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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.