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Earlier this year, the Kern County Republican Central Committee in California paid Fox News host Jeanine Pirro $25,000 to keynote a fundraiser that also featured House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The very next day, McCarthy, whose district includes most of the county, appeared on Pirro’s show and thanked her for giving “a great speech.”
Pirro is a Republican who hosts the weekend show Justice with Judge Jeanine. She appeared at a campaign rally with President Donald Trump last month. Fox News subsequently claimed that it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” which is a blatant lie.
Fox News personalities regularly appear at events for candidates and political parties and sometimes get paid to do them. Fox News personalities Lou Dobbs, Sebastian Gorka, Greg Gutfeld, and Pete Hegseth have received money to headline fundraising events. Media Matters recently documented more than $200,000 in speaking fees that Pirro has received from 13 Republican organizations in the past two years.
The help isn’t always just contained to the event. As Media Matters documented last week, the Livingston County Republican Committee in Michigan paid Hegseth to keynote a fundraiser with then-Senate candidate John James. Hegseth then repeatedly interviewed James on his Fox & Friends Weekend program (and didn’t disclose the payment from the committee).
Pirro has similarly used her Fox News program to push a Republican cause that was related to her speaking fee.
On March 16, the Kern County GOP hosted a fundraising dinner featuring Pirro. According to Federal Election Commission records, the party paid Pirro a total of $25,000 for speaking at the event (the party sent its payment to Fox News’ New York City headquarters). Kevin McCarthy, whose 23rd Congressional District "covers most of Kern,” also spoke at the event.
Pirro also tweeted a picture of herself with McCarthy at the fundraiser:
— Jeanine Pirro (@JudgeJeanine) March 17, 2018
On the following day, March 17, Pirro hosted McCarthy and told him: “Happy Saint Patrick's Day, and especially in Kern County where I saw you last night. Great Republican county.” McCarthy replied: “Well, you gave a great speech.” At the conclusion of the interview, McCarthy said: “Judge, thank you so much for having me and thanks for coming to California. You are always welcome to come back.” Pirro did not mention the event payment during the interview.
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
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After the Republican-dominated legislature in Wisconsin passed a package of bills to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor for nakedly partisan purposes, NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd spuriously claimed that such maneuvers were not unprecedented because Democrats had done the same thing to Republican governors in the past.
There is no evidence of that -- and Todd offered none.
On December 9's Meet The Press, after detailing some of the changes that Republicans are making -- in both Wisconsin and Michigan -- and describing them as “a couple of end runs around the November election results,” Todd said: “Now, this has happened before in many a legislature. Democrats, in fact, have done this in the past to Republican governors in lame-duck sessions in other states.”
But Todd failed to provide a single example of Democrats taking comparable action, simply shifting to start his interview with incoming Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers.
The obvious precedent for this situation is North Carolina in 2016. Republicans there used a special session for the sole purpose of pushing bills "to undermine [incoming Democratic Gov. Roy] Cooper by stripping him of his ability to make key appointments to state and local boards and mandating, for the first time, legislative approval of his cabinet.” At the time, Todd discussed the matter on Meet The Press, saying that what the Republicans were doing was "perfectly legal ...but it doesn't feel in the spirit of ending an election." In the years since, some of these changes that Todd deemed "perfectly legal" have been rolled back following court challenges.
So what else could Todd have pointed to? The examples are minimal at best. As Russell Berman wrote in The Atlantic, "It’s not uncommon for a party on the cusp of losing power to use its final days in office to pass significant legislation even after voters have rendered their verdict. ... But until recently, it has been rarer for a party to act so punitively toward its opponents after a defeat."
A December 4 “weekly politics chat” on FiveThirtyEight’s website featuring several experienced political journalists and election analysts discussing whether lame-duck sessions are undemocratic highlighted a single 19-year-old example of Alabama Senate Democrats taking some of the lieutenant governor’s appointment and legislative powers and giving them to the state’s Senate president pro tem in 1999. However, as the Montgomery Advertiser reported, both Republican- and Democratic-controlled state senates have decided to keep the lieutenant governor’s power the same since the 1999 rule change. In fact, Republicans recently attempted to reduce the powers of Alabama’s lieutenant governor even further.
