Sunday shows provide a safe haven for architects of the Big Lie
Elected officials who supported a movement to overthrow American democracy routinely appeared on America’s premiere weekly news programs in 2021
As news outlets prepare reflections and retrospectives timed for the first anniversary of the deadly January 6 insurrection, they need to seriously reconsider their role in promoting the insurrectionists in their midst. Over the past year, Republican elected officials who took part in a conspiracy to interfere with the results of the last presidential election — or who simply refuse to acknowledge the validity of those results — have been on the guest lists of weekly Sunday news programs more than 40 times.
The attack on the United States Capitol Building last year was carried out by a mob whipped into a frenzy by lies about the election. The mob was organized and encouraged by members of our own government, including the then-president of the United States — the definition of a coup d’etat. The coup failed, as most coups do, but it should go without saying that no person involved in attempting to end American democracy should be afforded the credence of a supposedly unbiased media.
Yet, on any given Sunday, viewers from coast to coast tuning in to the weekly news programming on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or Fox Broadcasting can hear from insurrectionists, conspiracy theorists, and election deniers, often without any disclosure of their role in promoting and perpetuating the Big Lie.
If you promote dangerous and deadly lies in an effort to overthrow the United States government, you should be marked with a scarlet letter and — at the very least — never brought on TV news again. Below, Media Matters has catalogued dozens of instances where prominent Sunday shows failed to clear this incredibly basic hurdle.
Many Republican elected officials at the local, state, and federal level collaborated in the days and weeks following the conclusion of the 2020 presidential election to assist then-President Donald Trump and his allies by calling the results into question and working to change or overrule the results. These interlopers spread lies and misinformation that would become the predicate for violence on January 6, 2021.
In November 2020, while votes were still being counted in several states, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) claimed in a message to his supporters that he was helping Trump to uncover supposed “voting fraud that is going on in our country right now.” Wicker produced no evidence to support his claims of fraud, but he was still booked for multiple Sunday show appearances in the following months despite promoting this lie.
Wicker was a featured on ABC's This Week on 2 occasions (February 7 and April 11) and was also a guest on NBC's Meet the Press (April 4) to discuss topics unrelated to his lie about the election.
Also in November 2020, more than a month before Trump’s much-publicized attempted shakedown of Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) quietly reached out to Raffensperger to lay the groundwork for Trump’s later efforts. In an interview with The Washington Post, Raffensperger described how Graham questioned the state’s signature-matching procedures and asked whether political biases may have driven election workers to tabulate invalid votes for Joe Biden. According to Raffensperger’s account — as well as the account of Republican election official Gabe Sterling, who witnessed the call — Graham seemed to suggest that state officials in Georgia might “find a way to toss legally cast ballots.” Graham was given ample opportunity to defuse the scandal by his allies at Fox News, but he was also a repeated guest on the network’s flagship news product, Fox News Sunday.
Graham appeared on Fox News Sunday 5 times in 2021 (February 14, March 28, April 25, June 20, and December 12) to opine on political news of the day, but he was never held accountable for priming Trump’s dangerous election conspiracy. Graham was also featured on the February 7 and August 29 editions of CBS’s Face the Nation, where he again avoided responsibility for his role in stoking the Big Lie.
In December 2020, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit challenging the presidential election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in an attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters who cast ballots for Biden. The lawsuit, which was summarily dismissed by the Supreme Court, was joined by 17 Republican state attorneys general and 126 Republican members of Congress, including the two highest-ranking Republicans in the House: Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA). Neither provide viewers with such valuable information that they should be excused for participating in a frivolous lawsuit pleading for the conservative-leaning Supreme Court to overthrow national election results.
Despite his starring role in attempting to overthrow our democracy through judicial fiat, Scalise was a featured guest on ABC’s This Week (February 21), CBS’s Face the Nation (August 15), and Fox’s Fox News Sunday (October 10).
Many Republican officials resisted acknowledging the validity or finality of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, refusing for weeks to refer to the winning candidate as the “president-elect.” Others refused to accept the validity of the election result even after the new president and vice president were sworn into office — a practice that continues to this day among some Republican incumbents and candidates — hedging when asked to acknowledge that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are legitimate office holders following a free and fair election. These equivocators helped excuse efforts to overturn the election and share blame for the January 6 insurrection.
During a late November 2020 appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) was asked a very simple question by CNN’s Dana Bash: “Do you accept the fact that Joe Biden is the president-elect of the United States?” Blunt, who had served as chairman for Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, tepidly responded that he was “moving forward as if that’s what’s going to happen on January the 20th,” before transitioning into a lengthy filibuster about irrelevant details of the inauguration and transition process. When pressed by Bash to simply acknowledge that Biden should be referred to as the “president-elect,” Blunt doubled down, refusing to accept the premise of the question. Even after Bash outlined all of the ways Trump was sowing distrust about the election to serve his own political motivations, Blunt demurred.
Blunt’s non-answer was so egregious it drew a scathing editorial from The Kansas City Star, which labeled his behavior “disrespectful” and "dangerous.” And it should have been the last time he was booked as a guest on one of the major Sunday shows. Instead, Blunt appeared 8 more times after his cowardly display on CNN, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation (January 10), NBC’s Meet the Press (March 21, June 6, and October 24), ABC’s This Week (April 4), and Fox News Sunday (April 4, May 23, and December 26).
