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Journalists Must Be Better Prepared In The Trump Era
Sunday show hosts failed to sufficiently press Donald Trump's surrogates on the president-elect’s blatant lies about voter fraud in the 2016 election. Journalists must raise the bar even higher when interviewing Trump and his surrogates, from merely calling out falsehoods to actively putting statements into context and offering facts and data. Failure to aggressively push back on lies and contextualize misleading statements in the “post-truth” era of Trump risks leaving viewers unclear about which party is ultimately correct and tells them only what they don’t know, rather than ensuring they are informed.
On November 27, Trump tweeted, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In fact, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is expected to win the popular vote by about 2.5 million votes. Additionally, the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump found just three documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, Trump’s surrogates later defended his lie in a conference call with reporters.
On December 4, CBS host John Dickerson interviewed Reince Priebus, who Trump has tapped for White House chief of staff, on Face the Nation and addressed Trump’s claims that he would have won the popular vote if not for mass voter fraud:
While Dickerson did tell Priebus that “there is no evidence” that millions voted illegally, he made a series of missteps. First, he allowed Priebus to cite a Wall Street Journal op-ed that recycled discredited evidence, failing to note that the evidence was flawed and misleading. Second, while Dickerson asked if Trump needs to “tighten up his standards of proof,” he allowed Priebus to redirect the conversation away from Trump’s lies to a discussion of Trump’s penchant for tweeting in general. Finally, Dickerson never mentioned any of the numerous studies that show that claims of widespread voter fraud are false.
CBS compounded the problem by issuing a tweet that merely read “Reince Priebus: ‘It’s possible’ millions voted illegally.” Several media outlets have recently botched their headlines and tweets when reporting on false statements made by Trump, omitting context that would illustrate the inaccuracies.
CBS later deleted the tweet, replacing it with this one:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 4, 2016
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Vice President-elect Mike Pence on This Week and also raised the question of Trump’s voter fraud tweets:
Stephanopoulos did repeatedly press Pence to offer evidence for Trump’s claim and consistently pointed out that these claims of voter fraud are false, but he failed to provide counter-evidence to effectively establish that Trump was wrong. Stephanopoulos pushed back on Pence when he cited a Pew Research Center study as evidence that Trump’s voter fraud claims could be true, noting that the authors of the study said “it is not any evidence about what happened in this election.” This pushback, however, was insufficient to properly contextualize for the audience why this evidence is flawed, leaving it up to them to figure out which Pew study is being cited and why it doesn’t apply. Stephanopoulos also neglected to cite studies that provide persuasive proof that claims of voter fraud are grossly exaggerated and largely inaccurate.
Given the total lack of proof for the right-wing’s voter fraud claims, journalists must be prepared to more thoroughly press Trump surrogates if he continues to lie. And more generally, journalists must be armed with the facts and data they need to hold surrogates accountable on the variety of issues about which President-elect Trump lies. In what has been dubbed a “post-truth” presidency, it will no longer be sufficient to merely say “that’s false.” Journalists must call out instances of cherry-picked data or flawed sources and counteract the misuse of data. Journalists can and must harness the power of fact-checking by using studies and data to relentlessly press Trump and his surrogates in order to convey the truth to the American public.
The Wall Street Journal opinion page provided a platform for serial misinformers -- citing discredited research -- to falsely suggest that a large number of noncitizens voted in the 2016 election. The evidence used by the authors, who have made careers out of pushing misleading claims to advocate for laws that would result in voter suppression, has been criticized by academics and flies in the face of data showing no evidence that noncitizens have voted in recent U.S. elections in any significant numbers.
In a November 30 op-ed, Hans von Spakovsky, a National Review contributor and a current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and John Fund, a columnist for National Review, asserted that “there is a real chance that significant numbers of noncitizens and others are indeed voting illegally, perhaps enough to make up the margin in some elections.” The authors declare that “the honor system doesn’t work” and that “there are people—like those caught voting illegally—who are willing to exploit these weaknesses that damage election integrity.”
The evidence von Spakovsky and Fund cite to back up their claim is seriously misleading, is methodologically flawed, and has been debunked by experts. Von Spakovsky and Fund point to one “2012 study from the Pew Center on the States estimating that one out of every eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicate.” But as USA Today pointed out in a write-up of the study, “experts say there's no evidence that the [registration] errors lead to fraud on Election Day.” The article quoted David Becker, the director of Pew’s election initiatives, warning that “‘the perception of the possibility of fraud drives hyper-partisan policymaking.’”
