STUDY: Voting rights coverage was dominated by Trump's lies and ignored systemic problems

STUDY: Voting rights coverage was dominated by Trump's lies and ignored systemic problems

››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs and broadcast morning shows and nightly newscasts found that discussions of voting rights and issues related to voting featured misinformation pushed by Republican lawmakers and were dominated by President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and noncitizen voting. Additionally, coverage also lacked discussions of gerrymandering, the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election, and laws on the state level to curb voting rights.

Key findings from 12 months of broadcast and evening cable news coverage of voting rights

Media Matters analyzed morning news programs and nightly newscasts on ABC, NBC, and CBS, and evening cable news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, for segments featuring a substantial discussion of issues related to voting and voting rights. The resulting 561 segments were then coded for mentions of state-based voter suppression efforts, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made on the following topics: widespread voter fraud, noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering.

Based on this analysis, Media Matters identified the following key findings and coverage patterns about issues related to voting and voting rights:

Fox News far outpaced other networks in spreading falsehoods on voting

Overall, over twice as many truths were told about voting than falsehoods. Hosts and guests who spoke about voting on broadcast and cable news over the past year made 995 true statements about voting and 433 false statements.

Broadcast morning shows featured over 80 more truths than lies about voting. Over the past year, broadcast morning news programs featured 85 true statements about voting four false statements on the topic.

  • Twenty-four true statements and zero false statements were made on ABC’s Good Morning America.

  • Thirty-one true statements and two false statements were made on CBS’ CBS This Morning.

  • Thirty true statements and two false statements were made on NBC’s Today.

Broadcast nightly news featured over five times as many truths as falsehoods. Over the past year, broadcast evening news programs featured 39 true statements about voting and seven false statements on the topic.

  • Twenty-one true statements and seven false statements were made on ABC’s World News Tonight.

  • Nine true statements and zero false statements were made on CBS’ CBS Evening News.

  • Nine true statements and zero false statements were made on NBC’s NBC Nightly News.

CNN featured over twice as many truths as falsehoods. Over the past year, CNN’s prime-time programs featured 545 true statements about voting and 192 false statements on the topic.

  • One hundred and seventy-nine true statements and 56 false statements were made on The Situation Room.

  • One hundred and six true statements and 41 false statements were made on Erin Burnett OutFront.

  • One hundred and seventy-one true statements and 84 false statements were made on Anderson Cooper 360.

  • Eighty-nine true statements and 11 false statements were made on CNN Tonight.

Fox News featured over twice as many falsehoods as truths. Over the past year, Fox News’ prime-time programs featured 79 true statements about voting and 197 false statements on the topic.

  • Six true statements and three false statements were made on The Five.

  • Twenty-two true statements and 15 false statements were made on Special Report.

  • Eight true statements and 23 false statements were made on On the Record.

  • Three true statements and two false statements were made on The Story.

  • Eight true statements and one false statement were made on First 100 Days.

  • Thirteen true statements and 43 false statements were made on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • Eleven true statements and 41 false statements were made on The O’Reilly Factor.

  • Six true statements and 17 false statements were made on The Kelly File.

  • Two true statements and 50 false statements were made on Hannity.

MSNBC featured over 200 more truths than falsehoods. Over the past year, MSNBC’s prime-time programs featured 247 true statements on voting and 33 false statements on the topic.

  • Fifty-seven true statements and 24 false statements were made on MTP Daily.

  • Eighteen true statements and four false statements were made on For the Record.

  • Forty-one true statements and four false statements were made on Hardball.

  • Eighty true statements and zero false statements were made on All In.

  • Twenty-one true statements and zero false statements were made on The Rachel Maddow Show.

  • Thirty true statements and one false statement were made on The Last Word.

Republican politicians made 88 false statements about voting while Democratic politicians made none

Republicans politicians made 88 false statements about voting. Republicans made at least 88 false statements about voting on broadcast and cable news over the past year. During this same period, Democrats did not repeat any of the common right-wing myths about voting that were coded for in this study.

  • Republican politicians made six false statements on ABC.

