CBS correspondent Ed O’Keefe’s October 6 interview with Republican Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem was a terrible instance of journalistic malpractice, in which O’Keefe gave Finchem a virtually unchecked platform to malign his opponent while spreading election security conspiracy theories.
Finchem has pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory, described himself as a member of the radical anti-government Oath Keepers group, and attended the January 6 insurrection. He is also part of a coalition formed by QAnon figures and election deniers aimed at recruiting and electing secretary of state candidates to take over future elections in key battleground states.
Finchem has repeatedly appeared on QAnon programs and other election denying shows, including Steve Bannon’s War Room. He has also been tied to other far-right figures like Christian nationalist Andrew Torba, a virulent antisemite and founder of the extremist platform Gab that has become a haven for white nationalists and neo-nazis.
Despite Finchem’s well-documented history of extremism, O’Keefe utterly failed to ask about his propagation of the QAnon conspiracy theory or his ties to the Oath Keepers, an organization currently under investigation for seditious conspiracy, and instead gave him a platform to promote conspiracy theories about election security.
O’Keefe let Finchem cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election and falsely assert Maricopa County's election system “wasn’t secure”
O’Keefe opened the interview by noting that CBS wanted to interview Finchem because there is “a lot of intrigue around your campaign.” Within the first minute, Finchem began fearmongering about election security in Arizona and falsely claimed that the election system in Maricopa County “wasn’t secure” in 2020. (Finchem’s Democratic opponent in the secretary of state race, Adrian Fontes, was Maricopa County’s top election official that year.)
As numerous reports have confirmed, the 2020 election in Arizona was valid, safe, and secure. Notably, a report commissioned by Arizona Senate Republicans revealed that President Joe Biden actually received more votes in Maricopa County than were previously recorded. These facts have not stopped Finchem from using every opportunity, including a recent televised debate, to smear his opponent and spread the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election.
Finchem also alleged that the “whole point” of Congressional Democrats’ For the People Act (H.R. 1) was supposedly to create a “single-party system.” The act actually seeks to strengthen and expand voting rights protections and promote increased campaign finance transparency.
At one point, O’Keefe also set Finchem up to deny the legitimacy of Biden’s election without providing any context for viewers that Biden was in fact elected fairly. When Finchem explicitly refused to admit that Biden “was legitimately elected,” O’Keefe simply moved on and allowed Finchem to peddle discredited conspiracy theories about supposed election malfeasance in key Arizona counties.
O’Keefe failed to debunk Finchem’s false claim that Dominion voting machines in El Paso County had a “62% error rate”
During the interview, Finchem falsely claimed that Dominion voting machines in El Paso County, Colorado, had a “62% error rate.” In reality, a test of the county’s voting machines “found no issues” and confirmed the “machines are working as intended, not failing.” According to El Paso County Clerk Kristi Ridlen, a logic and accuracy test of the machines “passed with 100% accuracy rate.”
Finchem attempted to substantiate his false claim by citing a legal case by Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who is also a QAnon-connected election conspiracy theorist. In March, Peters was charged with 10 counts of criminal conspiracy for allegedly facilitating a security breach of confidential voting machine information. (Peters pleaded not guilty.)
Finchem also noted that he has championed adopting “a watermark ballot that cannot be counterfeited” for Arizona elections. Other states, such as California, already use watermarked ballots but Finchem’s suggestion is a solution to an election fraud problem in his state that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, and somewhat ironically, this approach to election security mirrors a QAnon conspiracy theory which claimed former President Donald Trump had secretly circulated watermarked ballots in Arizona to catch Democrats cheating in the 2020 election.
O’Keefe failed to debunk or pushback on Finchem’s blatantly false claims.
O’Keefe wrapped up his disastrous interview with Finchem by asking, “Are we forgetting anything?... What else should we know about you?”
After allowing Finchem to spread baseless conspiracy theories throughout the interview and failing to address the candidate’s extremist background, O’Keefe simply gave Finchem the floor, asking, “What else should we know about you or about Arizona?”
Finchem used this open-ended question to praise the steps Arizona has taken to crack down on voting since the 2020 election and said he’s running for secretary of state “to just hold people accountable to follow the law.”
O’Keefe replied, “I can understand where you're coming from, but you know that there are people in this state who don't like you, don't like what you're pushing, and are very worried about you getting this position.”
Finchem dismissed concerns and claimed, “I'm not a lawless man,” and baselessly smeared his Democratic opponent as having been “rebuked repeatedly for lawless activity.”
O’Keefe failed to push back on Finchem’s false claim that Fontes is “lawless,” a smear Finchem used against Fontes in their televised debate last month, nor did O’Keefe mention Finchem’s longtime membership in the Oath Keepers, an extremist group whose founder is currently on trial for sedition in connection to the January 6 insurrection.
Then, after questioning Finchem as to whether he’d end mail-in voting in Arizona and allowing Finchem to cast doubt on the security of the process, O’Keefe concluded the 40-minute interview asking, “Are we forgetting anything? We’ve covered the ground we wanted to cover.”
Finchem then directed viewers to his campaign website.