Published with permission from AlterNet
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has recently seemed to be preparing himself and his supporters for a loss in November, complaining to rally-goers in Ohio that he’s “afraid the election’s going to be rigged.”
President Barack Obama swiftly rebuked Trump’s inflammatory suggestion, ridiculing the GOP nominee and known conspiracy theorist. “Of course the election won’t be rigged. What does that even mean?” Obama told reporters. “If Mr. Trump is suggesting that there is a conspiracy theory that is propagated across the country, including in places like Texas where typically it is not Democrats who are in charge of voting booths, that’s ridiculous. That doesn’t make any sense.”
But suffice to say, a reality check about how voting works in the United States did little to quell the conspiracy theorists. And true to form, Trump was able to gain traction for his fear-mongering with a little help from Fear’s Safest Place: Fox News.
Here are four ways the “fair and balanced” news network irresponsibly peddled Trump’s “rigged election” theory this week.
1. Sean Hannity Gives a Platform to Trump and His Surrogates, Becomes a Surrogate Himself
Noted Trump shill and [Wall Street Journal reporter Bret Stephens’] “dumbest anchor” Sean Hannity brought the Republican nominee on his show Monday night to peddle the rigged election theory.
“I’ve been hearing about it for a long time,” Trump said on Hannity, using his characteristic logic. “I know last time [during the 2012 presidential election] you had precincts where there was practically nobody voting for the Republican and I think that’s wrong—people were curious, how is it possible?”
Snopes.com looked into the claim that in some districts a total of zero votes were cast for Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney, during the 2012 presidential election. According to the website, “It is true that 59 voting divisions in Philadelphia recorded no votes for Mitt Romney, but given the voter composition of the Philadelphia area (and some Philadelphia wards in particular), and the number of voters in each division, that outcome was hardly a ’mathematical and statistical impossibility.’”
In fact, not only did John McCain lose a similar number of Philadelphia voting divisions during the 2008 election (57 in total), but after an an exhaustive investigation of Republican voters in some of these districts, “the Inquirer was unable to find any of them by calling or visiting their homes.”
“I’m telling you, November 8th, we’d better be careful because that election’s going to be rigged,” Trump later added. “And I hope the Republicans are watching very closely or it’s going to be taken away from us.”
As President Obama said, it’s absurd to think that the entire voting process is run by Democrats who are attempting to propagate a giant conspiracy against the Republican candidate. Of course, Trump peddling that line isn’t surprising, and neither will his reaction be come November 8, when he refuses to accept the official, legal outcome of the general election. At least he’s giving us fair warning.
Tuesday, Hannity himself became a mouthpiece for the Trump campaign (shocker) and brought on another talking head to add some—erm—historical perspective to the rigged election conspiracy theory.
“Here’s an interesting statistic,” Hannity said to Trump supporter Newt Gingrich. “The [Philadelphia] Inquirer, one week after the 2012 election pointed out that in 59 separate precincts in inner-city Philadelphia, that Mitt Romney did not get a single vote, not one. And according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there were nine precincts in Cleveland alone, again, not a single Romney vote, not one. Now, maybe I’m conspiratorial. Maybe this is a stretch. But 70 districts in two cities, 70-plus districts, not a single vote for Romney? Is that possible?”
Well yes, Hannity, you are conspiratorial, yes, it is a stretch to suggest voter fraud because no one voted for Romney in a few inner-city districts, and yes, it is possible that Romney was so loathed by voters in Cleveland and Philadelphia that he polled a dazzling zero votes in those precincts. But leave it to Gingrich to provide some false comfort to his fellow Trump cheerleader.
“Sure. Look, my first real presidential election in terms of being involved and paying attention was 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy,” Gingrich said, beginning the worst history lesson of all time. “And I don’t think any historian doubts that the Democrats stole Illinois and they stole Texas, and that was the margin of the election, just straight-out theft.”
“I think there’s a long tradition on the part of Democratic machines of trying to steal elections,” Gingrich continued. “And that’s why what really matters is for Republicans to recognize that and organize enough Republican attorneys and Republican poll watchers to offset it.”
Despite Gingrich’s conviction about the issue, do Dems actually have a history of stealing elections?
David Greenberg ofSlate provides a pretty thorough investigation into whether JFK stole the election in 1960. His conclusion: While the GOP worked tirelessly to prove Democrats stole the election from their pristine “law and order” candidate (gee, where have we heard that recently?), they failed to find any substantial evidence that the alleged meddling would have swayed the election.
“The GOP’s failure to prove fraud doesn’t mean, of course, that the election was clean,” Greenberg writes. “That question remains unsolved and unsolvable. But what’s typically left out of the legend is that multiple election boards saw no reason to overturn the results. Neither did state or federal judges. Neither did an Illinois special prosecutor in 1961. And neither have academic inquiries into the Illinois case (both a 1961 study by three University of Chicago professors and more recent research by political scientist Edmund Kallina concluded that whatever fraud existed wasn’t substantial enough to alter the election).”