Limiting the powers of a state’s lieutenant governor two decades ago in an arrangement that has satisfied both parties is not at all comparable to current Republican efforts to undo election results by limiting powers. Even some Republicans are objecting to the current move in Wisconsin.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican who served a short term in the early 2000s, said outgoing Gov. Scott Walker should veto many of the bills passed by Republicans to strip the incoming governor of some of his powers. In comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he said: “There are going to be differences over executive control and legislative control, but you don’t play it out in the dark of night. You don’t make the changes after an election without hearings, without having the public involved, without having a vetting process.”
The Journal Sentinel also reported on comments from Sheldon Lubar, “longtime prominent Wisconsin Republican and former supporter of Gov. Scott Walker,” who was critical of the GOP attempt to limit the incoming Democratic governor’s powers. Lubar called the Republican legislators pushing the effort “a few petty, mean politicians” and said that if Walker signs their bills, Wisconsin voters “can look on him as somebody who ignores the will of the people and creeps into the house at midnight to steal away the result of their vote."
Additionally, PolitiFact has explained that the actions of Walker and the Wisconsin GOP legislature are at odds with their previous positions. In November 2010, Walker sent a list of requests to the outgoing Democratic governor asking him not to take several permanent actions during his lame-duck period, in contrast with the vastly expanded actions Walker is taking now. In fact, PolitiFact also detailed a move by Republican legislators in 2011 giving the governor power to approve or reject the adoption of administrative rules -- power that they’re now trying to take away from the incoming Democratic governor.
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers in Michigan quickly followed in Wisconsin Republicans’ footsteps by pushing a bill to strip campaign finance oversight powers from the incoming Democratic secretary of state after also approving a separate bill to bypass the incoming Democratic attorney general on lawsuits involving the state.
This is all symptomatic of a larger problem: The mainstream media, and Meet The Press in particular, are ignoring growing GOP contempt for democracy itself. As Eric Levitz noted in the New York magazine, the root cause of what is happening in Wisconsin is not one party passing a law, but rather GOP fearing that the party that received the most votes in an election would actually have a chance to govern. In that sense, Todd declaring this power grab normal is no different than Meet The Press inviting an oil-industry funded guest who pushed climate change denial or a conspiracy theorist who talked about the need for civility.
Over a month after the 2018 midterm election, the North Carolina Board of Elections has still refused to certify Republican Mark Harris' initial apparent victory in the 9th Congressional District after questions were raised over alleged election fraud by members of his campaign. The allegations “suggest some kind of scheme” by “people supporting the GOP campaign” to influence the results of a close race. Sworn statements from voters in Bladen and Robeson counties “described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without filling them out.” Two women have come forward reporting that they were paid by Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a contractor who worked for Harris’ campaign specifically on absentee work, to collect ballots in their district. Both women claim that they didn’t know that what they were doing was illegal, but election law in North Carolina “allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.” Investigators are also looking into “unusually high numbers of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County” and other voters’ statements claim that they received absentee ballots without requesting them.
As these allegations surfaced, the election board announced that it will “hold a public evidentiary hearing into claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities” in the 9th Congressional District race. Media figures at Fox News, who have spent years fearmongering about the nonexistent threat of “voter fraud,” have largely remained silent or deflected when faced with these actual allegations of election fraud backed-up by substantial evidence. Here are three ways that Fox has chosen to cover election fraud in North Carolina:
Fox News’ Shannon Bream covered the apparent plot to steal a North Carolina congressional seat by comparing it to legitimate collection of ballots in California elections. Bream claimed that the North Carolina news is “sparking questions about how Democrats swept areas like Orange County, CA,” even though California elections results have not been called into question by any credible source. (While it is legal for California voters who are unable to return their mail-in ballot to designate another person to deliver it for them, it is obviously illegal to collect and then fill out or destroy another person’s ballot.)
Fox has also failed to tell its viewers that the benefactor of the alleged election fraud is a Republican candidate, even though at least six sworn affidavits make clear that “the Republican nominee was the one who stood to gain from it.” Fox & Friends First reported on the story for less than 30 seconds, claiming that “ballots may have been illegally collected” without making it clear which party’s candidate is facing allegations. The hosts then pivoted to yet another story on incoming freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In another late night segment lasting less than 30 seconds, Shannon Bream focused on the “Democratic candidate trailing in the race … withdrawing his concession,” before quickly moving on to a segment about scandals surrounding potential Democratic candidates for 2020 presidential election.
Dana Perino, host of The Daily Briefing, hosted a segment which explained the allegations, but again did not say which party likely benefited from the alleged election fraud. Additionally, the segment pointed out that Harris was still technically in the lead by 905 votes, but did not specifically mention that the alleged election fraud very well could have impacted this outcome.