In early December 2020, after his colleague Blunt tied himself into rhetorical knots to avoid admitting Biden’s electoral victory, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) did everything he could to evade the obvious. During an interview with Fox News host Harris Faulkner, Barrasso — third-ranking member of the Senate GOP — promoted baseless voter fraud conspiracy theories emanating from the Trump campaign. When asked if he accepted Trump's claim that “Joe Biden can't be president” thanks to “hundreds of thousands” of fraudulent votes, Barrasso suggested the bogus allegations had merit and falsely claimed that Democrats were already up to the same “dirty tricks” in the looming Georgia Senate run-off races. At no point did Barrasso acknowledge that Biden had won the election. Months later, in May 2021, Barrasso again failed to answer a simple question when asked by Fox News anchor John Roberts if the election in 2020 was “stolen.”
If Barrasso can’t be counted on to accept reality, why was he considered a viable guest by segment producers looking to fill air time on Sunday mornings? Barrasso appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press (March 7), ABC’s This Week (March 14, May 2, and November 14), and Fox News Sunday (October 3 and November 28) in 2021.
On January 24, just days after Biden took office and the Democratic majority took control of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) refused to answer ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos when asked if he accepted that “this election was not stolen.” Paul responded, “The debate over whether or not there was fraud should occur,” before advancing misleading talking points about the supposed constitutionality of decisions made by secretaries of state around the country to make voting safer and easier amid the pandemic. To his credit, Stephanopoulos interjected during Paul's rant and corrected his lies about voter fraud, but Paul was undaunted and refused to acknowledge that Biden was fairly elected president.
Despite his failure to acknowledge reality on the January 24 edition of This Week, Paul was invited to be a guest on Fox News Sunday just two weeks later (February 7).
On March 7, during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper pressed Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves to acknowledge that Biden was the “legitimate” and “lawfully elected” president. Tapper grew visibly frustrated with Reeves’ obfuscation when pressed to accept the legitimacy of the Biden presidency, as Reeves fixated on the supposed role “mail-in voting” played in helping Biden to victory, which Reeves falsely claimed “allows lots of opportunities for fraud and other things.” State of the Union has otherwise done well to avoid booking election deniers and members of Congress who voted to decertify the election results on January 6, but regular viewers have become very familiar with Reeves over the past year.
After failing the most basic test of civic understanding, Reeves was invited to appear on State of the Union 4 more times (April 4, June 6, September 19, and December 5), where he was free to spread partisan misinformation about other topics du jour. Reeves was also a guest on NBC’s Meet the Press (November 28).
On November 3, 2020, Biden defeated Trump by a decisive popular vote margin and won the all-important Electoral College thanks to narrow victories in several key swing states.
In the weeks that followed, Republican Party officials worked tirelessly to overturn that result. In Congress, many Republicans announced plans to block the certification of Electoral College votes from several key states during a joint session scheduled for January 6, 2021. When the day came, a majority of congressional Republicans (147 of 262 members) refused to certify the election results in either Arizona or Pennsylvania when the House and Senate met to certify Biden’s victory. (More objections were planned that day, but the voting was cut short when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol Building.)
Make no mistake: The members who voted not to certify the election results — often derisively referred to as the Sedition Caucus — were active participants in an insurrection. Still, despite their successful disruption of the peaceful transfer of power and their embrace of flagrant lies, several were booked as guests on supposedly prestigious Sunday news programs.
On February 28, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) was invited to be a guest on Fox News Sunday, where he and host Chris Wallace engaged in a back and forth on how to restore party unity among Republicans. One exchange in particular served only to rehabilitate Scott’s image. When asked by Wallace if “Joe Biden [won] this election fair and square,” Scott responded, “Absolutely,” adding, “Joe Biden is the president. … Joe Biden won the election.” The discussion was framed as being about “Trump and his continuing hold on the party,” but Scott’s scandalous vote to overturn the election results, a vote which he apparently no longer stood by, was never mentioned.
Despite his participation in the insurrection, Scott was booked twice more on Fox News Sunday (August 8 and October 31) and was also a featured guest on ABC’s This Week (April 25) and NBC’s Meet the Press (November 7).
On November 21, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was featured for a two-part segment on CBS' Face the Nation. In the second half of the interview, Cruz was asked to address the role he played in advising Trump in the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection, as detailed in a new book. Cruz deflected when pressed by host Margaret Brennan, defended his role in whipping senators to block the Electoral College certification process, and pushed baseless claims of voter fraud. He ultimately devolved the conversation into a spurious discussion of the disputed election of 1876 as the basis for his attempt to challenge the 2020 results. At no point was Cruz held to account for the vote he took on January 6 to overturn Electoral College results based on lies about the election's outcome, nor for his starring role in stoking the insurrectionists. What information did viewers gain from watching this farce with a proud and blatant liar?
On December 12, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) appeared on Meet the Press for a discussion about the ongoing pandemic. Host Chuck Todd invited Marshall — a doctor by training — to promote his opposition to vaccine mandates and spread misinformation about vaccine side effects. The majority of the segment was focused on the pandemic, but when Todd pivoted to discuss the 2020 election, Marshall responded with lies and misinformation. When asked if “Joe Biden was elected fair and square,” Marshall refused to answer the question and reiterated that he was still “concerned about election integrity” while baselessly questioning whether states won by Biden had “obey[ed] their own laws.”
Todd asked Marshall if he had been briefed on the presentation circulated by some Trump allies outlining, step by step, how to enact a coup, to which the senator claimed he had “never ... heard that story.” Todd never addressed Marshall’s vote to overturn the election based on lies and conspiracy theories about the sanctity of the vote, but he did thank Marshall for "sharing [his] perspective with us.” Marshall promoted the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and sided with a violent insurrection in attempting to overthrow the United States government; what “perspective” could he possibly share that would be of value to NBC News?
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Nexis database for all original programming on ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press from January 6 through December 31, 2021 for any guest appearances by any of the following elected officials: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), or Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).