The authors also cited a 2014 study that “used extensive survey data to estimate that 6.4% of the nation’s noncitizens voted in 2008 and that 2.2% voted in 2010.” That study was endlessly hyped by right-wing media, but Brian Schaffner, a political scientist who was “a member of the team that produces the datasets upon which that study was based,” wrote, “I can say unequivocally that this research is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections.” Another expert, Michael Tesler, pointed out that the study had “methodological challenges” that rendered its conclusions "tenuous at best.”
The authors additionally cited a Heritage Foundation report that they call “a list of more than 700 recent convictions for voter fraud” to dispute “academics who claim that voter fraud is vanishingly rare.” However, as FactCheck.org noted, the report found "less than a dozen individual cases of noncitizens convicted of registering or actually voting since 2000," and USA Today found that the report, which is “based largely on news clippings and news releases,” contains “only a handful of allegations of voter impersonation that voter ID could have prevented.”
In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt found only 31 credible allegations of in-person voter fraud among the more than 1 billion votes cast in "general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014."
Von Spakovsky and Fund’s reliance on discredited research is no surprise, given their history of pushing misinformation about voting. Von Spakovsky, who has been featured on Fox News and on National Review for years, has demonstrated an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Von Spakovsky, in particular, has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, he also characterized the modern civil rights movement as "indistinguishable" from "segregationists." Even former President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Dick Thornburgh accused von Spakovsky of being “wrong on both the facts and the law.”
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Media outlets failed to hold President-elect Donald Trump accountable for his false claim that “millions of people” illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election by failing to state in their headlines and tweets -- which are what most news consumers see -- that the allegation was a lie. The claim, which Trump used to dismiss his loss in the popular vote and to attack a recount effort in Wisconsin, was originally pushed by far-right “conspiracy-theory hawking” websites. Even though fact-checking organizations debunked the idea, numerous mainstream media outlets writing about the issue on social media and in headlines either reported Trump’s lie without noting that it was false or hedged by writing only that it lacked evidence.
Kobach “Wrote The Book” On Muslim Registry And Was Behind Anti-Immigrant SB 1070
A reported architect behind President-elect Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals, radio host and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has received significant media attention following the announcement that he was joining Trump’s transition team. However, media outlets are failing to note his ties to hate groups and nativist organizations and his attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people.
Fox News will address an erroneous report claiming a Trump protestor engaged in voter fraud by using his grandmother’s address, who they claimed had been dead since 2002, after The Guardian debunked their report by talking to the grandmother who is still very much alive.
Politico reports that Fox News “will address an erroneous report” on the Wednesday edition of Fox & Friends after co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed a protester at a Trump rally had engaged in voter fraud. During the November 7 edition of the show, Kilmeade said that Austyn Crites’ “grandmother has been using his address to vote absentee for years. But she’s been dead since 2002”:
On Wednesday Fox News will address an erroneous report aired on the show “Fox & Friends” earlier this week.
Anchor Brian Kilmeade reported Monday that a man who disrupted a Donald Trump rally on Saturday had been engaged in voter fraud.
“Democrats would love for you to believe that voter fraud does not exist, better chance for you to get hit by lightning, they say,” Kilmeade said. "This morning, yet another reminder from the guy who interrupted Donald Trump’s rally on Saturday, who many people thought had a gun."
“His grandmother has been using his address to vote absentee for years. But she’s been dead since 2002,” Kilmeade said before bringing a former Department of Justice attorney to talk about voter fraud and how he doubted this case would be prosecuted.
But The Guardian met Crites’ grandmother, Wilda Austin, in Reno, Nevada the same day as the flawed report and found her “alive and well”:
Austyn Crites, a Republican protester who was assaulted at a Trump rally in Nevada, was stunned to see a TV report on Monday associating him with fraudulent voting connected to a grandmother Fox News claimed died in 2002.
However, the Guardian met Wilda Austin, 90, in her living room in suburban Reno late on Monday. She was alive and well, although somewhat baffled that she was having to prove her identity to correct a TV broadcast that reported that she died 14 years ago.
“Please correct the record,” she said, arms crossed.
She declined to appear on camera, in part because the family has been subjected to a torrent of abuse and threats since Crites, 33, an inventor, was ejected from the Trump rally for holding a sign that read “Republicans against Trump.”