But for the most part, many shows on Fox News did not report on the story at all, which is unsurprising given the network’s close relationship with the GOP. None of Fox’s prime-time or morning shows this week covered the serious allegations, but they found time to cover stories that could hardly be called newsworthy. Any shows that did cover the story had segments that lasted around 30 seconds or less with little discussion or analysis. It appears Fox sees fraud as an issue only when there are made-up allegations of voter fraud against Democrats with no evidence to back them up.
Wisconsin Republican legislators perverted representative democracy by passing sweeping legislation that strips powers from incoming Gov. Tony Evers solely because he is a Democrat. Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signaled he will sign the bills into law. The New York Times reported on this development with an article that ran with the title “Wisconsin Republicans Defiantly ‘Stand Like Bedrock’ in Face of Democratic Wins,” after first being published under the much more accurate headline “Wisconsin Republicans Approve Bills Stripping Power From Incoming Democratic Governor.”
Defiance, at least to me, is speaking truth to power and not giving up no matter the odds against you. It doesn’t mean advancing anti-democratic laws and getting away with it because you know voters have a slim chance of holding you accountable since you rigged the system through gerrymandering. A better descriptor for that might be “cowardice.” (Even though Democratic candidates received 54 percent of votes in the 2018 midterm elections, they will hold just 36 percent of the state’s legislative seats, meaning they can’t simply reverse the power grab.)
I live in Madison, WI, and I was at the capitol on Monday when the legislative package was first considered. I saw defiance there, but not the type the Times reported on. Defiance was the 1,426 Wisconsinites who spoke out against the bills -- compared to one person speaking in their favor -- as Republicans attempted to limit public comments. Defiance was the people who could not make it into the hearing room chanting so loud outside that it echoed throughout the capitol. Defiance was the crowds causing legislative staff to delay the hearing as staff members scrambled to open up multiple overflow rooms for the citizens who wanted to see how the power grab would play out. Defiance was also a local pizza shop giving out free food to sustain the protesters as they waited long hours to speak their minds. Defiance was the hundreds of people who showed up outside the capitol later that evening -- in the bitter cold -- to protest the bills.
A natural question to ask regarding the New York Times headline (which has since been slightly modified to “Wisconsin Republicans Defiantly Move to Limit the Power of Incoming Democrats”) is where the “stand like bedrock” quote came from. It was Wisconsin Republican Speaker Robin Vos -- the racist, power-hungry architect of the package -- who laughably said after Wisconsin Republicans were trounced in the midterm elections, “We are going to stand like bedrock to guarantee that Wisconsin does not go back.” While Vos’ comment is petulant and antidemocratic to the point that it is newsworthy, the partial quote cited in the Times headline made it seem as if Republicans in Wisconsin were taking some sort of noble stand. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted:
Not sure they could have written a better headline for themselves if they had been asked to pic.twitter.com/cGTCPZz9px
— Judah Maccabeets🍝 (@AdamSerwer) December 6, 2018
Instead of getting his words splashed credulously in a Times headline, Vos should be the subject of extreme media scrutiny and righteous outrage. Shortly before Republicans passed the power-grab bills, Vos attempted to justify the move on Twitter by saying, “We have allowed far too much authority to move to the executive branch.” The state legislature -- presumably the “we” in Vos’ statement -- has been controlled by Republicans for the past eight years, coinciding with Walker’s governorship. But it is only now that Vos suddenly realized that the governorship is too powerful and the separation of powers in the Wisconsin government need to be radically changed.
Other tweets by Vos in defense of the legislation have sparked an angry backlash; for example, he attempted to explain the power grab by arguing on Twitter, “The basic fundamental part of our democracy is compromise and negotiation.” (There was, of course, no compromise, as the Republicans control the legislature and can pass whatever law they want regardless of the views of their Democratic colleagues.) While “the ratio” of negative to positive responses to this tweet currently stands at around 100-to-1 on Twitter, it pales in comparison to the 1,462-1 ratio of Wisconsinites speaking against versus in favor of the power grab.
Beyond the headline, the text of the Times article also fell short, characterizing moves by Republican legislators as merely “hardball” politics and describing Vos’ comment that incoming Gov. Evers’s agenda is not “evil” as “conciliatory.”
The most recent Times coverage of Wisconsin follows another misstep from the newspaper, which in a previous article framed the power grab as a typical partisan dispute between Republicans and Democrats.
