This “First Person” segment for the BBC’s online Magazine is not journalism but instead borders on political advertisement. It’s another one of those “bespoke” video magazine pieces for which the BBC has increased their spending and staffing in the US.
Is it just me, or is that an interrogative? We should expect an answer of some kind from the piece, no? No. Unless by “answer” you mean getting told that they should be allowed to vote, which is answering an entirely different question.
I understand that the concept of “First Person” necessarily involves presenting that person’s perspective. In and of itself that’s not bias. But this goes far beyond that and is little more than an advocacy advertisement.
The entire piece is a combination of an interview with an activist for restoring voting rights to felony ex-cons, Hasan Zarif (an ex-con prison chaplain, a rather common phenomenon), and quotes from the activist group The Sentencing Project. This group identifies itself on its website as an advocacy group, but the BBC doesn’t think you need to be told. I guess it’s supposed to be obvious so they don’t need to, but it’s really just another example of the BBC declining to label a person or organization if they’re on the Left/approved side of an issue.
It’s all about justifying the restoration of voting rights to felony ex-convicts. We also get ominous interstitials informing us of gently prodding facts such as how only the Governor of Virginia (one of the states at which the BBC’s bony finger is pointed) has the power to restore the right to felony ex-cons. As if that’s supposed to be evidence against the policy. At one point, Zarif speaks with another felon who is currently petitioning to get his right to vote back. Zarif helpfully reads out the evidence that the man has turned his life around and deserves it. We’re meant to think that if this violent criminal can do it, why not all felony ex-cons? It’s a false proxy, but that’s all part of storytelling (just like the tear-jerking piano ostinato in the background).
Plus, due to the unspoken (because we all know, right?) fact that African-Americans are convicted of felonies* at a much higher rate than white people, they’re hit hardest, when the BBC tells us that more of them are affected by this policy, the message is that it is de facto racist. The real question ought to be: is this de jure racist? Do we get an alternative perspective? Don’t make me laugh. That’s not why this piece was produced.
The only moment which is even a gesture towards explaining why felony ex-cons are barred from voting is when Zarif says this:
“We have committed some terrible acts, so it is reasonable that many individuals, they don’t want to see us vote.”
That’s it. This counts as balance in BBC land. The very next sentence is back to the advocacy.
“We need to prove that we can come back to society, be contributing members of the social order, and that we can take that second chance and do great things.”
Once again that’s a reason why voting rights should be restored. At no point is there discussion as to why some States withhold the right, which is what the title asks. Why don’t the anonymous Beeboids who produced this bother to go into it? Because you’re all expected already to have the approved thought that it’s wrong, so the question doesn’t really need answering at all. If you think like them, that is. This piece was produced from that perspective.
Because the BBC isn’t interested in discussing the overall scene in the US regarding the voting rights of ex-cons, here’s some information to put this sob story into perspective. It’s always difficult for the British Beeboids (and sometimes for the US-born ones as well) to grasp the concept of States Rights (aside from slavery and the Civil War, of course – in that case they definitely act like they know all about it), so they probably don’t understand how this can be. As one would expect, the rules vary widely around the country. Some states hold that people lose the right once they’re convicted of a felony, and even there the metric varies. Maine and New Hampshire even allow felons to vote via absentee ballot from prison. Other States restore the right to ex-cons after parole, or after petition.
What’s left out of this bespoke video piece – professionally produced from a media perspective as it is – is the fact that in every single State it’s possible for an ex-con to get that right back one way or another. Every single State. But that’s not good enough for advocates: they want it restored automatically, and eventually want the right granted to incarcerated felons. The goal of this particular BBC report isn’t about that at all, but is rather about pushing the idea that felony ex-cons should have the right restored, full stop. That’s why the insterstitial about how in Virginia only the Governor can restore the right is presented so ominously.
Before any defenders of the indefensible get busy, let me remind you that my opinion on whether or not felony ex-cons should be allowed to vote is irrelevant, as is yours. This is about the bias of the BBC’s video report.
* I’m using passive phrasing here, rather than saying “African-Americans commit felonies at a much higher rate”, in the interests of appearing impartial.