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Critical Faculties Check: Palast & Mexico

chicago dyke's picture

Here's an interesting tidbit from a Josh Holland article of Alternet, where he really takes Palast to task. He says:

Imagine for a moment that you're Felipe Calderón, a conservative trying to become the next president of Mexico, and you want to rig the election. To pull off your plan, you need a list of Mexican voters.

Here's a simple question: would you want an accurate list of all registered voters that's kept up-to-date by the federal election authorities, or would you want an old list from your buddy George W. Bush that's at least 6 million voters short?

I know which one I'd want, but Greg Palast thinks it's a toss-up.

Three times this week Palast has insinuated that ChoicePoint, Inc. -- the company that he made infamous for removing tens of thousands of Democrats from Florida's voter rolls in 2000 -- may have had a hand in the Mexican election.

He needs ChoicePoint in the mix because it's the only thread that can connect Bush to the Mexican vote. Yesterday, Palast wrote:

I noted that the Bush Administration, under the guise of a secret War on Terror contract, hired ChoicePoint Inc. to filch the voter and citizen files of Mexico... Were the Mexican rolls "scrubbed" with Dubya's help?

The answer is: No; Calderón had no use for voter data from Dubya.

Because what Palast's not telling his readers is that the ChoicePoint story is over three years old. It made a sensation when it was reported in April of 2003. In November of that year, the AP explained that the firm "assembled a database containing the personal information of 65 million voting-age Mexican citizens, information which the U.S. government purchased."

But during the three and a half years since then, voters have moved, new voters have registered and others have died. During the 2006 election there were 71 million registered voters in Mexico (and the 65 million in ChoicePoint's database weren't even registered voters -- they were citizens of voting-age).


That's because no independent exit polls showed a López Obrador lead on Sunday. Reuters reported: "With emotions running high, and reports of irregularities trickling in, most media groups declined to reveal the actual results of their polls. Only TV Azteca reported precise numbers, showing Mr. Calderon with a two-percentage-point lead -- within the poll's margin of error. The newspapers Reforma and El Universal and the TV network Televisa said only that the race was a tie."

Another exit poll, from GEA-ISA -- a firm that always had outlier polling showing Calderón up by suspicious margins leading up to the elections -- gave the conservative a 4-point lead over López Obrador.

So let's be clear: all of the independent exit polls -- Palast says "exit polls" or "the exit polls" four times -- showed either a dead heat or a slim Calderón lead, exactly what the official quick-count showed.

Now, did Greg Palast just make it up out of whole cloth? Almost; here's the Reuters report upon which he presumably bases the column (he didn't deny it when given the chance):

While the top election official said it was too close to call, left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his party's exit polls showed he won by 500,000 votes ...
But his rival, Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party, immediately shot back by saying independent exit polls showed him ahead ...

So López Obrador -- a candidate -- claimed that his own exit poll -- one private exit poll with no known methodology, no precise results, no known margin-of-error, no known sample size and no polling director we can call up to find out that stuff (campaigns keep internal polling data close to the chest) -- showed he was in the lead.

Such claims are, of course, standard operating procedure in a close race, and have nothing in common with the kind of discrepancies we saw in Florida, Ohio or the Ukraine -- where multiple independent polls diverged from the official results -- which is the central claim of the column. But Palast won't retract the piece.

The reason I'm putting this up is because I watched the implosion of the voting rights movement here in the spin up to the 04 elections, in which several trusted voices all of the sudden started to act like moles, freaks and otherwise tanked their own reputations by rank stupidity and amateurism. Palast has done some good work, and I look forward to his refutation of Holland's piece. But if Holland is right, Palast is just making himself look stupid talking about data that both sides had access to in a more updated form, no matter what the conservative candidate's website may or may not have published with respect to some of that data.

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