The Times also covered the the Wisconsin GOP power grab in its podcast The Daily. While the podcast did provide fairly detailed background on what is happening, it fell far short in its framing of the issues. One part of the podcast focused on people protesting Walker as he lit the Christmas tree that stands in the capitol rotunda during the holiday season. Times reporter Mitch Smith said, “All these protesters -- people who did not come for the Christmas tree lighting -- start booing. And these poor kids, this high school choir -- they start singing these Christmas carols and this group of singing protesters drowns them out from the floor above, bellowing these kind of anti-Walker tunes of their own.” Obviously, no one was booing the kids. I’m sorry if the kids in the choir did actually feel bad, but the subversion of democracy that’s going on warrants some noise. I hope the ruckus made their visit more interesting and served as a lesson on how people can peacefully dissent against their elected officials.
As Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature move into the final stages of enacting an antidemocratic power grab, conservative media justifications for the move are few and far between. It’s difficult to defend the indefensible, so when conservative media figures have addressed the issue, their arguments fall flat.
Following Wisconsin Democrats’ sweep of all of the statewide constitutional offices in the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature put forward a package of bills in a lame-duck session that would strip powers from Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who defeated Republican incumbent Scott Walker on Election Day, and limit other functions of the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled executive branch. Both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature passed the package on December 5 following an all-night session, and the legislation now awaits Walker’s signature. In addition to the antidemocratic stripping of powers from the incoming administration, the package includes other odious provisions such as a tax cut that will only benefit couples who make more than $200,000 a year.
Right-wing media has been largely silent on the story, perhaps because many conservative media figures don’t feel the need to stick their necks out over something so obviously wrong when the Wisconsin GOP doesn’t need any help pushing the measure through. Due to rampant gerrymandering, Democrats will hold just 36 percent of state legislative seats during the next session despite winning 54 percent of the statewide vote, meaning they will be unable to reverse the Republicans’ power grab. Legal challenges to the measures, however, are sure to follow.
The few conservative media defenders of the GOP power grab haven’t made very good arguments. Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey published an article lightly chiding Wisconsin Republicans for “graciously relieving [Evers] of some of Scott Walker’s old workload.” While acknowledging that what is happening is not fair, Morrissey excused it, saying that this is “the real world” and that (emphasis original) “the impulse behind this effort may well be understandable” because of the possibility “Democrats wouldn’t have played fair with executive authority without those restrictions.”
Rush Limbaugh's producer James Golden, who goes by the pseudonym Bo Snerdley, reacted to the package’s passage in a tweet, saying “Democrats just hate losing.” (Democratic candidates in Wisconsin received 190,000 more votes in the 2018 elections than Republican candidates.)
Wisconsin Senate passes limits on incoming Dem governor https://t.co/fGTT1GlPfD >> bet there will be tons of legal challenges to this. Democrats just hate losing.
— Bo Snerdley (@BoSnerdley) December 5, 2018
And on his radio show, MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt said complaints about the power grab are “falling on deaf ears with me” because “you got to go back to November and December and January of 2016 and early ‘17 when they were reminding us only one president at a time.”
HUGH HEWITT (HOST): There is controversies about elections in North Carolina and in the aftermath of elections in Wisconsin and Michigan where defeated Republicans are limiting the powers of the incoming Democrats. By the way, people who are objecting to that, you got to go back to November and December and January of 2016 and early ‘17 when they were reminding us only one president at a time. … No one was complaining then about using all your powers until the end of your term, so that’s falling on deaf ears with me.
This is an extremely poor line of reasoning to defend the GOP’s power grab in Wisconsin. Hewitt’s reference to “controversies” in North Carolina is a case where supporters of a Republican House candidate may have literally stolen the election through fraud, and his reference to Michigan is about a similar GOP legislative power grab. But Hewitt’s argument fails completely in his false equivalence between Wisconsin Republicans and the final months of the Obama administration. What the Obama administration did in its last months was an attempt to shore up legitimate actions it had taken under existing executive branch norms; the administration didn’t seek to change the system entirely. Any actions taken by the Obama administration could be checked by an incoming Republican president (who lost the popular vote) and a Republican Congress, while Wisconsin Republicans are attempting to radically alter their state government’s separation of powers.
Courtney Hagle contributed research to this post.
