In its very first week on air, CNN’s This Morning adopted several right-wing narratives about the midterm election and failed to push back against right-wing talking points. Hosts attacked Arizona Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs, Pennsylvania Democratic nominee for Senate John Fetterman, and President Joe Biden’s speech last week on threats to democracy while also letting right-wing voter suppression talking points about Georgia go relatively unchallenged.
In a bid to keep CNN “culturally relevant” and improve ratings, CEO Chris Licht introduced a new show, This Morning, with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, and Kaitlan Collins as hosts who are supposedly reporting on “harder-hitting world news and politics along with a splash of entertainment and lifestyle reports.” Collins is notable for her former reporting job at the Daily Caller, a right-wing outlet that has platformed white supremacists and antisemites. This new show comes on the heels of a Licht-orchestrated pivot toward a more “centrist” model of journalism, firing Reliable Sources’ Brian Stelter, who had been an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump and Fox News. There has also been concern that the right-leaning billionaire John Malone, who sits on the CNN parent company’s board of directors, will continue to indirectly pressure the network to move to the right in his quest for “impartiality.”
In its first week of airing, This Morning has already regurgitated several different right-wing narratives about the election. Lemon, Harlow, and Collins criticized Biden’s speech about the emerging threats to democracy; failed to offer pushback on right-wing voter suppression talking points about Georgia (and in some instances adopted them); attacked Hobbs’ decision to not debate her GOP opponent, QAnon-adjacent Kari Lake; and reiterated right-wing, ableist attacks on Fetterman.
Criticizing Biden’s democracy speech and questioning Democrats’ priorities in election messaging
On November 2, Biden gave a speech warning against threats from Republicans to American democracy and framing people’s choice as whether they will vote to “preserve democracy.” Following the speech, This Morning co-hosts criticized Democrats for running on a pro-democracy and abortion rights message when the economy is the biggest issue to voters, while simultaneously playing up crime as a key issue in the midterms, playing directly into the strategy Fox star Tucker Carlson laid out for GOP success this cycle.
But recent polling from Pew has found that Americans consider a host of issues as “important to their midterm vote,” with 70% of registered voters saying that the future of democracy is very important to their vote, and 56% saying the same of abortion (including 75% of Democratic voters). Additionally, 61% also said violent crime and energy policy will be important in their voting decision. But rather than engaging with the nuances of the many issues voters care about, the co-hosts instead repeatedly suggested that Democrats are focused on the “wrong” issues.
- Collins and Harlow dismissed CNN’s rank polling finding that only 3% of people view crime as their “top issue,” and Collins claimed, “I think crime is a bigger issue than the poll lets on,” adding, “When you talk to voters, it really is something you hear from a lot of people.” However, the hosts didn’t afford the same assumption for the issue of democracy and voting rights or abortion, with Collins instead saying of Biden’s speech: “Is that the closing message that people like [Ohio Democratic Senate nominee] Tim Ryan want to see the president delivering?”
- Lemon framed the show’s opening report on Biden’s democracy speech by questioning whether “defending democracy” is the “right message at a time when most voters are saying that their top issue is the economy and inflation.”
- Harlow and Collins downplayed the importance of a host of issues to voters and said Democrats have kept running on abortion “maybe to their demise.” When Lemon pointed out that abortion “is the second most important issue on that list,” Harlow agreed but continued that “it’s just a big gap” for voters between the most important issue, economy, and abortion. Harlow also stated that Democrats “bear some of” the responsibility for economic pain voters are facing because of the “stimulus that was pushed into the economy,” with Collins suggesting Democrats could suffer losses because of it on Election Day.
- In a question to Ryan, Harlow suggested that Biden is focused on the “wrong argument for this election” by focusing on threats to democracy and not the economy.
- This Morning hosted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to talk about the upcoming midterms and Lemon asked her whether Democrats running on abortion “is the right messaging.”
Failing to push back on right-wing voter suppression talking points
Following Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia, Republicans nationwide used the lie that the election was stolen as a pretext to attack voting rights. In 2021, Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law containing provisions that made it easier to subvert an election and harder to vote in marginalized communities. Proponents of the legislation have latched onto part of the law that expanded voting access in some specific instances. Fox News championed the law at the time and is now continuing to downplay voter suppression and falsely suggest that high turnout means there is no voter suppression in Georgia.
