Fox News has yet to mention an investigative report from Georgia’s secretary of state thoroughly debunking the conspiracy theory that the network pushed in the wake of the 2020 election about Georgia election workers counting fraudulent ballots to swing the result in that state.
In early December 2020, former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign had lost at the ballot box and pivoted to a multifaceted election subversion plan relying on fabricated claims of election fraud. On December 3, 2020, the campaign circulated a video compiling security footage from the State Farm Arena absentee ballot counting site in Fulton County, Georgia, which Trump’s allies alleged showed election workers removing observers from the room, bringing out fraudulent ballots concealed in suitcases, and then counting them in order to change the result in the swing state.
Election officials debunked this conspiracy theory within hours, saying that the video showed election workers following standard procedures; the ballots in question were legitimate and had been stored in proper containers; and the only ballots counted after observers left were ones that had been opened in their presence. But the false narrative spread throughout the right-wing fever swamps, generating a campaign of intimidation and threats of violence against Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, the election workers shown in the video.
Fox’s stars and executives were at that time desperately trying to repair the network’s standing with Trump’s base and stave off far-right competitors which had proven more willing to push Trump’s claims of a rigged election. One way Fox News tried to woo back viewers was knowingly promoting false conspiracy theories about the role Dominion Voting Systems machines had purportedly played in stealing the election, eventually leading to the record defamation settlement Fox agreed to pay that company earlier this year.
The same twisted urge to rebuild its faltering audience at all costs likely motivated Fox’s promotion of the Georgia election lie. The network’s propagandists rushed to air the Trump campaign’s video and adopted its false interpretation of what the footage showed. In prime time that night, Tucker Carlson declared the conduct he claimed was shown in the video “unbelievable,” Sean Hannity claimed it “shouldn’t happen as a matter of law,” and Laura Ingraham suggested it was “like a banana republic.”
Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins reported the next morning that “Georgia’s secretary of state’s office says they already investigated the claims and found nothing, adding that they had their own observers there the entire time.” But that did not keep the network from continuing to claim that what the video showed, in Carlson’s words, “looks like fraud.” Hannity was particularly wedded to the narrative, suggesting that the election officials were lying and arguing, “Nothing has been debunked by anybody.”
In fact, the claims that the likes of Hannity were making had already been debunked at the time. But 2020 election conspiracy theories are hard to kill, and so on Tuesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, released the results of the State Election Board’s extensive investigation into the allegations about the State Farm Arena site, which found them to be “false and unsubstantiated.” According to the press release from Raffensperger’s office:
The investigation, which included Secretary of State Investigators, and Special Agents with both GBI and FBI revealed “there was no evidence of any type of fraud as alleged.” Through the course of the investigation, “three law enforcement agencies reviewed the entire unedited video footage of the events in question surrounding [the two election workers] at State Farm Arena,” and additionally, reviewed social media posts allegedly made by a Fulton County election worker stating they engaged in election fraud, which was found to created by a third party who “admitted he created a fake account and confirmed the content that was posted on the account was fake.” Ultimately, “all allegations made against [the two election workers] were unsubstantiated and found to have no merit.”
Numerous national news outlets reported on the investigation, including on-air coverage from CNN and MSNBC. But Fox, which had brought the Georgia conspiracy theory an audience of millions, has not mentioned the report on its airwaves, according to a Media Matters review. A search of its website also returns no coverage.
This is not the first time Fox has passed on opportunities to provide its viewers with the truth about the State Farm Arena allegations. The network all but ignored Moss, one of the Georgia election workers, when she testified publicly last year before the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection about how the 2020 misinformation campaign had “turned my life upside down.”
The factors that led Fox to the wildly irresponsible coverage that yielded Moss’ harassment and the Dominion lawsuit are once again in play. The network still employs a cadre of on-air talent who match incendiary rhetoric with knowing dishonesty, the executives who cracked down on employees that tried to tell viewers the truth remain in place, and its ratings are sagging amid a new wave of pressure from right-wing competitors seeking a piece of Fox’s market share. That means we should expect more lies and conspiracy theories as the network tries to claw its way back to preeminence on the right.