CNN’s Election Coverage Ramps Up With Joe Johns’ “Voters in America” Documentary

CNN’s Joe Johns hit a home run with his “Voters in America: Who Counts” documentary that premiered October 14, 2012. It shined a light on the controversial voter ID laws that have been passed by more than half-dozen states in the past few years.

All of the cable and broadcast networks are covering the U.S. Presidential debates.   CNN is proudly promoting Candy Crowley’s hosting the next debate this Tuesday.

But, how many news organizations are devoting an hour to understanding the issues and the individuals behind the recent string of voter ID laws?

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns’ “Voters in America: Who Counts” documentary turned the spotlight on the battleground state of Florida and showed us the story of  Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley and Civil Rights Pioneer LaVon Wright Bracy.

Joe Johns

Johns ‘ Best Work

I’ve been a fan of Joe Johns ever since I was a journalism student at Howard University in the late 80s/early 90s and watched his reporting on WRC-TV in Washington, DC.  He was a good reporter then.

But, I believe the “Voters in America” documentary that premiered tonight was one of his best projects ever.

It certainly stands to make an impact greater than the  daily, “breaking news” broadcast journalism that he produces.

As a news producer, I know Johns  had an army of producers in CNN’s documentary unit working with him.   But,  he was more than a black face on an issue that is so racially-charged.

Johns’ background covering criminal justice and his understanding of the issues came across in the way he queried both Baxley and Bracy about their positions on these new laws.

The Voter ID Laws

I come from the state of Virginia and work in the state of Alabama, both of which have enacted tough voter ID laws.   As a life member of the NAACP, I have questioned the real need for such laws, especially in light of our nation’s history of poll taxes and literacy tests for African Americans.

Dennis Baxley

CNN presented the various sides of this issue without making Baxley, the chief sponsor of Florida’s 2011 law,  out to be the “bad guy.”   Instead, Baxley was presented a Christian family man, who legitimately believes he’s doing the right thing.

Viewers got to see Baxley in his day job as a funeral director in Ocala, Fla. and a new grandfather and not just as a politician with ulterior motives, which is often the case in our news reporting of proponents of voter ID laws.

He and I can worship the same God, but walk out our faith differently when it comes to public policy.

Lavon Bracy

At the same time, “Voters in America” brought national exposure to Dr. Bracy, a preacher’s wife, who was the  first African American to integrate the public schools of the Alachua County school system.

After being as effective as she has been registering thousands of voters over the last few years,  Dr. Bracy should be recognized by Florida’s legislature for her role as a citizen in the Sunshine State.

Working (Univ. of Alabama)  and going to school (Univ. of Georgia)  in the Southeastern Conference (SEC),  I’ve traveled to Gainesville, Fla. (The Alachua County seat and home of the University of Florida Gators) many times.  I never knew about Dr. LaVon Bracy until tonight’s CNN documentary.

“Voters in America” gave ample attention to the role of the black church in mobilizing citizens to exercise their right to vote, a right for which so many gave their very lives.

Thanks CNN for shining the light on this important issue.   I hope to show this “Voters in America” project to many of my students at the University of Alabama as we understand  the important role that broadcast journalists like Joe Johns and his team of producers play in uncovering the REAL STORY behind many of the issues in this important 2012 election.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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