Right-wing media’s new line: The real “voter suppression” is to keep talking about COVID-19

The two conspiracy theories have become one

As the 2020 election heads into its final days, right-wing media have begun to set up a new narrative to oppose mainstream media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that media’s continuing focus on the surging COVID-19 cases will result in “voter suppression.”

While the virus is growing across the country, right-wing media have ignored the surge and tried to cast doubt on the data. At the same time, they’ve fearmongered and spread misinformation about voter fraud in mail-in voting, spread debunked tales of vote-buying , and have inspired President Donald Trump’s own denunciations of the electoral process.

While there has usually been no overall difference between Democratic and Republican voters on using the mail-in process, interest in it has risen much more among Democratic-leaning voters this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. (Polling has also indicated that Democrats are more likely to take COVID-19 seriously than Republicans.)

Now things are starting to converge, as the window of reliably mailing the ballot for it to be counted has closed, and the election is going to come down to in-person voting and in-person return of absentee ballots. And right-wing media are starting to spin the narrative that the real “voter suppression” is to keep talking about the virus.

On Wednesday, right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that media reporting on CVOID-19 is “voter suppression” and is “designed to scare you into not going to vote on Election Day.” (Limbaugh has spread a similar conspiracy theory nearly two months ago.)

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Citation From the October 28, 2020, edition of Premiere Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): All this COVID news is voter suppression. “Rampant number of new COVID cases,” all this is designed to scare you into not going to vote on Election Day. It’s designed to make you think the country’s going in the wrong direction with Trump at the helm. There is so much voter suppression going on right now — meaning attempts to depress you, dispirit you. Don’t fall for any of it.

Previously, Limbaugh encouraged Trump supporters to head to the polls on Election Day as part of a plan to create an apparent Trump lead on election night — and then to claim victory, in an effort to delegitimize the continued counting of absentee ballots. Trump himself then joined in with this line of discussion during a two-hour interview on Limbaugh’s show three weeks ago.

And on Thursday’s edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox News correspondent Sean Duffy posited that while Trump’s “insensitivity around how serious” the coronavirus is would be hurting him with voters in Duffy’s home state of Wisconsin, the “bigger liability right now” would come from Democrats and the media scaring people out of going to the polls on Tuesday, after Democrats had likely built up an advantage with early votes.

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Citation From the October 29, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered

SEAN DUFFY (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): COVID's played a big deal, because we have a lot of older people, Harris, and older people usually vote, and they usually vote Republican. But the president's insensitivity around how serious it is, and how many older people have been at risk of passing away, I think has been a liability.

But I think the bigger liability right now is, as we've seen the early vote, you have a majority of Democrats who are engaging in that early vote or absentee vote. I'm concerned that as COVID rises in places like Wisconsin, what Democrats are going to do is say, “These elections can be super spreaders. You can't come out to the polls, because if you do, you could get COVID and you could die — so don't come and vote.”

So this could be a vote suppression tactic that the media or the Democrats use to keep what would be a Republican voter to come out and vote on this coming Tuesday.

Duffy did not deny the virus surge itself, as Limbaugh did — though right-wing talk radio hosts in Wisconsin have done so.Fox News has also covered Trump’s campaign rallies in Wisconsin this month without mentioning the state’s spiking COVID-19 cases.