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A federal judge will reportedly order Donald Trump ally Roger Stone “to avoid ‘harassing or intimidating conduct’ at polling places” on Election Day.
Democrats recently filed a lawsuit against Republicans and Stone in four states, including Ohio, that accused them of a “coordinated campaign of vigilante voter intimidation.”
Stone is the paid head of the group Stop the Steal, which claims that Democrats are trying to steal the election for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Stone is recruiting volunteers from far-right sources like the audience of The Alex Jones Show to act as “exit pollers” in targeted localities. Election experts have told Media Matters that Stone’s plan sounds like voter “intimidation.”
Cleveland.com reported today that U.S. District Judge James Gwin “said he will order the restraining order against Trump's campaign and Stone, who did not have an attorney present.”
The judge said he will order the restraining order against Trump's campaign and Stone, who did not have an attorney present. He did not order it against the Ohio Republican Party, saying there was not enough evidence to show that a restraining order against it was needed.
The state Republicans, Trump's campaign and Stone maintain that they have not done nor are planning to do anything illegal. Trump's campaign also argued in a brief that the restraining order the Democrats wanted would chill free speech and also impede the campaign's ability to perform certain get-out-the-vote measures.
For more on Roger Stone, go here.
UPDATE: The federal order can be found here.
A report by Reuters exposed a systematic attempt to limit early voting in North Carolina, which has been shown to disenfranchise minority voters and continue what appears to be a coordinated effort to suppress some Americans’ right to vote. Yet right-wing media ignore this reality as they focus on making unfounded claims of rampant voter fraud.
Through a public records request, Reuters obtained emails from North Carolina Republicans that show “state and county Republican officials lobbied ... to keep early-voting sites open for shorter hours on weekends and in evenings – times that usually see disproportionately high turnout by Democratic voters.”
Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina Republican Party executive director, sent emails urging “Republicans serving on county election boards to follow the ‘party line’ on curtailing the early voting period.” While local newspapers reported on the Woodhouse emails in August, the Reuters report shows his comments were not an isolated example but rather part of a pattern of “lobbying to limit voting hours.”
For example, emails from Garry Terry, the chairman of the Republican Party for North Carolina’s First Congressional District, emphasized the partisan motivations for early voting restrictions, encouraging election board members “to act ‘in the best interest of the Republican Party’ by opposing Sunday voting and restricting early voting,” which are historically periods of increased minority turnout, Reuters reported. Elaine Hewitt, a member of the Rowan County Republican Executive Committee, sent early voting proposals that “included just one site for the first four days and no sites on Sundays,” claiming that “with all of the opportunities to vote … there is no justification for requiring election workers to work on Sundays.” Reuters noted that “state and county Republican officials lobbied members of at least 17 county election boards” to restrict early voting and Sunday voting opportunities.
The focus on limiting early voting and Sunday voting represents the newest effort to disenfranchise minorities in North Carolina. As media outlets have noted, “This isn’t the first time that the North Carolina Republican Party has been criticized for voter suppression this election year.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reaffirmed the racial dimension of these attacks on voting rights when it struck down the North Carolina voter ID law, referred to as a “monster” law, because it “agreed with allegations that North Carolina’s omnibus bill selectively chose voter-ID requirements, reduced the number of early-voting days and changed registration procedures in ways meant to harm blacks.”
While some have claimed that accusations of voter suppression are mere “innuendo” or hysterical speculation, these emails provide evidence of a systematic attempt to limit early voting, which fits into the broader pattern of voter suppression in North Carolina.
While the evidence showing active efforts at voter suppression continues to pile up, right-wing media are focusing on propagating claims of voter fraud. Right-wing media figures continue to fearmonger about dead voters, in-person voter fraud, and inaccurate voter rolls, even though expert after expert has thoroughly debunked each and every voter fraud myth. The focus on promoting fears about voter fraud helps provide the rhetorical ammunition to legitimize the continuing war on voting rights.
Several Fox News hosts have recently been critical of early voting, a process that is especially important to voters of color who face systemic barriers to voting on Election Day. Fox hosts baselessly claimed that voters who already took advantage of early voting now want to change their votes and suggested voters “don’t know all of the information” prior to voting, which raises questions about “the wisdom of early voting.” Right-wing media figures’ contempt for early voting is not new.