There are credible reports that a partisan actor in North Carolina was collecting and destroying voters' ballots
Fox News' Shannon Bream attempted on Tuesday night to compare a Republican operative’s apparent plot to steal a North Carolina congressional seat with the legitimate collection of ballots in California elections. From the December 4 edition of Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream:
See transcript below
In California, it is legal for voters unable to return their mail ballots to designate someone to collect their ballots and deliver them to polling places. It is not legal anywhere, however, to collect and then potentially destroy, or finish filling out and cast, another person's ballot. This is what is being alleged in North Carolina, where reports show that a partisan operative potentially on the payroll of multiple Republican campaigns directed people to collect and possibly destroy or fill out voters’ ballots. Republican Mark Harris won the election by less than 1,000 votes, and it's well within reason that election fraud may have changed the result.
Fox has been notably close-lipped about election fraud in North Carolina, despite its usual interest in fearmongering about (virtually nonexistent) "voter fraud." When it has covered this possible crime, the network’s approach is apparently to mislead its audience and downplay the seriousness of the allegations.
SHANNON BREAM (HOST): OK, check this out. North Carolina state law prohibits anyone other than a voter, close family member, or their legal guardian from taking in and dropping off absentee ballots. But, a California law allows anyone, including political operatives, to collect and return ballots in the Golden State. The practice is called ballot harvesting. Now, it's causing tremors in a North Carolina district where Democrats are accusing Republicans of illegal ballot harvesting. Because it's different there in North Carolina, they're calling it voter fraud. So it's also sparking questions about how Democrats swept areas like Orange County, California. Lot to unpack there. Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt joins us now to help separate some fact from fiction.
CHRIS STIREWALT (FOX NEWS POLITICS EDITOR): And we should put out the allegations in North Carolina aren't just illegal because of state law -- it's different. We have voters -- so, what California allows is, in this ballot harvesting --
BREAM: You want to give your ballot to somebody you trust.
STIREWALT: Or also if I go to, let's say, a community center or a senior center or someplace and I say, OK, I am here. I'm a Democrat. You want to vote this way? I can help you, and then I can take them, and take them in. It's not -- it doesn't feel squeaky clean and super democratic, but that's what that is. What happens here are people say, I didn't request an absentee ballot. Somebody requested one in my name. It came to my address, and either they said fill this out or they just took it. They just took it and filled it out themselves and sent it in. This is real fraud.
BREAM: Yeah and so the race is so close, within 900 votes. You know, House Democrats are saying we're not going to seat this person, the Republican who is claiming victory, until we iron this out.
STIREWALT: It is not just House Democrats. It is a bipartisan state election commission in North Carolina.
BREAM: We need answers.
STIREWALT: There is some seriously rotten business that's going on here. And what compounds it, this was a hot primary. A longtime Republican incumbent, [Rep. Robert] Pittenger.
STIREWALT: This is the 9th District, north of Charlotte, that stretches out to the west. So Pittenger gets knocked off in a primary, narrowly. Now, did the same firm that Mark Harris, the guy who knocked off Pittenger, that he employed in that election, did they do the same thing in that county? And then we start looking back at elections and the same consultant doing the same stuff and we say, what the heck is going on here? They may have to re-vote.
BREAM: And if they do, people are saying this is going to turn into a totally different race. It's going to be nationalized, all kinds of outside money is going to pour in. And the people who show up for re-votes on something like this, they're not your average midterm voters, I mean, it's going to be a different kind of election.
STIREWALT: If they find fraud, I would also point out, it'll be a different kind of election because the Republican nominee will have been associated.
BREAM: He'd have problems, if he knew about it.
STIREWALT: Even if he didn't know about it, if his campaign did it, it will stink.
Charlotte’s WSOC has offered comprehensive coverage throughout the saga
In North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, allegations of election fraud have been deemed serious enough that a bipartisan election board has refused to certify the unofficial Republican win, with state officials investigating reports that hundreds of absentee ballots from voters in Bladen and Robeson counties “were illegally cast or destroyed.” Despite the seriousness of the accusations, Fox News -- which usually trips over itself to focus on “voter fraud” -- has virtually ignored the story. Meanwhile, Charlotte television station WSOC, led by political reporter Joe Bruno, has skillfully taken the lead on covering the evolving story.
WSOC began reporting on the story as soon as the bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement first refused to certify the election results on November 27, reporting that the board was investigating “possible fraud or corruption.”
