Media Misfires During NY-26 Election Night Coverage

Erroneous statements abound during coverage and analysis of NY-26 Tuesday evening

Glee came to New York last night – and you didn’t have to watch the hit FOX show to see it.

During MSNBC’s coverage of the special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District Tuesday night, a number of unsubstantiated claims were made by the network’s anchors, guests, and pundits while reveling in the victory by Democrat Kathy Hochul.

All of these statements had one theme in common, and that was to overemphasize the degree to which NY-26 was a red, Republican, or conservative district, with the implication being if Democrats can win there, they can win anywhere in 2012.

To kick things off, the Rachel Maddow Show featured a segment entitled “A very very very very special election” just after the polls closed, in which Maddow said:

“Even though New York 26 is part of blue state New York, Christopher Lee’s district is a deep red republican stronghold.”

And continued:

“This is a deep red district that has been put up for grabs because of the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget.”

And again:

“A redder than red district.”

There’s just one problem.

NY-26 has only had a partisan voting index of +6 points for the Republican Party over the last two presidential elections – meaning the district performed an average of just six points more Republican than the nation did overall during the 2004 and 2008 contests.

That makes NY-26 only the 165th most Republican district in the nation.

Moreover, looking at ideology, it does not appear the 26th CD is in the upper echelons of conservative House districts judging by the voting record of the Republicans it recently chose to elect.

Former U.S. Representative Chris Lee, who resigned from his NY-26 seat earlier this year, was rated just the 138th most conservative Republican in the House in 2009 and the 141st most conservative in 2010.

Approximately 31 percent of the House members voted more conservatively than Lee in 2009 and 29 percent in 2010.

Lee’s predecessor, Republican Tom Reynolds, had the 109th most conservative voting record in 2008 (when there were less than 180 GOPers serving in the House).

Of course, Maddow is an unabashedly liberal host, so her statements will not raise too many eyebrows.

But Maddow wasn’t alone in making these grand assertions about the district.

Later in her show, Washington Post columnist and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow E.J. Dionne made an appearance shortly after Democrat Kathy Hochul took her first lead in the early returns over Republican Jane Corwin.

Dionne attempted to inflate the significance of a Democrat victory in NY-26 thusly:

“When you have a district like this – this would be like Barney Frank losing his seat last time or Chris Van Hollen out in the very Democratic district where I live in Maryland. I mean – this is a really Republican area.”

Really?

Van Hollen’s 8th CD in Maryland has a partisan voting index tilt of +21 points for the Democrats – or a +15-point bigger tilt than NY-26 has for the Republicans.

Maryland’s 8th CD is the 46th most Democratic district in Congress compared to NY-26 being just the 165th most Republican.

Meanwhile, Barney Frank’s 4th CD in Massachusetts has a +14-point Democratic tilt, or eight more points than NY-26 has for the GOP.

Frank’s district is the 75th most Democratic in the House.

The exaggerated statements about the tilt of NY-26 continued on The Ed Show when New York congressman and Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Steve Israel (NY-02) made the following comment:

“There were three reasons why a Democrat has been elected to Congress in one of the most conservative Republican congressional districts in America. And they are. In alphabetical order. Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare.”

But the most glaring statement of the evening probably came from Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard Lenihan, who claimed on MSNBC:

“There’s never been a Democrat from the 26th district to head to Congress. Kathy Hochul is headed there tomorrow.”

While New York State’s congressional district lines have changed over the years, Democrats have been elected to the 26th CD 12 times including five times since 1992.

Democrats won NY-CD contests in 1842, 1844, 1852, 1854, 1944, 1948, 1950, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, and 2000.

Ogden Reid, who served the district for a decade in the 1960s and early 1970s, also switched his party affiliation to Democratic near the end of his tenure in the 26th CD in 1972.

With a plethora of error-ridden statements in last night’s coverage from which to choose, the question is which, if any, will PolitiFact choose to grade?

(It should be noted that cable television news’ more centrist (CNN) and right-leaning (FOX) networks opted to focus more on the Midwestern tornado damage than on New York’s special election as compared to MSNBC).

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