But considering we’re talking about people who continuously revive allegations that the Clintons are murderers and Obama is a Muslim from Kenya, it’s unlikely any amount of verification will stop them from assuming Democrats robbed Nixon in 1960. Welcome to 2016.
2. “Outnumbered” Out-Dumbs Itself, Claims Fraud Already Happened Since Felons in Virginia Can Vote
When Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights of 200,000 ex-cons who had completed their sentences, civil rights groups heralded the decision. But for David Asman, co-host of April 2’s “Outnumbered,” it was a ploy to help Clinton win the state of Virginia.
“All right: ‘I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged,’” co-host Sandra Smith said. “What do you make of [Trump] pushing this narrative?”
“Well, it’s already happened, to a certain extent,” Asman said “I mean look what happened in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe, a lifelong Clinton ally, allowed 200,000 ex-cons, felons, to suddenly become voters in the election. I mean 200,000 votes is nothing to sniff about. I mean that, you can argue that already in open, in daylight, it has been rigged in Hillary’s favor by at least the allies of Hillary Clinton around the nation. That’s just one example. I would like to hear, sometimes you put something out there, he doesn’t have all the facts to back it up. And then he gets the facts later.”
Well, yes. That is demonstrably true if your version of facts is, “Some people think,” or “It was in the National Enquirer.” But the notion that ex-cons, who have paid their debt to society and earned the restoration of their voting rights, are somehow in the bag for Clinton? It looks like Trump’s not the only one who says things without the facts to back it up.
3. “Happening Now” Pushes for Stricter Voter ID Laws
Mercedes Schlapp, former director of specialty media for President George W. Bush, appeared on “Happening Now” Wednesday to continue stoking fears about voter fraud.
“Well, I think there are concerns,” Schlapp said. “And I think it’s interesting that you mention that because former Supreme Court Justice [John Paul] Stevens made it very clear in a majority opinion that he gave years back saying that the risk of voter fraud is real, especially when it comes to close elections. “
“And I have to tell you,” Schlapp continued. “It’s something you’re seeing in the sense of the voter ID laws that have been passed and the fact is that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree, for example, that you should have a voter ID shown before you cast a ballot. We know that there has been voter fraud in the past.”
Voter ID laws are a contentious issues in the United States; in total, 33 states have identification laws in place for the 2016 election. Interestingly, in May of this year, Justice Stevens—who as Schlapp notes, wrote the 2008 majority opinion that Indiana’s strict photo ID requirement is constitutional—doubted the ruling, calling it a “fairly unfortunate decision.”
“I thought in that case I had a duty to confine myself to what the record did prove,” Stevens said in a conversation with Justice Elena Kagan, referring to a quandary he found himself in regarding whether to consider outside research on voter ID laws or limit his decision to what was presented in court.
“I learned a lot of things outside the record that made me very concerned about that statute,” Stevens added.
That’s right, the author of voter ID laws is concerned about voter ID laws. But please, Schlapp, continue fear-mongering over the “extensive” fraud people commit during elections—even though voter fraud is less common than UFO sightings or getting struck by lightning.
4. “Fox and Friends” Takes a Page Out of Trump’s Book, Offers “There Are a Lot of Americans” Who Think That Way
During a rant about President Obama, Fox’s Anna Kooiman took a direct line from Trump’s playbook, using the ubiquitous “some people say” modifier, which as we’ve learned with Trump is really just a way to spread conspiracies without actually taking responsibility for spreading conspiracies.
“The president acts like anybody who doesn’t buy into his storyline is not a serious person or something, ‘Oh, that’s silly that they just think it’s like a spy movie,’” Kooiman began. “Or even with Donald Trump, ‘Oh, you mean the election is rigged what is that supposed to mean?’”
“Well there are a lot of Americans that think that that might be the case,” she concluded.
Yes, if you’re Donald Trump or headquartered in the west wing of Rockefeller Center, you think the fact that some poeple think it might be the case makes it true. Otherwise, you understand that sometimes elections can be messy (we’re looking at you, Bush v. Gore 2000) and sometimes they don’t go your way (again, we’re looking at you, Bush v. Gore 2000), but there’s no systemic attempt by the government or one political party to steal the election. Instead, these operatives are putting in the time and effort to sway the election by getting more votes than the other party. Period.
For Fox News to help Donald Trump throw his “rigged election” temper tantrum, undermine faith in our electoral process and set the stage for the ultimate “they stole it!” showdown is deplorable and irresponsible. And it proves, in case there was any doubt, that Fox’s intent is to spread dangerous misinformation.
Photo: Donald Trump speaks on stage with Fox News host Sean Hannity during CPAC 2015 (Michael Vadon via Flickr)