  • Republican politicians made one false statement on NBC.

  • Republican politicians made no false statements on CBS.

  • Republican politicians made 31 false statements on CNN.

  • Republican politicians made 38 false statements on Fox News.

  • Republican politicians made 12 false statements on MSNBC.

Only five segments mentioned gerrymandering

Broadcast networks aired no segments that mentioned gerrymandering. Over the last year, broadcast morning news programs and evening newscasts ran no segments on gerrymandering or redistricting reform.

Cable news networks ran five segments on gerrymandering. Fox News and MSNBC each ran one segment which mentioned gerrymandering or redistricting reform, while CNN ran three. Fox News’ segment aired on the November 28, 2016, edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight. MSNBC’s segment aired on the December 15, 2016, edition of All In. CNN discussed gerrymandering on the November 29, 2016, edition of Anderson Cooper 360 and on the January 25 and June 9 editions of CNN Tonight.

Less than 9 percent of segments acknowledged the impact voting restrictions had on the 2016 election

Across all networks, less than 9 percent of segments on voting discussed the impact voter suppression had on the 2016 election. Of the 561 segments on cable and broadcast news on voting rights over the past year, only 50, or 8.9 percent, discussed the impact voter suppression laws had on the 2016 election. As Ari Berman, then of The Nation, pointed out, the 2016 election was the first “presidential election in 50 years without full protections of Voting Rights Act.” ThinkProgress also noted that “millions of people ... were eligible to vote but could not do so because they faced an array of newly-enacted barriers to the ballot box.” [Twitter, 11/8/16; ThinkProgress, 11/15/16]

Less than 8 percent of broadcast news segments on voting discussed the impact on the 2016 election. The impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election was featured in eight out of 107 segments on voting on broadcast news, or 7.5 percent of segments.

  • Of the 33 segments on ABC, two (or 6.1 percent) discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

  • Of the 42 segments on CBS, three (or 7.1 percent) discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

  • Of the 32 segments on NBC, three (or 9.4 percent) discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

Less than 5 percent of CNN segments discussed the impact of voter suppression on the election. Of the 189 segments CNN aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, nine, or 4.8 percent, discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

  • Five of these segments appeared on The Situation Room.

  • One appeared on Erin Burnett OutFront.

  • Three appeared on Anderson Cooper 360.

  • CNN Tonight ran no segments on the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

Less than 10 percent of Fox News segments discussed the impact of voter suppression on the election. Of the 113 segments Fox News aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 11, or 9.7 percent, discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

  • Six of these segments appeared on Special Report.

  • Three appeared on On the Record.

  • One appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • One appeared on The O’Reilly Factor.

  • The Five, The Fox News Specialists, First 100 Days, The Story, The Kelly File, and Hannity ran no segments on the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

Less than 15 percent of MSNBC segments discussed the impact of voter suppression on the election. Of the 152 segments MSNBC aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 22, or 14.5 percent, discussed the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

  • Three of these segments appeared on MTP Daily.

  • Three appeared on Hardball.

  • Seven appeared on All In.

  • Five appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show.

  • Four appeared on The Last Word.

  • For the Record ran no segments on the impact of voter suppression on the 2016 election.

Fewer than 30 percent of segments mentioned state-based efforts to suppress votes

Broadcast and cable news aired 160 segments highlighting state laws to roll back voting rights. Of the 561 segments on cable and broadcast news on voting rights over the past year, throughout over 2,500 hours of television, 160 segments, or 28.5 percent, highlighted state laws to roll back voting rights or suppress votes. According to the Brennan Center, there have been over 99 laws introduced in 31 states so far this year to curb voting rights. [Twitter, 7/22/17]

Broadcast news had merely 22 segments on state laws rolling back voting rights. State laws rolling back voting rights were featured in 22 out of 107 segments about voting rights or issues related to voting, or 20.6 percent, on broadcast news.

  • Of the 33 segments on ABC, four (or 12.1 percent) featured state laws to roll back voting rights.

  • Of the 42 segments on CBS, 11 (or 26.2 percent) featured state laws to roll back voting rights.