The following day, Bruno, who has also been dutifully chronicling the story on Twitter, tweeted that the crux of the board’s investigation had to do with “irregularities involving absentee ballots.” In a segment later that night, WSOC’s Liz Foster reported on both this development and a response to the board’s decision from Republican Mark Harris, whom the unofficial count showed defeating Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes.
On November 29, Bruno was the first to report on the the content of six sworn affidavits regarding the investigation that were submitted to the election board. On WSOC, Bruno explained that the documents suggest a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. may have hired up to 80 people to illegally collect and even fill out voters’ absentee ballots, potentially while working for the Harris campaign.
On November 30, Bruno conducted several on-the-ground interviews with the people who gave the affidavits. WSOC aired highlights of the interviews, which included a man saying a woman in a Mark Harris T-shirt came to his house to collect mail-in ballots.
Bruno reported that Dowless, the man at the center of the scandal, has done get-out-the-vote work for other candidates and has previously served jail time for perjury and fraud. Bruno also noted that in the primary election, Republican candidate Harris received a surprising 96 percent of Bladen County absentee mail-in votes, and in 2016, Republican candidate Todd Johnson, who finished third in the primary race, received 98 percent of Bladen County absentee mail-in votes while Dowless was doing get-out-the-vote work for him.
On December 3, Bruno was the first to speak to an absentee ballot witness who said Dowless hired her to collect ballots and deliver them to him. The woman told Bruno that she doesn’t know with certainty whether the votes were counted. She claimed that Dowless was working for Harris and the Republican candidate for sheriff, Jim McVicker.
WSOC’s reporting suggests that a partisan operative potentially on the payroll of multiple Republican campaigns directed people to collect and possibly destroy or fill out voters’ ballots, which is deeply concerning. And in a race as close as this, it’s possible that election fraud could have changed the result. As multiple national sources have relied on Bruno and WSOC in their own reporting, the station’s comprehensive coverage is another reminder of the importance of investing in local news and on-the-ground reporters.
As Republican legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan move to strip powers from incoming Democratic governors, the press is failing to fulfill its responsibility to report on these antidemocratic power grabs. Network morning and evening news shows have refused to cover the stories at all, while a poorly framed New York Times article gave the impression that the power grab in Wisconsin is politics as usual.
In Wisconsin, Republican legislators are advancing a package of bills in a lame-duck session that would strip powers from Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who defeated Republican Scott Walker on Election Day, and limit other functions of the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled executive branch. The final vote could occur as early as today, December 4. Because of GOP gerrymandering, Democrats will hold just 36 percent of state legislative seats during the next session despite winning 54 percent of the statewide vote, meaning they will be unable to reverse the power grab. Likewise, Republicans in the lame-duck Michigan legislature are attempting to strip powers from Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and from other statewide offices that will soon be held by Democrats. As in Wisconsin, Republicans control the legislature due to gerrymandering.
Rather than treating these moves as alarming threats to democracy, many major media outlets are ignoring the stories or covering them poorly.
A December 3 New York Times article on the Wisconsin power grab that ran under the headline “Stung by Election Losses, Republicans in the States Seek a Way to Neutralize Democrats” is being criticized on social media for normalizing the Wisconsin GOP’s actions. Critics say it frames the issue as a typical partisan dispute between two opposing political parties. Some excerpts (emphasis added):
Apparently out of reluctance to be seen as taking a side, the Times was unable to describe what is happening in Wisconsin as the extraordinary affront to democratic norms that it is.
Meanwhile, major network news shows haven't discussed the unusual power grabs unfolding in either state. Between Election Day on November 6 and December 4, CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt, NBC’s Today, ABC’s World News Tonight With David Muir, and ABC’s Good Morning America failed to cover either story.
Methodology: Media Matters searched available transcripts for ABC, CBS, and NBC in Nexis for the words "Michigan" and "Wisconsin" between November 6 and December 4 and searched transcripts in the iQ media database for the words "Michigan" and "Wisconsin" on December 3 through December 4.
In North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District -- where Republican Mark Harris seemingly defeated Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes -- allegations of election fraud have been deemed serious enough that a bipartisan election board has refused to certify the results. Instead, the bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted to hear evidence about “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities” in the election. Fox News has almost completely ignored the allegations, despite the network’s usual interest in baseless fearmongering about “voter fraud.”
