Broadcast news shows ignore Trump coup memo

Only late-night shows covered the Eastman document

john eastman

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

The ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news broadcasts have all ignored the revelation that one of then-President Donald Trump’s lawyers authored a memo laying out how Trump could effectively pull off a coup.

John Eastman, a member of the conservative legal establishment who worked with Trump’s legal team as the then-president sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election, wrote the document in the days leading up to the January 6 counting of electoral votes. His plan lays out various ways then-Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans could use that event to subvert the election, ensure that Trump remained in office, and terminate the American experiment with democratic rule.

Reporters at The Washington Post and CNN obtained a two-page version of the memo, which CNN published on Monday. On Tuesday, CNN reported that Eastman claimed that document was a “preliminary” version and published a six-page version dated January 3 that the lawyer had provided.

That longer version lays out a series of “alternatives” using the Trump campaign’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and “illegal actions by state and local election officials” during the election as a pretext for Pence and congressional Republicans to throw out electors from as many as seven states that President Joe Biden won. His argument was legally preposterous, but dangerous ambiguities in federal law left the election vulnerable if Republicans were willing to act.

“BOLD, Certainly,” Eastman comments in the memo after laying out the plot. “But this Election was Stolen by a strategic Democrat plan to systematically flout existing election laws for partisan advantage; we’re no longer playing by Queensbury Rules, therefore.”

That’s the president’s lawyer rationalizing a scheme to steal the election on his client’s behalf.

The story has been widely covered on CNN and MSNBC. But the broadcast evening and morning news shows -- which generally have larger audiences, particularly in the evenings -- have ignored it. As of posting time, the memo has not been mentioned on CBS Evening News or CBS Mornings, on NBC’s Nightly News or Today, or on ABC’s World News Tonight or Good Morning America, according to a Media Matters review.

In fact, the only national network broadcasts to mention Trump’s coup memo were the late-night variety shows hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers.

Eastman’s memo was part of an extensive effort by Trump, his lawyers, and his supporters in the right-wing media and in the Republican Party to delegitimize and reverse the results of the 2020 election. That scheme culminated on January 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, convinced that the election had been stolen but that some version of Eastman’s plan could be carried out to keep Trump in office. That evening, with the Capitol not yet secure, Eastman denounced Pence for refusing to carry out the plot.

Trump’s coup failed. But that was not inevitable. And Trump’s supporters have spent the months since laying the groundwork for future success. Such a stratagem requires political operatives and lawyers willing to concoct abstruse pretexts and legal arguments; media propagandists willing to trumpet them; a party base primed to disbelief unfavorable election results; and party officials willing to participate in -- or at least quietly go along with -- the theft.

And it requires one more thing -- a national press that looks the other way.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the Kinectiq video database for all original programming on broadcast news affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting Co., and NBC in all local U.S. media markets for the term “Eastman” within close proximity of any of the terms “Trump,” “memo,” “Pence,” or “constitution” or the term “Trump” within close proximity of the term “lawyer” from September 20 through 22, 2021.