SAN FRANCISCO – The recently finished campaign surrounding Proposition 14 in California has revealed startling insights into the way media outlets cover essential issues facing voters. Since the proposition passed June 8, Free and Equal Elections staff have continued to follow media coverage of Proposition 14 in California and the spread of the Top Two idea across the country.
Semi-official results were updated by the California Secretary of State June 30 and final results are scheduled for release July 16. The current count shows Proposition 14 passing 2,774,634 (53.7%) to 2,398,843 (46.3%). With 16.9 million registered voters in California, Proposition 14 passed with less than 16.5% of registered voters supporting it. Voter turnout was 30%.
“If half of the media in California who covered Proposition 14 practiced ethical, balanced journalism, the proposition would have failed hands down,” said Christina Tobin, StopTopTwo.org chair and founder of Free & Equal Elections Foundation. “Looking at initial returns from county elections offices, people who voted in person on Election Day rejected this democracy limiting ballot measure. More than half the ballots were cast early by mail, before the media gave opponents an opportunity to point out the flaws in Proposition 14.”
The July 1, 2010 subscription issue of Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News provides an in-depth examination of the coverage the media gave to Proposition 14 in his feature article, “California Passes Proposition 14, Removes Minor Parties From the General Election Campaign.” The article will be published on Winger’s website, www.ballot-access.org, after the August 1 subscription issue is released.
In his report, Winger points out inaccuracies appearing in the San Jose Mercury News, Monterey County Herald and Sacramento Bee. Only a few articles during the campaign pointed out the history of Top Two election systems in Washington and Louisiana. No independent or third party candidates have ever made the general election ballot under either state’s Top Two election system, but the California media ignored that flaw of Proposition 14. The Los Angeles Times, according to Winger, ran only one op-ed critical of Proposition 14 and that was 16 months before the election.
“The Los Angeles Times had the worst reporting on Proposition 14. StopTopTwo.org will ensure everyone knows which media outlets lived up to the ethics of balanced coverage,” Tobin said. “There are also those who did an excellent job, and the public will know who they can turn to for fair and balanced coverage.”
“Every major newspaper editorial board in California endorsed the Top Two election system,” Tobin said. “That political agenda obviously slanted their coverage in favor of Proposition 14. They hid crucial information from the voters and failed to uphold the principles of honest journalism. It doesn’t help the print media retain customers when they fail to provide the big picture for educating their readers. What remains to be seen is how much advertising revenue they will draw from those business interests who supported Prop 14.”