CNN further demonstrated the folly of access journalism on Tuesday, with chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju suggesting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was supposedly trying to distance Republican candidates from former President Donald Trump’s campaign of lying about the 2020 election. What the segment never mentioned: McConnell has already endorsed a Trump-backed candidate who has pushed the Big Lie.
This entire discourse is a repeat of mistakes that mainstream media outlets were already making nearly a year ago, when they depicted McConnell as trying to accomplish a “balancing act” as leader of a “center-right” party — even after McConnell had already led Senate Republicans to acquit Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection.
This time, CNN is hyping an interview with McConnell claiming “that he and Trump are on the same page in backing” 2022 Senate candidates, but that the Senate majority leader is somehow warning against candidates who might support Trump’s continued lies about his defeat in 2020.
Inside Politics anchor John King opened the segment promoting Raju’s interview with the GOP leader by claiming that McConnell was “really trying to thread the needle” at working with Trump on the 2022 midterms, “but there is one giant divide: how McConnell thinks Republican candidates should talk about the 2020 election.”
Raju discussed states where McConnell and Trump have backed similar candidates, versus potential flashpoints in others. The segment also included a chyron, “McConnell talks to CNN about Trump, midterms and voting rights” — as if the fact of McConnell talking to the network was itself the big prize here.
The problem here is that McConnell has already endorsed former NFL player Herschel Walker’s campaign for Senate from Georgia, despite the fact that Walker has been prolific in spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the events of January 6, 2021, and had previously claimed that various people “need to go to jail” over the election result. McConnell’s support, therefore, shows that candidates are free to continue to threaten American democracy without actually risking any loss of support from the Republican establishment.
In the subsequent panel discussion, Raju only briefly said at the very end, regarding Walker’s candidacy, “McConnell was concerned about him, initially, Donald Trump got behind him. Now, Mitch McConnell is behind him.” Raju added that it was “uncertain” how things would play out, but “make no mistake about it, his comment to Republican candidates to embrace the election results, that was by no mistake. He wanted to make that very clear that that is an issue that Republicans should get behind and trust the elections.”
Raju still failed to acknowledge, however, that Walker is one Trump’s top-tier Big Lie candidates — and thus, McConnell’s support for him would totally undercut the messaging that Raju was helping to spread on the Senate Republican leader’s behalf. In the CNN online article published later in the afternoon, Raju discussed McConnell’s initial reticence about Walker in terms of the candidate’s history of reported violent threats against his ex-wife — but still did not connect the dots on Walker’s many false and dangerous comments about the 2020 election. (The article even mentioned other GOP candidates who have pushed the Big Lie, such as Josh Mandel in Ohio and Mo Brooks in Alabama — but neglected to mention Walker in that list.)
A little over two hours after his initial TV appearance, Raju helped parrot the same the message on CNN Newsroom, with co-anchors Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell:
Just to be clear, McConnell has not had any meaningful “public differences over January 6” with Trump, either — as CNN reported at the time, McConnell asked Republican senators for a “personal favor” to filibuster the formation of an outside commission to investigate the event, which Trump also opposed.
What McConnell does have, however, is a friendly relationship with mainstream media outlets, which continue to depict him as some kind of sincere political leader — and they won’t ask any follow-up questions or point out facts that would reveal just how hypocritical his messaging is.