Local broadcast media have given limited coverage to two late-breaking stories about racism and reported sexual misconduct from Republican candidate Madison Cawthorn in the last two weeks of his North Carolina congressional race against Democrat Moe Davis, even in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson media market which covers most of the district.
On October 22, The Bulwark released a story detailing racist comments on a website Cawthorn’s campaign had set up to attack Davis and journalist Tom Fiedler, whose work for a local nonprofit newsroom has been instrumental in fact-checking Cawthorn over the course of the race. On the website, Cawthorn's campaign wrote that Fielder “quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.” A day later, Cawthorn apologized, and the language has since been removed.
The racist post was covered in only seven mentions across local broadcast media in North Carolina: one on Raleigh-Durham station WRAL, five on Asheville’s Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned ABC station WLOS, and one on Asheville’s Hearst-owned NBC station WYFF. Of the three, only WRAL spoke with Fiedler about the racist attack levied against him and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). WLOS instead talked to Cawthorn and did not challenge his claim that the racist language was a “syntax” error. WYFF did not even air a full news package, instead opting for the anchor to read a short snippet which included Cawthorn’s claim that the racist words were a “syntax issue.” No North Carolina local broadcast station has mentioned the controversy since October 24, two days after the story broke.
One would not know it from watching local news in North Carolina, but the racist post was the second controversy facing Cawthorn that week. On October 17, 10 of Cawthorn’s former classmates wrote that he repeatedly engaged in “predatory behavior” while in college. A letter they signed, which gained a lot of traction on Twitter, included allegations that Cawthorn would “take young women to secluded areas, lock the doors, and proceed to make unwanted sexual advances.” The letter also said that women in his orbit had to warn others not to get in a car alone with him. This letter was the second time this year women had reported that Cawthorn sexually harassed or assaulted them.
But no broadcast station in North Carolina mentioned the contents of the letter. WLOS mentioned that there was a letter written by former classmates who opposed Cawthorn’s candidacy in a piece (which aired twice) on Cawthorn’s “apology” for the racist post on his campaign website, but the reporter did not say that the letter discussed sexual harassment and assault.
Local papers and the nonprofit AVL Watchdog have been reporting on numerous issues surrounding Cawthorn for months. Area journalists, especially Fiedler, have revealed that Cawthorn repeatedly lied or misled about his credentials. Cawthorn had not been accepted to the Naval Academy before a car accident paralyzed his legs and he did not work full time for Mark Meadows when the now-White House chief of staff was still in Congress. In August, the Asheville Citizen Times reported on multiple women who said Cawthorn had sexually harassed or assaulted them. That was just days before he spoke at the Republican National Convention, where the GOP and right-wing media still branded him as an up-and-coming Republican phenom.
The lack of thorough broadcast coverage of allegations against Cawthorn misinforms North Carolina voters, who need to know about late-breaking reports of lies, racism, and sexual misconduct from a prominent candidate just before Election Day.
Methodology: Media Matters searched the Kinetiq video database between October 17, when the letter was published, and October 29, 2020, for mentions of Cawthorn’s name, and reviewed every search result for a mention of the racist statements posted on his campaign website or letter reporting that Cawthorn was known for harassing women in college. This search included all North Carolina markets including Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson, which covers the congressional district where Cawthorn is competing. Reports from nationally syndicated news programs and teasers were not counted.