Press survey of super-delegates.

Again, a link to another article on the Canary. It implies that the AP had done something it shouldn’t have done by conducting a survey of super-delegates. Evidently, it was done in secret, which I think means they didn’t tell anyone about it until they told everyone about it. The allegation is

Its purpose was simply to work out who intended to vote for Clinton — 50 days before they actually voted.

I think the Canary is surprised that news organisations try to report on things that happen.

But what does this most recent leak actually prove?

Nothing, because it wasn’t a leak. Someone dun goofed.

We know that mainstream media outlets influence public opinion, and that they often have connections to the rich and powerful. But would they really go to the extent of rigging election results?

For what it’s worth, I am concerned about how the media works at the moment. From CNN to the Canary, we see bad reporting, aimed to grab your attention just long enough to make an advertiser fork over some change. Is it really news, though, that John Oliver influences public opinion? Is it actually bad to influence public opinion, or only if mainstream outlets do it?

Would they go to the extent of rigging elections? I’m sure some people would if they could. I don’t think most would even if they could. In any case, there’s actually quite a robust system to make sure that the presidential election isn’t rigged, not least — something that the author doesn’t seem to be aware of — that it’s really fifty-one elections.

On 9 November, we’ll discover who has won the election. And we’ll see if the numbers match those leaked by WRCB. Only then will we have the answer to the questions above.

Just to be clear, the Canary is suggesting that an organisation is capable of rigging the US presidential election, avoiding detection anywhere along the line, in the fifty states and District of Columbia has sent the pre-arranged vote counts out to NBC affiliates — but that not one of the many people involved in this grand conspiracy released it, until someone accidentally pressed the wrong button — but they’re not capable of now changing the fixed numbers so they’re different from those ‘leaked’ by WRCB.

It’s not just the paranoia; it’s that the paranoia doesn’t even make sense.

Notes

† It would be more accurate to say that the US elections, plural, are in full swing, as there are elections to the US Senate and House, not to mention gubernatorial and state house elections, as well as the presidential, but everyone on this side of the pond is focusing on the next occupant of the White House.

‡ Well, according to Wikipedia, which I warrant to be a more reliable source than the Canary.