Sunday, July 09, 2006


The Things We Think We Know, II: How our media successfully mislead even the wisest among us and how to see through the shadows to understand Mexico

For authentic journalists, Mexico’s post-electoral conflict is one of those gigantic news stories that happens few times in the course of a lifetime: Not merely a story about how a state-of-the-art electoral fraud was perpetrated in a major country of 100 million people, but, more historically, the story of how that fraud will be laid to waste. -- Al Giordano, one of the few remaining authentic journalists (Image from Giordano. This image shows that only the percentages for FeCal and Lopez Obrador changed, puncturing the myth that the changeover occurred because Calderon strongholds were counted last. If that were so, the PRI candidate's percentages should also have changed) Mexico matters. The United States imports more oil from Mexico than Saudi Arabia. --Man from Middleton Could the dam be breaking? At last, the redoubtable McJoan frontpaged a story on Daily Kos about the Mexico City demo for Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Thanks to Richard from AllSpinZone for the heads up on that and on the Giordano article. Man from Middleton (see above) did a Kos diary on Pemex privatization and how it will lead to $5 per gallon gas. So, good for McJoan, and MfM and the many commenters! Let's even give the WaPo (linked by McJoan) all due credit: 1. They actually reported a newsworthy story, a demo of up to half a million people out of 41 million voters. 2. They correctly reported that the demo was regarding allegations of election rigging. 3. They provided a plausible estimate of the crowd size, apparently from the Secretary of the Federal District Security. La Jornada says fewer, John Ross said on Laura Flanders that it was half a million That's about all the credit they are due. So, how is the WaPo full of manure? Let me count the ways! Let's start from a little meta analysis, introducing the cast of character puppets the WaPo parades forth for its Punch and Judy show: There is The Mob. They are poor, filled with "frustration and rage." They wave signs, They pump their fists. They suffer "decades of perceived indignities and a sense of persecution," (emphasis added) rather than, say, decades of real indignities and persecution like being forced off their ancestral lands, shot, beaten, and raped, and having elections stolen. They are clearly insane and dangerous. There is Lopez Obrador: He is a "failed populist candidate," i.e., the WaPo is telling us that his allegations of electoral fraud are bogus. He "ignited the smoldering emotions of his followers," making him a dangerous incendiary. There is FeCal: A "champion of free trade," i.e. the White Knight. There is Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, FeCal's charger, "which has a stellar international reputation," assuming you only ask right-wingers. If you're getting the sense that you've seen children's cartoons with more convincingly constructed characters, you're right. Let's now enumerate the outright lies and pickaninny-grade caricatures. 1. "On Saturday, he gave a mega-display of street power...." The point of the demo was not to show "street power." That comes next week. The point was to speak directly to his supporters, many of whom may not get their news from newspapers or from the Murdochized TV. As he "communication is difficult" since the Mexican electronic media is as bad as the US. The streets are their blogs. 2. "The crowd chanted, 'Strong, strong!' when López Obrador stepped to the microphone." This is probably a mistranslation of "Fuerte! Fuerte!" or "Loud! Loud!," a not unreasonable request from a large crowd. Or perhaps the WaPo misheard the cried of "Fraude! Fraude!" (Fraud! Fraud!) that the McClatchy man heard. 3. "He got a moment of mass catharsis, an outrageously loud, communal venting." As Atrios would say, "Oy." Half a million people think they are living under a dictatorship and it's "venting." 4. One of the more amusing gaffes in this article involves residual editor's marks: "x 'They stole this from us,' said Concepción Myen, 68, a lifelong Mexico City resident who is unemployed. 'This is the worst thing that can happen to Mexico.'x" In conventional editing, xes are used for typeface blemishes. Since this is the WaPo, I would imagine those xes are probably editor's thoughtcrime marks. 5. But it gets funnier, in a sick sort of way. Why is Concepcion Myen unemployed? Well, if you noticed, she is 68. Even in Mexico, people are expected to be able to retire at some point. But in Punch and Judy world, they have to be slugabeds to be members of the angry Mob. 6. "Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, lost a presidential race that many international observers have said was stolen" If the election was stolen, it wasn't lost. The WaPo is trying to imply that those international observers are wrong. They weren't 7. Lopez Obrador stated that there is no president-elect, since the election is disputed. But the WaPo calls Calderon's claiming to be president elect and receiving phone calls from Bush and Stephen "Bush North" Harper "formalities." They shoulda listened to the Elections Court. Judge Eloy Fuentes said that no disputed election in non-annulable. "We rule on the validity [of the election]" he said, in a clear slap at the the head of the election institute, Ugalde. Indeed, contrary to the notion that this was an angry rally demonstrating "mega street power,: Lopez Obrador made it clear that this was a peaceful movement. We aren't going to fall for provocations and hand the game to the opponents, he said. We aren't going to bother the citizens, he said. We aren't going to block the highways. And he added some words which would burn the conscience of PAN if its leaders had any: "We are certain that despite all these anti-democratic practices, we won on the 2nd of July, and we did it with a free vote, the choice of the citizenry. We didn't pass out construction materials or other favors, we didn't buy votes, we didn't make shameless deals with the same old political bosses. For this reason, we are going to defend out victory. By the way, just to add to PAN's joy, it has a minority in the House of Representatives So, what does a real journalist make of it? Here are Giordano's major points: 0. Most important, as shown by the image above, the sudden surge by FeCal could not have been due to counting northern Mexico last. If that had been the case, Madrazo's percentage should have risen as well, since he ran ahead in northern Mexico. 1. There hasn't been a re-count. The electoral commission simply entered the precinct tallies. 2. In the preliminary count, the electoral commission held back 2.5 million votes. When those votes were added in, FeCal's margin dropped from 377,000 votes to 257,000. 3. A recount of 1% of precincts reduced FeCal's margin by 13,000 votes. Giordano extrapolates that to slightly over 1 million votes. 4. Lopez Obrador suspects fraud in 43,000 precincts. 5. The primary suspect for major fraud is Guanajuato. This state produced a 700,000 vote margin for FeCal despite having 5% of Mexico's population: "640 of those 6,122 precincts show discrepancies and irregularities which include more votes cast than are voters in the precinct, more votes cast for Calderón than votes cast in the precinct, electoral officials that refused to count the votes in public, discrepancies between the actual result and the reported result, missing or suspect vote tally reports, each of them sufficient to trigger, under law, a vote-by-vote recount" 6. FeCal allowed recounts in only eight precincts in Guanajuato, from which Obrador's vote increased by 253 votes. If thus were extrapolated over the 6,122 precincts, Lopez Obrador would receive 200,000 more votes from Guanajuato alone. 7. Jalisco, Queretaro, and northern Mexico are also suspect. 8. When Vicente Fox confronted PRI corruption, he used civil resistance. 9. The "computer systems [used in vote counting] were partly designed by companies and partners of Calderón’s brother-in-law Diego Hildebrando Zavala"
Superb post, Charles. Thanks. I quoted you liberally (albeit with a snappier headline ;-).
Everyone's an editor. :-)
Oy. I wonder just what it takes for our media to admit that an election looks dodgy.