In the aftermath of the November election, state officials are investigating reports that hundreds of absentee ballots from 9th District voters in Bladen and Robeson counties “were illegally cast or destroyed.” One Bladen County voter, Datesha Montgomery, recounted that a woman came to her door and said she was collecting ballots in the area. When Montgomery explained that she had completed votes for only two of the races, the woman remarked that the other races weren’t important and said that she would finish the ballot for Montgomery. It is illegal in North Carolina to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.
Additionally, a significant percentage of absentee ballots were requested but not cast in Bladen and Robeson counties -- more so than in any other county in the 9th District -- and Raleigh's The News & Observer found that “the unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters.” In light of such accusations, election experts in North Carolina have noted that the Republican candidate received an unexpected proportion of absentee ballot votes in Bladen County: Harris received 61 percent of mail-in votes, but, as The New Yorker points out, only 19 percent of voters in Bladen County are registered Republicans. While the state’s election board hasn’t officially accused anyone of wrongdoing at this point, its refusal to certify the election results suggests that the board takes seriously the possibility that partisan actors collected and trashed absentee ballots of 9th District voters, possibly even filling out and casting ballots for them.
Despite the extremely serious nature of these allegations, and the wealth of evidence backing them up, Fox News has almost entirely ignored the story.
Fox has mentioned the allegations only once on air since the state election board announced it was investigating the results on November 27. Host Bret Baier spent less than 30 seconds discussing the story on Fox’s Special Report, but he did note that the state election board voted “to hear evidence on alleged absentee ballot irregularities.” Fox also posted one article about the story and one associated video on FoxNews.com.
Fox’s close-lipped stance is particularly noteworthy given the network’s major focus on right-wing allegations of voter fraud. Fox is more than happy to push dubious or baseless allegations of fraud and then quietly move on once they fall apart. For years, Fox guests and hosts have spewed voter fraud conspiracy theories, some of which are rooted in obvious racism, and many of which are used to argue for voter suppression tactics. The vast majority of Fox’s accusations fall flat, largely because in-person voter impersonation fraud -- the type that right-wing pundits most commonly fearmonger about -- is virtually nonexistent, and other types of fraud are exceedingly rare.
Fox’s interest in election integrity seems to cover only instances of alleged voter fraud by Democrats and not cases of apparent election fraud by partisan operatives who may have stolen, trashed, or illegally cast voters’ ballots. The network’s indifference is noteworthy, but it’s unsurprising given the close relationship between Fox News and the Republican Party.
Methodology: Media Matters searched Snapstream for mentions of McCready, North Carolina, Bladen, Robeson, ninth district, 9th district, and Harris (controlling for mentions of Fox’s Harris Faulkner) on Fox News from November 27 through the time of publication.
Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) recently complained that “ballot harvesting” led to many California House races being called for Democrats days or weeks after Election Day, garnering significant press coverage. But why should anyone care about the conspiratorial whining of a retiring congressman who was unwilling to defend his own seat in the 2018 midterms?
If Ryan -- who has an undeserving reputation in some mainstream press circles as a serious statesman -- wants to talk about fairness and elections, he should speak out about North Carolina’s 9th District. In that race, evidence has emerged that Republican candidate Mark Harris’ staff or supporters may have attempted to steal the election by throwing away and altering absentee ballots. Or he should speak out about two GOP-controlled legislatures -- one in his home state of Wisconsin -- that are attempting to pre-emptively strip powers from incoming Democratic administrations solely because the Republicans don’t like the election outcomes.
Ryan complained about California House race results during a November 29 appearance at a Washington Post event, claiming that a vote counting procedure used in California that causes a delay in final counts led to “a very, very strange outcome.” He added, “When you win the absentee ballots and you win the in-person vote, where I come from, you win the election.” Ryan said that he wasn’t “saying there’s anything nefarious about it, … but we believed we were up about six seats in California the night of the election, now I think we lost just about every single one of those.” (The Washington Post write-up of his remarks even noted, “Ryan said he wouldn’t go so far as to ask the state attorney general to review the results but suggested that The Washington Post should write a story about it,” suggesting Ryan knows in his heart that his complaints are whiny bullshit that only plays in the press.)
What Ryan is complaining about -- a process that has pejoratively been called “ballot harvesting” -- is California’s election procedure, which intentionally takes time to determine the legitimacy of provisional ballots and count those that are valid. In other words, it’s pro-representative democracy.
