Trump-Fox feedback loop amplifies deranged conspiracy theory about Dominion and vote stealing

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Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Fox News propagandists continue to push fever-swamp fantasies that voting machines switched a large number of votes from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden, even after election security officials conclusively determined that was not the case, and Trump is amplifying those wildly irresponsible claims to falsely assert that he won the election.

With his reelection hopes thwarted at the ballot box, Trump is trying to steal the election if he can and delegitimize it if he can’t, with the help of his sycophants at Fox and Republican leaders

Those despicable and dangerous efforts originally revolved around baseless allegations of voter fraud committed through mail-in ballots. But as those claims have been shot down in court, Trump and his right-wing media allies have pushed increasingly deranged conspiracy theories about computer systems changing votes to benefit Biden. They have focused in particular on Dominion Voter Systems, which makes software used in voting machines in localities around the country, including some in Georgia and Michigan. 

This campaign against the democratic system will not change the results of the election, but it has already resulted in a majority of Republicans believing the election was stolen from Trump.

On Thursday, Trump, who has spent the days since the election watching cable news coverage and ranting on Twitter, live-tweeted a segment from the far-right network One America News that claimed that “DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE.”

This claim is crazy, false, and apparently based on the “analysis” of an anonymous poster at a pro-Trump message board whose findings were credulously parroted by the Gateway Pundit conspiracy theory blog

Trump’s tweet apparently spurred a response from Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council, who said in a joint statement released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history” and that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” The signatories include top U.S. cybersecurity officials, state and local elections administrators, and voting machine industry representatives. 

Even Fox’s “news” side pointed out that Trump’s claim was baseless. Network correspondent Eric Shawn reported on “the president's attacks on Dominion voting machines” during a Thursday night Special Report package, explaining that experts, including cybersecurity officials at DHS, say that what Trump claimed had not happened. He described Trump’s comments as “disinformation.”

But Fox Business host Lou Dobbs has never allowed facts to get in the way of his adulation for the president and his willingness to champion Trump’s lies. “President Trump is zeroing in on Dominion voting machines," he said, shortly before the CISA statement went out on Thursday evening. “Dominion voting systems used in 28 states across the country including battleground states Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.” 

After highlighting purported flaws with the Dominion machines identified by Texas elections officials, he asked Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, “How important do you believe the concerns that are being expressed in a number of states about the ability of these machines not to be hacked?” Giuliani replied, “First of all, the machines can be hacked. There's no question about that. Their machines can be hacked.” He added that Dominion was “founded as a company to fix elections. They have a terrible record and they are extremely hackable.”

Giuliani went on to claim that he had identified hundreds of thousands of “illegal votes” in Pennsylvania and Michigan that will “overturn the vote” in those states (this will not happen). He concluded, “This was a stolen election.”

Fox prime-time star and Trump operative Sean Hannity also floated the Dominion conspiracy theory, a few hours after federal, state, and local officials and his own network had debunked it. After describing purported flaws with Dominion systems, Hannity referred to a 2017 congressional hearing about cybersecurity of voting machines, airing a comment from an expert about “how you hack a voting machine to cheat” using a “vote stealing program” that, if installed, “could steal elections without detection for years to come.”

“Now, am I saying tonight this happened with Dominion in this cycle?” Hannity asked after airing that comment. “No. How would I possibly know?” But without further review, he claimed, “there's good reason to not have confidence or not to believe this is fair.”

Video file

Citation From the November 11, 2020, edition of Fox News' Hannity 

Trump cheered the Fox segments for pushing a conspiracy theory that had been debunked by his own government’s cybersecurity experts. 

“Must see @seanhannity takedown of the horrible, inaccurate and anything but secure Dominion Voting System which is used in States where tens of thousands of votes were stolen from us and given to Biden,” he tweeted shortly after Hannity’s segment. “Likewise, the Great @LouDobbs has a confirming and powerful piece!”

Sharing video from Hannity’s segment on Twitter, Trump commented, “These states in question should immediately be put in the Trump Win column. Biden did not win, he lost by a lot!”

By the next morning, the conspiracy theory had made it to Fox & Friends, with George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley falsely claiming that Dominion voting systems switched “thousands” of Michigan votes -- only to be shot down by Steve Doocy of all people, who pointed out that “the software did not affect the vote counts.”

The Trump-Fox feedback loop is powering increasingly unhinged attacks on American democracy. And the longer it goes on, the clearer it becomes that the Murdochs and other network executives either have no control over their hosts, or want them to do exactly what they’re doing.