How The Press Enables The GOP’s Big Lie -- And Damages Democracy
Reprinted with permission from Press Run
So many election lies were told at the far-right CPAC conference last weekend that at one point a conservative media outlet, Right Side Broadcasting, had to interrupt its live coverage in order to air a disclaimer so that it wouldn't get sued for spreading election lies.
The conference was drowning in misinformation and whacked out conspiracies about the 2020 election, but very few mainstream outlets identified them clearly. That helps the GOP's Big Lie metastasize and spread. A CNN fact check dubbed the election lies told at CPAC to be "false claims." The network stressed Trump's 90-minute speech was filled with "falsehoods."
Reporting on the right-wing confab, CBS News used weak, vague language when noting that "unsubstantiated claims of interference" had been addressed at CPAC election panels. CBS made no mention of the fact that Trump told attendees the election had been stolen from him — that he already "beat" Democrats twice at the polls. ABC News noted Trump's "false election fraud claims."
By depicting the lies as merely disputed claims, the press continues to downplay a Republican cancer in our culture.
It's a problem that the GOP's Big Lie, as its been dubbed by many online, often isn't even called a lie by the mainstream media, which years ago put up artificial guardrails against calling Trump and his followers liars.
Lying about presidential election results is now, without question, a mainstream Republican talking point, or at the very least the claim that 'millions of Americans have concerns' about election integrity. The Big Lie is dangerous because it's clearly being used to fuel an avalanche of sweeping voter suppression initiatives in state houses around the country, as Republicans use election propaganda to pass bills to make it hard to vote. (The RNC recently set up Committee on Election Integrity, in the wake of an election that had no integrity issues.) It's an extraordinary one-two combination, the likes of which our democracy has rarely faced — it's the essence of pure propaganda.
The media help by giving a voice to the Big Lie and treating it as another Republican debating point, as if the finer points of immigration and tax reform are being discussed. It was the Big Lie that sparked a murderous insurrection on Jan. 6. It's the Big Lie that goes to the heart of American democracy. The Republican Party is waging war on free and fair elections in this country, and the Beltway press, especially the Sunday morning network talk shows, too often acts like disinterested spectatorsfacilitating a Both Sides debate — Republicans say elections are rigged, Democrats disagree!
Note this flawed headline for an in-depth New York Times investigation into the Republican commitment to pass sweeping laws that suppress the vote: "Stolen-Election Myth Fuels G.O.P. Push to Change Voting Laws." [Emphasis added.]
It's not a myth, it's a lie. Big Foot is a myth. The Loch Ness Monster is a myth. The claim that Trump's election win was stolen is a lie told by one of our two major political parties, and it's backed by a billion dollar right-wing media industry. Today, the Big Lie represents the tip of a decades-long push by the Republican Party to sever itself from factual debate. That trend was obviously accelerated with Trump's election.
Early in Trump's presidency, while moving to overturn Obamacare, Republicans tried to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about their bill. They lied about pre-existing conditions. They lied about the cost. They lied about the bill being "bipartisan."
Four years ago this winter, I wrote, "If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there's no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be." We now know the answer is the Big Lie.
The Sunday morning shows continue to be a media wasteland of Big Lie timidity. A revolving door of Republican politicians who have sowed the seeds of election doubts are politely ushered onto shows and either never asked about election lies, as media critic Matt Negrin has documented, or allowed to echo the lies while facing mild pushback from television hosts.
What should happen is that Republicans ought to fear appearing on national shows when discussing so-called election fraud because they know hosts will unequivocally demand they provide concrete proof to back up their claims of election fraud — the same claims that were the basis for 60 failed Trump lawsuits following the election.
Two weeks ago as a guest on ABC's This Week, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) claimed there were, "a few states that did not follow their state laws" during the last election, and that "the rule of law" was abandoned, which is a categorically false claim. Scalise arrived at the ABC studio having previously signed on to an amicus brief supporting a radical lawsuit from the Texas attorney general that would have thrown out millions of legitimate votes across the country. That move alone should have disqualified Scalise from appearing on This Week.
By continuing to welcome Republican Big Liars on TV and treating their comments as serious and legitimate, the press is doing damage to election integrity.
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