Not funny: James Taranto twice wrongly claimed John Kerry based electoral fraud comments on jokes


For two consecutive days, Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has alleged in his daily "Best of the Web" column that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) cited satirical or humor-based sources when he commented recently on instances of fraud in the 2004 general election. Taranto claimed that Kerry "embarrasses himself" by doing so, and referred to Kerry as "dense." But Kerry's comments were in fact based on real news reports of attempted fraud.

In his April 11 "Best of the Web" column, Taranto cited comments Kerry made to a voter group in Massachusetts on April 10. Kerry said: "Last year too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated. ... Leaflets are handed out saying Democrats vote on Wednesday, Republicans vote on Tuesday. People are told in telephone calls that if you've ever had a parking ticket, you're not allowed to vote."

Taranto claimed that the source for Kerry's comments was "probably" an October 2004 article from the Onion, a satirical publication, which mockingly reported that "Republican Party officials are urging blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities to make their presence felt at the polls on Wednesday, Nov. 3." Taranto went on to state: "Before Kerry embarrasses himself further, someone ought to take him aside and explain to him that the Onion is a satirical publication."

Taranto followed up on his allegation in the April 12 "Best of the Web" column. Rather than noting his error, Taranto continued to attack Kerry and further expounded on the supposedly comical origin of Kerry's comments, claiming they may have originated from "Democratic joke[s]" told prior to the 2000 election by Air America Radio host Al Franken and comedian Bruce Vilanch. Taranto went on to ask: "How dense must Kerry be if he doesn't even get his own side's jokes?"

In fact, The Washington Post reported on October 31, 2004, that potential Democratic voters received fliers instructing them to vote on the wrong day:

The college scam has also made an appearance in Pennsylvania, along with a separate scam last week in Allegheny County, where election officials received a flurry of phone calls about fliers handed out at a Pittsburgh area mall and mailed to an unknown number of homes. The flier, distributed on bogus but official-looking stationery with a county letterhead, told voters that "due to immense voter turnout expected on Tuesday," the election had been extended. Republicans should vote Tuesday, Nov. 2, it said -- and Democrats on Wednesday. A criminal investigation has been launched.

Additionally, a blogger on the web log DailyKos posted the following on April 11, in response to Taranto's first column:

I spent 5 minutes on the Election Incident Reporting System web page and found several (non-Onion) complaints that were in line with what Kerry has been talking about.

Posted In
Elections, Voting Rights & Issues
2004 Elections
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