A Media Matters analysis of cable news prime-time coverage of voter fraud and voter suppression efforts between October 27 and November 2 found that Fox News completely ignored or dismissed voter suppression in this time period while fearmongering about rare and isolated threats of voter fraud. MSNBC dedicated 10 segments to voter suppression and debunking claims of widespread voter fraud, while CNN discussed voter suppression twice and voter fraud once.
Over the past week, Fox News discussed voter suppression once once, during a November 1 O’Reilly Factor segment (via Nexis) where host Bill O’Reilly and The Five host Kimberly Guilfoyle dismissed concerns of voter intimidation. The two criticized a lawsuit alleging that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign was intimidating voters by calling on supporters to challenge the qualifications of voters at the polls. During the segment, O’Reilly questioned, “How can you intimidate someone after they have already voted?” later calling the lawsuit “a total publicity stunt.” Guilfoyle asked what the “point of the lawsuit” was and asserted that it was “going to fail.”
In contrast, Fox News devoted two segments to fearmongering about voter fraud, one on The Kelly File and another on The O’Reilly Factor. On the October 27 edition of The Kelly File (via Nexis), Fox’s Trace Gallagher reported on “voting machines flipping votes” in Texas and “a few other states,” alleging that votes for Republicans had been suspiciously flipped to votes for Democrats. NPR also reported on this story but added the context that the likely problem with voting machines is that they are old, that voters “see it happen right in front of them on the voting machine screen” in the “handful” of reports, and that voters can easily fix the error:
Voters can usually change the selection to the right one before their ballot is cast. If not, they can let a poll worker know there's a problem so they can move to a machine that works. In many places, such machines also have paper ballot backups, if there's ever a question about the vote.
Trump appeared on the October 27 edition of The O’Reilly Factor (via Nexis), where he alleged that “there are 1.8 million people who are dead who are registered to vote, and some of those people vote.” O’Reilly did ask Trump to provide data or facts on vote flipping in Texas, which Trump could not do: “No, they just call in,” he said, presumably referring to people who have reported that their votes were flipped.
On MSNBC, however, hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes primarily focused on the threats of voter suppression in the 2016 election, with Maddow’s show covering the topic in every episode over the course of a week and Hayes covering it during four of five episodes of his show All In. Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell covered it once, combining to make a total of 10 discussions on the topic on MSNBC. When the shows covered voter fraud, the hosts always debunked the myth that it is widespread. For example, on the November 1 edition of Maddow’s show, Maddow discussed the controversial Voter Integrity Project in North Carolina, which “famously claimed they had identified 30,000 dead people who were registered to vote” in the state and whose website once ran a piece headlined “Raping the Retard Vote.” Maddow debunked the group's claims, stating:
RACHEL MADDOW (HOST): That story did get awkward when these supposedly dead people in North Carolina started turning up, raising their hands, talking to the press, making a pretty convincing case that they were, in fact, not dead. They were alive. We hosted an elections official in North Carolina at the time who confessed to us how many man-hours, how much work, how many resources the state was having to put in to chasing down these supposedly 30,000 dead people on the rolls after they got so much press.
Ultimately, they were not able to find a single instance of voter fraud despite all those headlines. They hadn`t been able to find any real dead people really voting.
MSNBC’s hosts also noted that many of these voter suppression efforts have a disproportionate impact on minorities. During the October 31 edition of his show (via Nexis), Hayes explained that a North Carolina voter ID law was struck down for “deliberately target[ting] African-Americans with almost surgical precision in an effort to depress and suppress black turnout at the polls.” Hayes noted that the Republican-controlled state and local government there targeted “the means of voting that they know will be disproportionately used by black voters.”
Although CNN only discussed voter suppression twice, Don Lemon devoted a substantial portion of the November 2 edition of his show (via Nexis), CNN Tonight, to voter suppression in North Carolina and a lawsuit there brought by the NAACP. The lawsuit claimed that the “restrictive voting laws” in the state “are really designed to keep African-Americans from casting their ballots.” Guest Irving Joyner, a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, highlighted the case of 100-year-old Grace Bell Hardison, an African-American woman who was nearly wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls because a postcard the Voter Integrity Project sent her was returned unanswered.
