Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
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Georgia election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss was collateral damage in Fox News’ campaign to prop up Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud following the 2020 presidential election.
In December 2020, the network’s prime-time hosts and “straight news” personnel alike baselessly suggested that Moss and her mother and fellow election worker, Ruby Freeman, had participated in a fraud scheme. The Fox personalities don’t seem to regret their actions: After Moss described the impact those conspiracy theories had on her life to the January 6 House select committee on Tuesday, the network devoted all of 14 seconds to her testimony.
Moss’ testimony showed the human cost of Trump’s sinister effort to subvert the 2020 election. His campaign seized upon video of Moss and Freeman engaged in normal ballot tabulation procedures, claiming it actually depicted them producing “suitcases filled with ballots” from underneath a table after ordering their Republican counterparts to leave. Fox hosts pointed out the mother-daughter pair while pushing Trump’s false framing, and other right-wing outlets identified them by name.
On Tuesday, Moss said she and Freeman had been suffering through a wave of harassment ever since. “This turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card. ... I don't want anyone knowing my name," Moss told the committee. "I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all. I've gained about 60 pounds. I just don't do nothing anymore. I don't want to go anywhere. I second guess everything that I do. It's affected my life in a major way, in every way, all because of lies, for me doing my job -- same thing I've been doing forever.”
“I don't go to the grocery store at all."— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 21, 2022
Former Georgia elections worker Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, who was aggressively targeted in the weeks after the 2020 election, explained how the harassment she faced by pro-Trump supporters irreversibly changed her life. pic.twitter.com/5bGXMzNIz6
Moss’ gripping testimony spoke to the brutal impact the right-wing conspiracy theory pipeline had on individuals swept up in the Trumpist election subversion campaign. It is reminiscent of the trials the family of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was put through after Fox and other right-wing outlets tried to leverage his murder for political gain.
But Fox viewers who weren’t watching the hearing live in the middle of the afternoon almost certainly missed what Moss had to say. Almost immediately after she concluded her testimony and the committee adjourned, the network pivoted to covering new developments from the Uvalde mass shooting and never really returned to her story.
Here’s the sole coverage on Tuesday evening of Moss’ testimony – a brief clip during Special Report:
Fox hosts Jesse Watters, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham — each of whom covered the false “suitcases of ballots” smear — all passed on mentioning Moss’ testimony on their Tuesday broadcasts.
Fox is more interested in covering fake attacks on U.S. democracy than real ones. The network provided only 17 minutes of total coverage of Tuesday’s hearing, from its adjournment through 9 a.m. ET Wednesday morning. By contrast, the network devoted 24 minutes over the same period to covering new developments related to the June 17 arrests of seven staff members of NBC’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert who were allegedly present unlawfully in a congressional office building where they were filming a segment about the hearings.
Fox has tried to use the arrests for unlawful entry of a handful of comedians, including the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog puppet, to mock and downplay the January 6, 2021, insurrection, when a mob of enraged Trumpists stormed the U.S. Capitol, injuring roughly 140 police officers in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election results. The network has spent at least 2 hours and 23 minutes total on the arrests since the story broke last Friday night.
When you are extremely mad that the Trump coup failed and are doing everything in your power to ensure that next time, it succeeds. pic.twitter.com/WZJWClbI5m— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) June 21, 2022
Fox’s propagandists don’t want their viewers to know what these hearings have revealed about the events before, during, and after the insurrection — and above all, what the hearings show about the role the network played in Trump’s scheme to overturn the election. Instead, they’d prefer their audience treat the hearings as a big joke.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Two former Georgia election workers recently filed a lawsuit against The Gateway Pundit, a fringe right-wing blog, and its founders for spreading conspiracy theories surrounding a video featuring the plaintiffs, claiming it showed voter fraud. The false claims spurred harassment and threats of violence against the workers.
Many of the facts the lawsuit cites to demonstrate that The Gateway Pundit is guilty of defamation also reflect the way Fox News covered the video.
Both outlets used their wide reach to falsely claim the video showed election fraud occurring, both outlets singled out specific workers as purportedly being at the center of a conspiracy, and both outlets continued to promote these claims even after they had been thoroughly debunked.
The video was originally presented by the Trump campaign to the Georgia Senate on December 3, 2020, as part of its fraudulent attempt to prove voter fraud had taken place. The campaign claimed the video showed workers unloading ballots from a concealed suitcase after ordering their Republican counterparts to leave. In actuality, the video was taken out of context and, when played in its entirety, showed normal ballot tabulation procedure.
Even though these claims were immediately debunked by both news sources and election officials, right-wing media latched onto the video and surrounding conspiracy theories as proof of voter fraud. The petition filed against The Gateway Pundit reveals that it was the first outlet to specifically name plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, resulting in an “onslaught of extremely violent and graphic threats and dangerous harassment” of the mother and daughter.
Although Fox News stopped short of naming Freeman and Moss, the network’s coverage consistently mirrored other elements of The Gateway Pundit’s coverage cited in the lawsuit. Not only did Fox News amplify the conspiracy theories, but it also frequently pointed out images of Moss and Freeman in the video and claimed the workers had engaged in illegal activity.
