After Major League Baseball (MLB) moved its All-Star Game out of Georgia, USA Today “stealth-edited” a March 31 op-ed by activist and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that said she “can’t argue” with boycotts.
The secretive edits, which were detected and disseminated on Twitter by Republican operative Matt Whitlock on April 23, softened her language and blamed Republicans for the MLB boycott. They were not initially accompanied by an editor’s note. One appears to have been added sometime after April 21.
“The impassioned response to the racist, classist bill that is now the law of Georgia is to boycott in order to achieve change,” Abrams wrote at first. “Events hosted by major league baseball, world class soccer, college sports and dozens of Hollywood films hang in the balance. At the same time, activists urge Georgians to swear off of hometown products to express our outrage. Until we hear clear, unequivocal statements that show Georgia-based companies get what’s at stake, I can’t argue with an individual’s choice to opt for their competition.”
“However, one lesson of boycotts is that the pain of deprivation must be shared to be sustainable,” continued Abrams. “Otherwise, those least resilient bear the brunt of these actions; and in the aftermath, they struggle to access the victory. And boycotts are complicated affairs that require a long-term commitment to action. I have no doubt that voters of color, particularly Black voters, are willing to endure the hardships of boycotts. But I don’t think that’s necessary — yet … I ask you to bring your business to Georgia and, if you’re already here, stay and fight. Stay and vote.”
As Whitlock noted based on archival photos of the webpage, sometime after the MLB moved the All-Star Game, language that suggested Abrams supported boycotts was quietly revised, and paragraphs that strongly urged against boycotts and blamed Republicans for the loss of the All-Star Game were added.
Not over the fact that Stacey Abrams published an op-Ed about the Georgia law saying “boycotts work,” and she wouldn’t blame anyone for boycotting..
Then AFTER the MLB move, STEALTH EDITED the op-Ed with stronger language opposing boycotts, and media have used it to defend her. https://t.co/A284wksh2c
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) April 24, 2021
And yet, as this 4/21 archive shows, the editor's note was not present. It appears the op-ed was revised on April 6th, but an editor's note about the change was only added within the past 2 days:https://t.co/JLR1YWTeDd pic.twitter.com/bqpxOmIBjK
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) April 23, 2021
She removed "I can't argue with an individuals choice to opt out" (referring to boycotts — see previous tweet)
And followed with major changes to her paragraph about the pain boycotts cause, adding in the updated version "Boycotts invariably also cost jobs."
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) April 23, 2021
“The impassioned (and understandable) response to the racist, classist bill that is now the law of Georgia is to boycott in order to achieve change. Events that can bring millions of dollars to struggling families hang in the balance,” the new version said. “Major League Baseball pulled both its All-Star Game and its draft from Georgia, which could cost our state nearly $100 million in lost revenue.”
Going on to blame Republicans, Abrams continued, “Rather than accept responsibility for their craven actions, Republican leaders blame me and others who have championed voting rights (and actually read the bill). Their faux outrage is designed to hide the fact that they prioritized making it harder for people of color to vote over the economic well-being of all Georgians. To add to the injury, the failed former president is now calling for cancellation of baseball as the national pastime.”
“Boycotts invariably also cost jobs,” new portions of the op-ed went on. “To be sustainable, the pain of deprivation must be shared rather than borne by those who are least resilient … I have no doubt that voters of color, particularly Black voters, are willing to endure the hardships of boycotts. But such monetary loss is unlikely to affect the stubborn, frightened Republicans who see voter suppression as their only way to win. Money isn’t quite as seductive as political power to these putative leaders.”
Slipping in a new condemnation of boycotts, Abrams wrote, “Instead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states.”
Weeks after the edits, sometime around the time of Whitlock’s tweet, USA Today appended an editor’s note to the top of the piece that said: “This column was originally published before the MLB moved the All-Star game out of Atlanta. It was updated after that decision.”
A spokesman for USA Today’s parent company, Gannett, told Fox News in a statement: “We regret the oversight in updating the Stacey Abrams column. As soon as we recognized there was no editor’s note, we added it to the page to reflect her changes. We have reviewed our procedures to ensure this does not occur again.”
As Whitlock observed, fact-checkers and Twitter used Abrams’ newly-edited article to defend her against accusations that she was not to blame for the All-Star Game leaving Georgia, despite sources who spoke to Fox News claiming that Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Robert Manfred decided to move it after extensive discussions with voting rights groups associated with Abrams, NBA player LeBron James, and Al Sharpton.
“That’s some Orwellian stuff,” said Whitlock.
This article was updated to include a statement given to Fox News.