Fox Marks 50th Anniversary Of March On Washington By Smearing Voting Rights Struggle

MLK and the March on WashingtonFrom wildly offensive treatment of civil rights history to routine mendacity on voter ID, Fox chose to mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington by smearing the ongoing struggle for voting rights.

Over the past week leading up to President Barack Obama's commemoration of the anniversary on August 28, Fox News has been at the forefront of right-wing media attempts to discredit links between the progressive community and the civil rights legacy of the March on Washington. Voting rights, in particular, have attracted a significant amount of misinformation and ignorance, some of it quite shocking.

On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, a Battle of Normandy veteran and the NAACP's first field secretary for the state of Mississippi, was assassinated in his driveway. Shot in the back, his murder was the culmination of an extensive white supremacist terror campaign against the voting rights and desegregation advocacy of the NAACP, a cause that President John F. Kennedy championed the very night of Evers' death as both a moral and constitutional issue to ensure “American citizens of any color [can] register and [] vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.”

Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, was invited to speak at the original March on Washington that took place two months later, an invitation that she was finally able to accept this past weekend at the 50th anniversary events. She warned about ongoing "efforts to turn back the clock" on the civil rights movement.

Congressman John Lewis, another veteran of the voting rights struggles, was more explicit. Also the victim of brutal violence due to his efforts to protect the right to vote, Lewis referenced the infamous Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision and told the crowd, “I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us...We must say to the Congress, fix the Voting Rights Act.”

On the August 26 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham chose to follow up a recording of Lewis' call to Congress to both fix the Voting Rights Act and pass immigration reform with a gunshot sound effect. As Joan Walsh of Salon observed, even "[a]fter the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King, after the gunning down of so many civil rights workers over the years, Ingraham thought it was funny, or clever, or provocative, to 'symbolically' cut off Lewis' speech with the sound of a gun."

The next day, Ingraham appeared on Fox & Friends and continued her attacks on voting rights advocates, criticizing Colin Powell for pointing out in his commemoration interview his long-standing observation that strict voter ID laws are touted as a “solution” to in-person voter fraud, a problem that is virtually non-existent. Ingraham's response was a much-used red herring of Fox News, the accusation that opposition to strict voter ID is "preposterous" because photo identification is commonplace for other activities. Fox News host Bret Baier made the same argument on August 26, with contributor Charles Krauthammer adding that opposition to strict photo requirements is “nostalgia of a movement that's intellectually bankrupt.” Fox News' Neil Cavuto was baffled when he asked on August 23, “when did this become an issue of voter suppression?”

As has been repeatedly and frequently explained, "voter ID is nothing new," as voting has long required some form of sworn statement or identification. Indeed, even the option of photo identification is now commonplace, with this form of identification requested in seven states, according to the latest National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tally. Voter ID, in general, is in place in 33. This is why right-wing media's constant reference to the 2008 Supreme Court case that upheld an apparently non-discriminatory voter ID law in Indiana is misleading. It is not voter ID laws per se that are problematic; it is those that impermissibly racially discriminate that are flawed. 

Accordingly, it is the strict photo voter ID laws that voting rights advocates highlight. These unnecessarily burdensome, irrationally selective, and frequently redundant identification requirements have been repeatedly ruled to be in violation of civil rights law for their impermissible discrimination on the basis of race. But following the lead of other right-wing media outlets, Fox News doesn't make this distinction.

Indeed, before Shelby County, this photo identification requirement was only allowed in four states, a number that may change now that the conservative justices struck down the critical VRA provision that blocked strict voter ID in states like Texas and North Carolina. To answer Cavuto's earlier question, strict voter ID has been “an issue of voter suppression” at least since federal judges blocked the Texas voter ID law due to its discriminatory effect and Texas' embarrassing inability to defend the statute, a finding of illegality Fox News continues to ignore.

On August 22, Lou Dobbs even threw in the repeatedly debunked statistical fallacy of using voter turnout as evidence of the purportedly innocuous effect of strict voter ID. In defending Texas, Dobbs insisted that “studies show that minority participation rates over subsequent elections have actually risen, and participation rates are higher than that of white citizens which invalidates everything the Obama Justice Department is saying.” Most recently, on the August 27 edition of The Five, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld scolded the civil rights movement for being “co-opted by the academic leftist race-drivers...[because] when we talk about this obsession with the voting rights thing, I think you need to worry less about blacks being ID'd at the voting booth and more about being ID'd at the morgue. Do you know what I mean?”

Of all things to belittle and twist, smearing the history of voting rights on the 50th Anniversary is particularly inappropriate. Sadly, this may be the unfortunate status quo for the immediate future in the wake of Shelby County, a decision Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently denounced again as "stunning in terms of activism" for allowing states to once again suppress the vote. If President Barack Obama uses his Wednesday address on the 50th anniversary to address this fundamental right, expect more of the same.