This week, Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels’ seemingly suggested that he would ensure Republican dominance in the state should he be elected governor. Local Wisconsin daily newspapers, along with cable TV and most of the country’s top newspapers, largely failed to cover his anti-democratic remarks.
During a November 1 campaign stop at a local business, Michels stated: “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.” Observers have claimed that Michels was saying “the quiet part out loud” and promising single-party rule in the state under GOP control.
Michels, the Trump-endorsed challenger to Democratic incumbent Gov. Tony Evers, has staked much of his campaign on election denialism and the big lie that President Joe Biden didn’t legitimately win the 2020 election. Michels has even expressed doubts in his own election by refusing to say during a debate that he would accept the results, before later stating he would. He has also refused to say if he would certify the results of a presidential election should a Democrat win while he’s serving as governor.
A Media Matters review found that local and national print media and cable TV news have largely failed to report on Michels’ suggestion that he will ensure permanent Republican dominance in the state if he wins the upcoming election.
From November 1 to November 3, just one local Wisconsin newspaper mentioned Michels’ comments, and zero dedicated a whole article to his apparent threat to the integrity of future elections. The Baraboo News Republic reprinted coverage from The Associated Press which highlighted Michels’ connections to Trump and his history of election denial, although it mentioned his explicit intention for GOP dominance in Wisconsin only midway through the article.
Additionally, the five largest national newspapers by circulation — the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today — each failed to cover the GOP gubernatorial candidate’s statement.
TV news was no better. From November 1 through November 3, none of the local affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC, or PBS that broadcast in Wisconsin’s seven markets covered Michels’ comments. Notably, several stations covered Michels’ stated interest in replacing the bipartisan state elections commission without any mention of his pledge to ensure GOP dominance of the state. In the same time frame, MSNBC was the only national cable TV network to cover Michels’ remarks, dedicating slightly more than three minutes to any mention or discussion.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes set a strong example that other media outlets should look to in their campaign coverage. On his November 2 show, Hayes dutifully called out the anti-democratic nature of Michels’ statement while connecting it to the anticipated GOP supermajority in the Wisconsin state legislature.
Local and national outlets are failing Wisconsin’s electorate by largely ignoring the GOP gubernatorial candidate’s anti-democratic remarks and whitewashing the threat they present to future elections. These comments ought not be ignored in coverage of this year’s midterms, particularly as election denialism is becoming central to the GOP platform.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream and Kinetiq video databases for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC and all original news programming on local Wisconsin affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS that broadcast in the following media markets: Duluth-Superior, Green Bay-Appleton, La Crosse-Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Wausau-Rhinelander for the term “Michels” (including misspellings) from November 1, 2022, after Tim Michels made his comments about ensuring GOP dominance, through November 3, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when Michels’ comments were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of Michels’ comments. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the comments.
We also timed passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a speaker in a segment about another topic mentioned Michels’ comments without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Michels’ comments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We also searched print articles in the Factiva database for the top 5 U.S. newspapers by circulation: the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today and the following local Wisconsin print papers: Baraboo News Republic, Beloit Daily News, Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent, The Chippewa Herald, The Chronotype, Coulee Courier, The Courier, Daily Citizen, Daily Jefferson County Union, Ashland Daily Press, The Daily Reporter, DeForest Times-Tribune, Dunn County News, The Edgerton Reporter, FDL Reporter, The Freeman, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Herald Times Reporter, The Herald-Independent, Juneau County Star-Times, La Crosse Tribune, Lake Country Now, Lake Mills Leader, The Lakeland Times, Lodi Enterprise, Marshfield News Herald, Milton Courier, News Graphic, The Northwestern, The Post-Crescent, Poynette Press, Price County Review, Sawyer County Record, The Sheboygan Press, Spooner Advocate, Sun Prairie Star, Stevens Point Journal, The Tomah Journal, Vernon County Broadcaster, Waunakee Tribune, Wausau Daily Herald, Westby Times, Wisconsin Dells Events, Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, and Wisconsin State Journal for the term “Michels” in the headline or lead paragraph from November 1, 2022, through November 3, 2022.
We included articles, which we defined as instances when Michels’ comments were mentioned in the headline or lead paragraph. We included news articles; we excluded editorials, op-eds, letters-to-the-editor, and other non-news content.