I suspect that if a Dem wins in 2008, the threshold for dodginess will suddenly become a whole lot lower...
Thanks, Charles - I'm pressed for time today, so not much of a followup from me - but you and Lambert are doing yeoman's work on tracking the story.

Huge demonstrations are supposed to take place on Wednesday. We'll see if AMLO can keep a lid on it, and keep them peaceful.

Will we have another Ukraine, 2004? Stay tuned...
There very well may have been vote fraud, but I do not think that your graph makes the case. Specifically, why does the data for the PRI (and the other two lower-ranking parties) cut off after 85 percent? This is the most critical part of the graph, in which Calderon overtakes Lopez Obrador. Perhaps I misinterpreted the graph out of ignorance (it's not explained in much detail in the post), but whenever I see data omitted from a graph, I tend to wonder, why THAT particular data?
That's an excellent criticism, Andy. He should have included the data.

However, I wouldn't have put it up if I wasn't reasonably certain that one actually doesn't need to see it. First, the dropoff of AMLO's margin was perfectly linear as the vote count rose. This is shown in the graph from El Universal in a post below. Granted, it's not a mathematical proof, but it's a strong indication that the shift is independent of the performance of other candidates.

But Giordano tells us what the end point of Madrazo's vote was: "During this count of the final 35 percent of the tallies, interestingly, PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo’s percentage remained steadily the same as it had all day (within half-a-percentage point, landing at 22.26 percent)." The endpoint is a verifiable fact.

If one examines the graph carefully, one sees that the data at 87% is essentially identical to the endpoint. The extrapolated point shown on the grapg is approximately 34.1 or 34.2, representing a final count of 22.1 or 22.3%. This is so close to 12+ 22.26 = 34.26 as to be indistinguishable.

Taking the average of the performance in the two northern districts, as 23.5% or so, Giordano argues that in the equation 0.87 x + (0.13)(22.3) =22.26, x isn't and can't be consistent with Madrazo's totals in the rest of Mexico.

It's a h--l of a complicated argument. He should not only show the data, he should show what the limits on x are. But for me, all I need to see is that Obrador's losses are perfectly correlated with Calderon's gains. It's just too d--n neat.
What's really fascinating to me is how much of the WP's (and the US media's in general) storylines seem lifted out of the 2000-01 winter.

Just substitute "Gore" for "Lopez Obrador" and "Bush" for "Calderon". Any effort by the lefty candidate to assert his rights is howled down by the US media as "contributing to the atmosphere of burgeoning chaos that threatens the stability of the nation."
You should see the verbal shooting war over at the YouTube, PW. As you know, I answered with humor the guy, Pandaluz, who spammed us, and about five other people.