Conservative outlets, nonetheless, are championing Ryan’s comments as evidence of a Democrat-led voter fraud conspiracy or, at a minimum, support for the backward notion that California’s process is unfair. In one instance, a Townhall article with the headline “‘Ballot Harvesting,’ California Dems’ Latest Election Stealing Tool” noted, “The statewide results even drew the attention of the normally squishy soon-to-be former House Speaker Paul Ryan.” Some mainstream outlets uncritically regurgitated Ryan’s conspiratorial claims in headlines, with The Hill writing, “Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results,” and Politico claiming, “GOP cries foul after California thumping.”
Ryan’s disingenuousness is also evidenced by an anti-democratic power grab being attempted in his own backyard that he hasn’t found the gumption to speak out about. Despite racist attempts by Republicans to suppress votes in Wisconsin, Democrats were victorious in all elections for statewide constitutional offices on November 6, with the late-night count of absentee ballots pushing Democrat Tony Evers ahead of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. In response to Walker’s defeat, the GOP legislature is poised to pass a package of bills that will strip huge numbers of powers from the executive branch.
While Ryan’s California comments have received a great amount of press attention, what is happening in Wisconsin has not:
By the way: not only have the NYT, WaPo, Politico, CNN, and MSNBC all failed to post a single original story about the Wisconsin GOP power grab, which could be voted into law in less than 48 hours—they've also ignored the one underway in Michigan. Hope this changes tomorrow.
— Ben Wikler (@benwikler) December 3, 2018
If Ryan wants to whine to the press about elections and fairness, he should be forced to talk about Wisconsin, or about a similar effort by Republicans in Michigan, or about North Carolina’s 9th District.
The NY Times updates Stephens’ bad post-election column to make it even wronger
In the aftermath of election night 2018, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a column arguing that the Democrats had kind of blown it. Under the headline “The Midterm Results Are a Warning to the Democrats,” Stephens argued that the Democrats’ electoral haul was “meh” and evidence that “while ‘the Resistance’ is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats.”
It was, on its face, a curious argument, given that the Democrats had wrested control of the House of Representatives, snagged a healthy number of governorships, flipped hundreds of state legislative seats, and triggered a down-ballot political “earthquake” in Texas.
The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.
There are many problems with that analysis, but the most significant among them is the number 28. At the time Stephens wrote this column, votes were still being tallied and many close races remained uncalled. That 28 was the lower boundary of the Democratic gains. Now we know that the Democrats have actually picked up 40 seats -- a tally that is about 43 percent higher than the number Stephens based his insta-analysis on.
Since then, the Times has quietly updated Stephens’ column to reflect the growing number of Democratic pickups, but the analysis on which it’s based remains glaringly static. Here’s how the updated version reads, as of this moment:
A 37-seat swing gave Democrats control of the House—a definite gain, but still less than the 63 seats Republicans won in 2011. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.
The 28 jumped up to a (still low) 37, and the “wasn’t even half” has been disappeared. But the “non-wave election” diagnosis remains preserved in amber. With each update to the number of flipped seats, Stephens’ already bad analysis just gets worse.
What we see here are two distinct flavors of bad punditry.
The first is an issue of confirmation bias. Prior to the election, Stephens had already concluded that the Democrats had squandered their opportunity. In his October 12 column “Democrats Are Blowing It, Again,” Stephens wrote that House Republicans “now have at least a fighting chance of holding on to a majority despite the widely anticipated blue wave,” hanging his argument on a 10-day window of not-terrible polling for GOP candidates in battleground districts. A few days before the election, Stephens wrote that “Democrats should be walking away with the midterms. That they are not is because they have consistently underestimated the president’s political gifts, while missing the deeper threat his presidency represents.”
When the actual voting results badly undermined Stephens’ preformed conclusion, he tortured that inconvenient reality into a shape that roughly conformed to what he had already decided was true.
The second is the temptation and perceived need to provide instant, authoritative analysis of still-uncertain outcomes. Stephens was hardly alone in this failing -- early on election night, cable news was awash in dour, speculative takes about how the Democrats were going to come up short, causing attendant panic and depression among liberals on Twitter. By the time Stephens’ column was published, Democrats had taken the House but several races (including many toss-ups in California that would end up going to the Democrats) had yet to be called. The Democrats’ 40th pickup was called just two days ago.
The still more serious problem that flows from both of these issues is that pundits who fail in these ways are hardly ever held to account, and thus self-serving, half-baked analyses keep showing up in op-ed pages and on cable news. For Bret Stephens, “accountability” takes the form of quiet changes to his column that leave its conclusions intact even as it gets more wrong with each update.