CNN’s voting rights coverage demonstrates its Trump sycophant problem

CNN’s voting rights coverage demonstrates its Trump sycophant problem

Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Over the past year, CNN diluted its coverage of voting issues by stocking its discussion panels with pro-Trump sycophants who consistently lied to prop up the president’s false claims about voter fraud in the 2016 election. CNN’s panelists stood in contrast to the channel’s reporters, who were somewhat more proactive in calling out Trump’s debunked claims of widespread voter fraud and illegal voting.

During (and since) the election, CNN was widely criticized for adding as commentators a roster of Trump loyalists, including former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), conservative commentators Scottie Nell Hughes and Kayleigh McEnany, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and Jeffrey Lord, former White House staffer under then-President Ronald Reagan (Hughes and Lewandowski have since left CNN). Over the past year, these sycophants have used their platform on the network to spew lies about voting and have repeatedly defended Trump’s debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.

  • Lewandowski made 14 false statements about voting during his four appearances on CNN between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, to discuss the topic.

  • Lord made 21 false statements about voting during his 13 appearances on CNN between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, to discuss the topic.

  • McEnany made 41 false statements about voting during her 11 appearances on CNN between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, to discuss the topic

  • Santorum made eight false statements about voting during his one appearance on CNN between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, to discuss the topic.

  • Hughes made three false statements about voting during her one appearance on CNN between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, to discuss the topic.

This barrage of lies from CNN’s pro-Trump coalition stands in contrast to the network’s reporters, who made somewhat of an effort to call out Trump’s lies about voting. During the same period, CNN correspondents Jeff Zeleny, Jim Acosta, Dana Bash, and Drew Griffin made a total of 85 true statements about voting and refrained from repeating any of the falsehoods their conservative colleagues pushed.

Ideally, panelists are supposed to engage in a healthy discussion based on a shared set of facts. But CNN’s Trump surrogates prop up lies when they discuss voting, often to defend the president and his alternate reality.

Methodology

Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.

For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that where two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.

The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:

  • There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).

  • There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).

  • Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).

  • Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).

  • Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate),

  • Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).

  • Voter registration inaccuracies lead to voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).

  • Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).

  • Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).

  • Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate)

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