CNN also had one significant discussion on voter fraud during the October 27 edition of CNN Tonight, where Lemon asked CNN contributor and Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany what was “behind this rigging theme from the Trump campaign.” Lemon pushed back on McEnany’s claims that Obama said “people who are in power tend to tilt things their way,” noting that is “very different than saying the entire system is rigged.”
Media Matters searched CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News prime-time (8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) transcripts on Nexis between October 27 and November 2 for the following terms or variations of terms within 50 words of the terms and variations of “vote,” “ballot,” “poll,” and “election”: “suppress,” “intimidate,” “fraud,” “impersonate,” “dead,” “fake,” “watch,” “monitor,” “imposter,” “improper,” “integrity,” “security,” or “switch.” Media Matters counted segments where voter suppression or fraud was the stated topic of conversation or monologue or there was an exchange of two or more people discussing the point in an exchange. These segments do not include mentions of voter suppression relating to voter enthusiasm.
Voters Can Text “GUNSDOWN” To 91990 To Report “Poll Watchers” Who Use Firearms And Other Means To Intimidate
Amid heightened concerns about voter intimidation involving the open carrying of firearms at polling locations on Election Day, a project called Guns Down is providing a resource for voters to report intimidation to voter protection advocates and to share their experiences on social media.
According to The Washington Post, “many election officials across the country are, for the very first time, bracing for intimidation or even violence on Election Day,” and these fears are compounded given that “most states have no laws regarding guns in polling places.”
Under federal law it is illegal to intimidate people trying to vote with guns or by other means.
Yet the Post reports that “state laws about guns and voter intimidation are a patchwork of wildly varying regulations,” and determinations of violations of voter intimidation laws can be difficult to ascertain because each one is “a fact-sensitive, context-based decision,” according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler.(Further complicating determinations are discordant federal appeals courts rulings on what behavior constitutes voter intimidation).
This state of affairs has created an opening for individuals who wish to intimidate voters with guns at the polls while retaining some semblance of plausible deniability concerning the legality of their actions.
Voters who text “GUNSDOWN” to 91990 will receive information on a national voter protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) operated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Appropriate reports will be passed on to law enforcement and election officials, and voters will have the opportunity, if they feel safe doing so, to share photos of voter intimidation on social media.
The project’s launch comes as several disturbing news reports raise the prospect of people carrying guns at the polls and engaging in other instances of possible voter intimidation -- including calls from racist far-right media outlets for an “army” of white nationalists to “watch” the polls:
Talking Points Memo reported that “some armed Trump supporters have shown an interest in making their presence known at voting sites,” and quoted NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Deuel Ross saying, “The idea that people would be standing outside the polls with guns, or even inside the polls with guns, clearly has the potential to turn people away. There’s a long history of this.”
The Trace spoke to gun activists who said that “some gun owners will bring their weapons with them to vote in places where they are allowed to do so” but claimed that these people would not bring weapons for the purpose of intimidation.
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of extremist group Oath Keepers, announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” instructing members to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” (A sabot is a device that helps keep a projectile centered as it passes through the barrel of a firearm or other delivery mechanism.) Rhodes told members not to bring guns, but the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during unrest in Ferguson, MO.
Virginia election officials are “worried about conflicts at the polls after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged his supporters to ‘watch’ others at the voting booths,” according to The Washington Post. The Prince William County electoral board pushed for a one-day ban on guns at polling places but was rebuffed by a Republican lawmaker who said the board did not have the authority to enact a ban.
White nationalist media including The Daily Stormer and its neo-Nazi founder, Andrew Anglin, and anti-Semitic “alt-right” news website The Right Stuff are planning to send “an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” According to Politico, the plans include setting up “hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia” and distributing marijuana and alcohol in the “ghetto.” Politico also reported, “The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Socialist Movement “specializes in theatrical and provocative protests.”
Neo-Nazi news website Infostormer sent “a little message for the Kikes who monitor this site on behalf of the SPLC, [Anti-Defamation League], and various other evil organizations” that “on November 8th, we will have a legitimate ARMY of supporters out in the streets to show solidarity with President (he’s going to win this) Donald J. Trump,” while claiming that neo-Nazi poll watchers will not engage in any illegal activity. The author of the November 2 article also wrote that his “pet idea is more on the lines of convincing (successfully so far) low IQ subhumans and White traitors that the actual Election Day is on November 9th, absentee voting will be allowed in all states until 11 PM on the 8th, and that thousands of KKK members are sealing off polling locations in cahoots with law enforcement.”