- On December 3, Tucker Carlson played the footage on his show, saying it “appears to show poll workers pulling ballots out of suitcases after they told poll monitors to go home.” Carlson directed people to “pay attention to the top right-hand box” before playing the footage. The box Carlson directed his audience's attention to depicted two figures -- a woman with blonde braids and a woman in purple -- whom The Gateway Pundit would identify as Moss and Freeman that night and the following morning, respectively, according to the lawsuit.
The network’s coverage was in line with actions the lawsuit says constitute defamation, as, like The Gateway Pundit, Fox “disregarded reliable sources refuting their claims'' and “did not neutrally report the allegations about Ms. Freeman that were advanced by Trump lawyers and promptly disproven by Georgia election officials.
- On the December 4 edition of Fox & Friends, correspondent Griff Jenkins reported that the claims had been refuted by state election officials, but the hosts continued to push the conspiracy theory, with co-host Ainsley Earhardt saying, “How about those suitcases that were pulled out from the table in Georgia?” and co-host Brian Kilmeade responding, “I was that last night. It’s pretty hard to dispute that there’s something going on that needs some explanation.
- America’s Newsroom followed with yet another report from Jenkins, who explained that the claims were investigated and shown to be untrue. Again, the hosts undermined this evidence, playing the clip from the previous night’s Hannity where Moss was singled out on video. Guest and Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn responded to the video, saying he thought “Sean’s right in the sense that it raises real concerns.”
- During that night’s prime-time slate, guest host Trace Gallagher led off The Story with a report on the video, stating that a “senior source in the Georgia secretary of state’s office [told] Fox News that the claims had been ‘investigated and debunked’ and that observers were there the entire time and the case of the ballots in the video is a case that all ballots are supposed to be kept in.” He then brought on Trump legal team consultant Jenny Beth Martin, who repeated a series of false assertions in attempting to deny the video had been debunked and claimed the video showed “a violation of state law.” Later, during a panel discussion on the video, Gallagher said Martin “made a good point” in claiming that the video was “debunked in a heartbeat — very quick to debunk this thing without really taking a good look at all this and talking to all the witnesses involved.”
- On his show that night, Carlson also doubled down on his claims, saying the video “looks like fraud” and that he had spoken with Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, who informed him that “investigators looked into that video” and found no evidence of fraud. Nevertheless, Carlson continued to question what occurred “when the workers were unsupervised,” claiming that it was “not a conspiracy theory — those are legitimate questions.”
- Hannity likewise returned to the story that night on his show, also claiming statements from election officials were untrue, saying their explanations “directly [contradict] the affidavits under the penalty of perjury and video evidence and reports from election night itself.” Later in the show, Hannity brought on Lara Trump, who baselessly claimed there were enough ballots in the video to, when combined with her additional false claim that 15,000 out-of-state voters cast ballots, show “Donald Trump overwhelmingly [won] the state of Georgia.”
- On December 5, Fox & Friends Weekend brought on guest Brett Tolman, who also attempted to refute statements made by Georgia elections officials debunking the conspiracy theories. Tolman was introduced as a “former federal prosecutor and former U.S. attorney for the state of Utah,” but the show made no mention of Tolman’s participation in helping Trump’s campaign in its attempt to overturn the results of the election.
- During special coverage on Fox News that day, anchor Trace Gallagher played the footage of Freeman, first referring to it as a claim made by Rudy Giuliani and later acknowledging that it had been debunked. However, after reading tweets from Georgia election officials debunking the video, Gallagher claimed there were “some very smart people saying, you know what, something about that video is off.”
- On the December 7, The Five co-host Jesse Watters went further in naming individuals who he falsely claimed were responsible for fraud. Watters first claimed that the workers “counted all these ballots after sending all of these poll watchers and members of the media home and Biden put on a substantial number into his lead.” He then asserted that the “same guy that made up the lie about the burst pipe was the same guy that sent the media home before they pulled out the ballots from under the table. The guy's name is Ralph Jones, partisan Democrat.” Jones, a voter registration chief for the county, had not lied about a burst pipe, which turned out to be a water leak, and would later quit following “pressure and threats over his work during the 2020 election”; he was “targeted with violent threats and he reported strangers knocking on the door of the home where he and his family live.”
- That night on his show, Hannity again played the video while repeating claims that observers were ordered out of the room before “election workers” removed suitcases “apparently filled with thousands and thousands of ballots, which were then counted by the workers that were allowed to remain in the room that pulled them out of the suitcases they conveniently had there, without partisan observers, without the media.” Hannity then claimed “nothing has been debunked by anybody,” before citing an article from The Federalist, which claimed to refute debunkings of the video; the same article was referenced in the lawsuit, which said the fact that Jim Hoft shared it on social media was evidence that he had “full awareness that his statements about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss had been flatly and fully refuted by multiple officials and multiple fact-checking organizations.”
- On December 14, Fox & Friends aired an interview with then-President Donald Trump during which he repeated his campaign's claim about the video, saying, “People ... took all of those ballots, all of those Biden ballots, under the table with the black dress, and they took them and they started shoving them into machine.” Neither the reporter interviewing him nor the hosts commenting on the interview provided any pushback or correction to his claims.
- As reported by Mediaite, at the end of December, Fox News started airing ads from the Trump campaign that featured the footage of Freeman and Moss and repeated claims that the video “shows poll workers pulling out trunks containing ballots from overwhelmingly Democrat precincts.” About a week after the ads began airing on Fox News, Freeman and Moss were forced to evacuate from their home when the FBI concluded it would not be safe for them to stay.
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