Mainstream media botch coverage of Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans' post-election power grabs

Mainstream media botch coverage of Wisconsin and Michigan Republicans' post-election power grabs

Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

As Republican legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan move to strip powers from incoming Democratic governors, the press is failing to fulfill its responsibility to report on these antidemocratic power grabs. Network morning and evening news shows have refused to cover the stories at all, while a poorly framed New York Times article gave the impression that the power grab in Wisconsin is politics as usual.

In Wisconsin, Republican legislators are advancing a package of bills in a lame-duck session that would strip powers from Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who defeated Republican Scott Walker on Election Day, and limit other functions of the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled executive branch. The final vote could occur as early as today, December 4. Because of GOP gerrymandering, Democrats will hold just 36 percent of state legislative seats during the next session despite winning 54 percent of the statewide vote, meaning they will be unable to reverse the power grab. Likewise, Republicans in the lame-duck Michigan legislature are attempting to strip powers from Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and from other statewide offices that will soon be held by Democrats. As in Wisconsin, Republicans control the legislature due to gerrymandering.

Rather than treating these moves as alarming threats to democracy, many major media outlets are ignoring the stories or covering them poorly.

A December 3 New York Times article on the Wisconsin power grab that ran under the headline “Stung by Election Losses, Republicans in the States Seek a Way to Neutralize Democrats” is being criticized on social media for normalizing the Wisconsin GOP’s actions. Critics say it frames the issue as a typical partisan dispute between two opposing political parties. Some excerpts (emphasis added):

  • “When Democrats won the governor’s office in Wisconsin, it was one of the party’s most celebrated midterm successes in regaining power in the states. Now Republicans are striking back, moving to slash the power of the new governor even before he takes the oath of office.”
  • “Democrats reacted with fury, crowding the halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Monday and accusing the Republicans of trying to undo an election they had lost.”
  • “For Wisconsin, a state that both parties will urgently vie to win in 2020 elections, it was one more sign of the ferocious partisan split that has rippled through the state in recent years.”

Apparently out of reluctance to be seen as taking a side, the Times was unable to describe what is happening in Wisconsin as the extraordinary affront to democratic norms that it is.

Meanwhile, major network news shows haven't discussed the unusual power grabs unfolding in either state. Between Election Day on November 6 and December 4, CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC’s Today, ABC’s World News Tonight With David Muir, and ABC’s Good Morning America failed to cover either story.

Methodology: Media Matters searched available transcripts for ABC, CBS, and NBC in Nexis for the words "Michigan" and "Wisconsin" between November 6 and December 4 and searched transcripts in the iQ media database for the words "Michigan" and "Wisconsin" on December 3 through December 4.

Posted In
Elections, Justice & Civil Liberties
Network/Outlet
CBS, ABC, NBC
Show/Publication
New York Times
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