Most responses have not been polite or rational. I'm not sure whether Daisukechul was speaking about me or about AMLO when he said, "What a piece of garbage this person is. Besides being a fool, he's stubborn, ignorant, and a liar. How is it possible with all the proof, he refuses to accept what he said in front of millions of us who saw these television watchers?" Other comments were similar.

Those PANistas, they got no respect.
Hello once again--

WaPo disgraces itself, and sends a very strong signal about the nature of its future coverage.
Charles: Thank you for your explanation regarding the graph. I have two quick observations and then I'll drop the issue for good:

First, the endpoint of the green line at 100 percent is supposed to represent the actual PRI percentage (plus 12); however, the endpoints of the red and blue lines at 100 percent cannot represent the actual percentages of Lopez Obrador and Calderon. This appears inconsistent. The main problem is that I am still not clear exactly what the solid lines are intended to be.

Second, the slope of the green line seems too small to fit the data between about 62 and 87 percent, although the line does appear to fit the whole of the data in a least-squares sense. Again, it would help to know exactly what the lines are.

In any event, the allegations of vote fraud do not depend on one single graph; I fear that I've belabored the issue far more than it's worth. Thanks for your patience.
Andy says, "I fear that I've belabored the issue far more than it's worth."

Not at all, Andy. These are good questions, and if there's an error or even unclarity, I'm sure Al Giordano would much prefer to learn about it and correct it on his own.

Andy: "the endpoints of the red and blue lines at 100 percent cannot represent the actual percentages of Lopez Obrador and Calderon."

Those endpoints look by eye to be 35.3 and 35.7%. In the link I gave above, as of 8AM on the morning of the count, it says, "With all of the 41 million votes counted, Calderon of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party had 35.88 percent to 35.31 percent for Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party." So I think the endpoints are correct.

Andy: "The main problem is that I am still not clear exactly what the solid lines are intended to be."

They're trend lines, drawn to help the eye see variation around the trends. As far as I can tell, no data were issued before ca. 25%; this is seen in the detailed figures given in a post I presented on the night of the election below. Giordano says, "in the final stretch only Obrador and Calderón percentages diverged from the consistency of the first two-thirds of the tallies..." so we can assume these lines are drawn using data from the 25- 66% of the vote count, probably as least squares, but it's not important.

What the graph does show is that the data in the 25-66% range were drawn from a very homogenous set. They don't show the large seesaws that we see in our presidential elections as, say, the very red Mountain states come in and then California. indeed, the shifts in, say, Madrazo's data are in the tight range of about 21.7-22.3% from 25-100% vote count. The graph also shows that the data for AMLO and FeCal in the range above 66% count come from a statistically different set of data.

Unraveling what happened in the count isn't that important. It's theoretically possible to select precincts to produce the result observed. (The techical phrase, I beleieve, is "an underdetermined system.") In such a case, IFE would simply be guilty of news manipulation, of arranging to have the results change in the dead of night specifically to dismay AMLO's supporters and get the shocking outcome on the early morning broadcasts, for example. What will expose the fraud is the testimony of witnesses and the examination of the ballots-- assuming FeCal can't manage to substitute fakes in the worst precincts.

But if the IFE is engaged in news manipulation to benefit one party, are they really the squeaky clean organization that we keep getting told they are? And if they're not, what other hijinks might they have committed?

What we need to do is keep asking questions until we find one they can't answer. But to do that, we also need to challenge our own assumptions. As you so commendably have done. And are more than welcome to continue doing.
Latest from WaPo.

In their "balanced coverage," they leave out that Calderon brother-in-law Hilebrando's software was already been hacked.

They print IFE's denial that Hildrebrando had a contract at all without commment, even though the contracts are a matter of public record.
My god this is horrible. Somebody should alert Doug MacEachern to this travesty of justice.

Good work, Charles, and all who have pursued this issue.
For those who didn't know, here's Doug, fascist media slave.

WATB. Sheesh.
Thanks, Lambert and Shrimplate.

Especially for explaining who McEachen is. :-)
that's stupid reasoning Eli, you can't justify poor behaviour because you assume other people are going to do the same to you "if it happened to them" all you are proving is your own moral weakness. It's all fine and good to question election results but by disallowing yourself to ever believe they might be true in the first place you are simply engaged in political masturbation with the intent of justifying your own actions. Holding yourself to a higher standard will attract more people than trying to appeal to the conspericy nut in their heads.
Mexican politics have been corrupt for generations, my family comes from there and immigrated out.
It's never been a great place to live because the political scene shifted from month to month. However if I remember correctly wasn't everyone happy when Vincente Fox won and there was a peaceful transition to his party, wasn't everyone really happy? Now you are worried that there might have been election fraud. I don't remember anyone worrying about that when he came in, but now you are worried about it? concern yourself with your own country and stop trying to stir up a civil war funded by drugs and leftists
Got proof of your assertions, Zeke? And did you even read Charles' post before you started typing?

If you wanna talk drugs and dictators, there's evidence linking your favorite right-wing killer (next of course to Adolf Hitler), Augusto Pinochet, to the cocaine trade.
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