The Tribune article (which I tweeted out last night) says some are calling this a repudiation. But, then, to hedge, it quotes Professor Dick Simpson as saying, in politics, a one-vote win is still a win.
In other words, close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades.
But one very interesting part of the story was the assertion that "several" eligible voters did not show up. Given the recent allegations about no-show judges, that's a pretty loaded word-choice. Let's examine this statement.
According to the Tribune there were 241 judges eligible to vote. If we add up the number of votes reported, we get 231. So that means 10 judges who could have voted weren't there. Ten votes which, if voted as a bloc, would not have changed the outcome.
By my ciphering, 231 actual out of 241 possible is a 95.85% turnout. Given the far-flung nature of the Cook County court system, the difficulty for some in coming downtown from a remote work location during the rush hour and then turning around and heading back... well, have you seen the Kennedy or the Ryan or, really, any "expressway" heading into the City during rush hour?
There could be other reasons why someone might choose not to go. I'm sure you can think of some (and, no, I'm not inviting speculation in this regard).
I don't know who didn't appear... but 95.85% attendance sounds a lot better than "several of the 241 judges able to vote [were] not in attendance." Both, technically, are accurate. But the phrase used puts a more negative spin on the turnout than the alternative available. Do you think that was an accident?
It is important to read any news story with a skeptical eye. Are the writers (or someone on the copy desk, assuming these still exist) taking sides?
The Tribune was certainly not plumping for Evans in this election. The recent spate of articles certainly played up the expressions of support from the African-American community that Chief Judge Evans received in the days leading up to yesterday's vote. I've linked to some of these in recent posts. In the Tribune article linked here, it is reported that Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown endorsed Evans. (Among judges, would that endorsement really have helped Evans? I can't imagine it swayed any actual voter.) In the Tribune account, one judge is quoted as expressing resentment that some African-American ministers had threatened to organize a big "no" vote on retention candidates if Evans was not returned as chief. But I sure didn't see whether anyone asked the ministers if they were aware that Evans himself is among the judges standing for retention this year. Reading the articles casually could create an impression that the Chief Judge contest had become another manifestation of racial polarization -- but, if one read closely, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has long had public disagreements with Judge Evans, was said to be one of the "party leaders" working for his ouster. Her office denied it, and there's no way we can know, one way or the other, who's telling the truth.
And that's the point.
We should strive to form opinions based on facts, and refrain from formulating more than working hypotheses where facts are uncertain. Just because we are inclined to agree with a newspaper article doesn't make it more accurate, or less accurate, than one with which we are inclined to disagree. We have to examine the motives of the writers and publishers of any news account. We have to notice what questions weren't asked, or which answers weren't reported. By refraining from forming fixed and definite opinions based on uncertain facts we can face up to our own biases and potentially overcome them.
The farther one is from a news story, that is, the less one knows personally about the events reported, the more likely it is that one will accept uncritically the slant put forward by those media outlets we are inclined to follow. My current favorite illustration of this is the difference between Candidate Obama---who was absolutely certain that Guantanamo Bay must be shut down immediately---and President Obama who, in nearly eight years, hasn't done that. I assume Candidate Obama was entirely sincere; I know President Obama is not entirely powerless. So there must be another explanation, presumably based on Mr. Obama having better personal knowledge now than he had when first running for office. Seemingly sharp edges, seen from a distance, may grow fuzzy and indistinct on closer inspection. And every lawyer who's ever had any kind of a high-profile case can cite flaws in any news coverage of that matter.
Some readers will be happy this morning that Judge Evans was retained. Some will not. (Others will be too geeked by the Cubs backing into a division title overnight to care.) But all might benefit by taking a moment to evaluate how we analyze this news story and what lessons we can draw from it about analyzing news accounts generally.
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