Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
Key Republican leaders are collaborating with Fox News' propagandists to further inflame their party's base, standing behind President Donald Trump's lies that the election is being stolen from him through widespread voter fraud as the ballot count edges Democratic nominee Joe Biden closer to victory.
Fox's prime-time programming on Wednesday was a vile slurry of innuendo and conspiracy theories, as the network's hosts parroted viral social media lies to their audience of millions in an effort to delegitimize the election results. Thursday night's shows, which followed Trump's deranged and lie-filled performance before the White House press corps, were even more unhinged and reckless. The hosts promoted nonsensical and unverified claims of voter fraud and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results, floating as remedies a "do-over" election in Pennsylvania and Republican state legislators ignoring the results in favor of Trump.
"I can factually tell you tonight, it will be impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results," Fox star and Trump operative Sean Hannity claimed. "Americans will never be able to believe in the integrity and legitimacy of these results."
The size of the Fox audience would make this reckless, incendiary rhetoric from its prime-time hosts concerning under any circumstances. But its coverage has been particularly unnerving given the slew of senior Republican leaders who rushed to the network's airwaves in order to speak from the same hymnal. Together, they are pushing the country toward the abyss, risking a destruction of confidence in the election system -- and a violent backlash.
The conspiracy theory-mongering extends to the highest ranks of the party's congressional leadership. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) claimed on Fox that the election results were corrupted by fraud and that Trump was the real victor.
"President Trump won this election," he told Laura Ingraham. "Everyone who is listening, do not be quiet, do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes. We need to unite together."
Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went on Fox and claimed the election had been rigged and that he was making a hefty donation to the president's legal fund to stop it.
"Everything should be on the table," Graham replied when Hannity asked him if the Pennsylvania state legislature should "invalidate" the results. "Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake," he added.
Potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates are also getting into the action. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) used a Fox appearance to falsely claim poll watchers had been denied access in Philadelphia, and call the results into question.
"What we've been seeing the last three days is outrageous. It is partisan, it is political, and it is lawless," he told Hannity. "I am angry and I think the American people are angry because by throwing the observers out, by clouding the vote counting in a shroud of darkness, they are setting the stage to potentially steal an election not just from the president, but from the over 60 million people across this country who voted for him all across this country."
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), another 2024 contender, similarly undermined confidence in the election results.
"We've seen reports of Detroit about ballots brought in there, new ballots in the middle of the night. And we've seen it in Philadelphia," he told Fox's Tucker Carlson. "Now, again, to your point a second ago, I don't know if these allegations are well founded or not."
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and longtime Fox contributor, is what passes for a GOP elder statesman. He went on Hannity to claim that "you are watching an effort to steal the presidency of the United States" and to call on Attorney General William Barr to arrest election workers.
The party's newest elected officials are doing the same thing. On Friday morning, Michelle Fischbach, a newly minted Republican representative-elect from Minnesota, was on Fox & Friends claiming that Trump "did win" but Democrats "didn't win the votes of the American people, they're just finding votes at this point."
Trump's personal affinity for Fox gave the network an unrivaled influence on his administration. But even if he is defeated, Fox's hold on his party seems unlikely to diminish. Politicians who want to gain and hold power within the GOP know that the network's airwaves provide one of their best opportunities to accomplish that and so they're willing to play ball with its conspiracy theories, no matter how damaging they are to the country.
Senior Republican officials are "privately" worried that the president's attacks on the country's democratic system are dangerous, according to the Associated Press. But in public, they're going on Fox and backing him to the hilt, no matter the cost.
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