- Following a pre-taped interview with Kemp during which he claimed high early turnout means the new law isn’t suppressive with no pushback from Collins, Collins parroted top Georgia Republican election official Gabriel Sterling’s false claim that “voter suppression is just as much a lie as voter fraud.” Collins legitimized the Republican position and presented it as a factual equivalent rather than debunk it, saying, “You're seeing this split between Republicans and Democrats.” Harlow also downplayed the effects of the new law, saying, “What's missed a lot in the conversation is that there are restrictions but it did expand, extend early voting by weeks,” to which Lemon pushed back, saying, “I think it's hard to say that there isn’t an effort for voter suppression especially when you look at people who have traditionally been sort of pushed out of the process and the access that they have.”
- This Morning hosted Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and discussed the administration of the midterm election thus far and the high early turnout. Lemon pushed back on Raffensperger’s claim that there’s no voter suppression because there’s record turnout. But the co-hosts failed to confront Raffensperger about Trump allies challenging the eligibility of tens of thousands of Georgia voters, which was enabled by the new law.
- During an appearance on the show, Republican pollster Frank Luntz drew a false equivalence between Democrats saying there’s voter suppression in Georgia and Republicans expected claims that the election in Pennsylvania is stolen. He also claimed that because there’s high turnout in places like Georgia, there’s no suppression. Lemon pushed back on the claim, but Collins seemingly supported Luntz’s stance and again repeated Sterling’s ridiculous claim that “voter suppression was just as much of a lie as voter fraud.”
Attacking Katie Hobbs for her decision to not debate Kari Lake and feeding into bad-faith right-wing attacks against her on abortion
Arizona gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs recently made the decision to forgo a formal debate with her GOP opponent Kari Lake. Hobbs argued that Lake is “only interested in creating a spectacle” and that it would not be of value to Arizona voters to hear Lake’s ongoing misinformation campaign against the 2020 election results. Lake has an extensive record of baselessly fearmongering about election fraud and has refused to confirm she will accept election results if she loses to Hobbs. QAnon and white nationalist media has embraced Lake’s campaign and she in turn has affiliated with an antisemite and a Nazi sympathizer.
- During an interview with Hobbs, Lemon pressed her about her refusal to debate Lake about her campaign of disinformation, stating it would be “an easy fix if you stood up on a debate stage and confronted her.” Harlow also questioned Hobbs on why she thought that “it wasn't important for people to see a debate in this election for governor at all?”
- The day after his interview with Hobbs, Lemon framed Hobbs as being “afraid” to debate Lake in the context of praising Ohio senatorial nominee Tim Ryan for doing a Fox News town hall, asking Ryan, “What is the lesson for Democrats?”
- In his interview with Hillary Clinton, Lemon criticized Hobbs and other Democrats for “refusing to debate and directly take on their election denying opponents” and asked Clinton on whether it is a “mistake.”
Echoing right-wing, ableist narratives about John Fetterman’s health
Pennsylvania Democratic nominee for Senate John Fetterman suffered a stroke in May, an event which right-wing media have grossly exploited to undermine his candidacy, including by criticizing and mocking his use of closed captioning during interviews as he recovers (which experts say is common).
In June, Fetterman’s doctor released a letter stating he would be able to perform his duties if elected to the U.S. Senate. But following a debate last month between Fetterman and Republican nominee Mehmet Oz, mainstream media (including This Morning) manufactured a scandal out of his stroke recovery by focusing on the optics rather than the substance. The hosts framed questions “around his health as opinions that an abstracted voter may have and created an environment that makes it more likely that real voters could adopt those very concerns.”
- Before airing his interview with Fetterman, Lemon said, “As the Senate race in Pennsylvania heats up, John Fetterman is facing real questions about his health after his debate performance that had a lot of people talking.” In the interview, Lemon asked Fetterman whether his doctors should brief the press before election night “in the interest of full transparency” and the news banner read “Fetterman says he’s ‘fit to serve’ amid health concerns."
- In an interview with Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro on his race against Mastriano, Collins asked whether Fetterman “should have his doctors brief the press” about his health.