Mistakes, distortions and outright lies appeared so frequently in media coverage of the elections of 2009 that they made accurate analysis all but impossible.
The most serious of these errors built upon gross misrepresentations of the presidential election of 2008 falsehoods repeated endlessly and shamelessly enough to become enshrined in the conventional wisdom. Before this years whoppers achieve similar acceptance, its worth re-examining some of the most familiar confusions regarding the last two election cycles.
LIE NUMBER ONE: By winning New York’s 23rd Congressional District, Democrats captured a seat Republicans had held without interruption since the 1850s. Nancy Pelosi herself recycled this misunderstanding in her anomalous claim of victory on the morning after the election. When the Speaker spoke, she declared: We had one race that we were engaged in, it was in northern New York, it was a race where a Republican has held the seat since the Civil War. Reporters on every network, and in every major newspaper, thoughtlessly repeated this formulation, but an astute caller to my radio show had the audacity to question it. He declared that he had researched the district and found scant evidence to support the claim of an unprecedented, ground-breaking, shocking Democratic breakthrough.
In fact, the caller was correct. First of all, the 23rd District as currently constituted is a relatively recent creation, with no consistent history going back to the Civil War. As recently as 1950, New York State sent 45 members to the House of Representatives in Washington, compared to the 29 elected today; the state has obviously lost considerable ground to faster-growing regions of the country in the West and South. Today’s 23rd District therefore contains large pieces of three former Congressional districts and comprises 11 upstate counties; while the size of the New York delegation has shrunk, the geographic spread of each Congressional district has greatly increased. Six of the eleven counties now in the 23rd district have indeed been represented by Democrats in the years since World War II; two of them (Madison and Essex Counties) helped elect Democrats as recently as 1976. Even by the fast-and-loose mathematical formulations that characterize Speaker Pelosi, there’s a notable difference between since the Civil War and since 1976.