  • Of the 32 segments on NBC, seven (or 21.9 percent) featured state laws to roll back voting rights.

CNN featured 42 segments that discussed state laws to curb voting rights. Of the 189 segments CNN aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 42, or 22.2 percent, highlighted state laws to roll back voting rights or suppress votes.

  • Sixteen of those segments appeared on The Situation Room.

  • Thirteen appeared on Erin Burnett OutFront.

  • Seven appeared on Anderson Cooper 360.

  • Five appeared on CNN Tonight.

Fox News featured 39 segments that discussed state laws to curb voting rights. Of the 113 segments Fox News aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 39, or 34.5 percent, highlighted state laws to roll back voting rights or suppress votes.

  • One of these segments appeared on The Five.

  • Fifteen appeared on Special Report.

  • Six appeared on On the Record.

  • Two appeared on First 100 Days.

  • Eight appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • Three appeared on The O’Reilly Factor.

  • Three appeared on The Kelly File.

  • Two appeared on Hannity.

  • The Fox News Specialists and The Story ran no segments on state efforts to restrict voting.

MSNBC featured 57 segments that discussed state laws to curb voting rights. Of the 152 segments MSNBC aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 57, or 37.5 percent, highlighted state laws to roll back voting rights or suppress votes.

  • Five of these segments appeared on MTP Daily.

  • Eleven appeared on Hardball.

  • Twenty-one appeared on All In.

  • Sixteen appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show.

  • Four appeared on The Last Word.

  • For the Record ran no segments on state efforts to restrict voting.

Over 70 percent of segments on voting featured Trump’s debunked voter fraud accusations

Across all networks, 70.1 percent of segments on voting were about Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and noncitizen voting. Through 12 months of coverage, Media Matters identified 561 total segments on issues related to voting and voters rights. During the study period, 393 segments, or 70.1 percent of all segments, included at least one mention of President Donald Trump’s accusations of voter fraud and widespread noncitizen voting in the 2016 election, which have been repeatedly debunked. [PolitiFact, 10/17/16, 10/19/16, 10/24/16, 11/28/16, 11/28/16, 11/28/16, 11/29/16]

On broadcast news, Trump’s false claims were featured in 72 percent of segments on voting. Trump’s false claims about voter fraud and illegal voting were featured in 77 out of 107, or 72.0 percent, of broadcast segments on issues related to voting and voting rights.

  • Of the 33 segments on ABC, 27 (or 81.8 percent) mentioned Trump’s false claims.

  • Of the 42 segments on CBS, 26 (or 61.9 percent) mentioned Trump’s false claims.

  • Of the 32 segments on NBC, 24 (or 75.0 percent) mentioned Trump’s false claims.

Over 80 percent of segments on voting on CNN featured Trump’s debunked statements. Of the 189 segments CNN aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 158, or 83.6 percent, featured Trump’s debunked statements.

  • Sixty-seven of those segments appeared on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

  • Thirty appeared on Erin Burnett OutFront.

  • Forty-three appeared on Anderson Cooper 360.

  • Eighteen appeared on CNN Tonight.

Over half of segments on voting on Fox News featured Trump’s debunked statements. Of the 113 segments Fox News aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 64, or 56.6 percent, featured Trump’s debunked statements.

  • Four of those segments appeared on The Five.

  • Seventeen appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier.

  • Eight appeared on On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.

  • Three appeared on The First 100 Days.

  • Three appeared on The Story with Martha MacCallum.

  • Five appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • Eleven appeared on The O'Reilly Factor.

  • Nine appeared on The Kelly File.

  • Four appeared on Hannity.

  • The Fox News Specialists ran no segments featuring Trump’s debunked claims.

Over 60 percent of segments on voting on MSNBC featured Trump’s debunked statements. Of the 152 segments MSNBC aired on voting rights or issues related to voting, 94, or 61.8 percent, featured Trump’s debunked statements.

  • Twenty-one of those segments appeared on MTP Daily.

  • Five appeared on For the Record with Greta.

  • Twenty-three appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

  • Twenty-seven appeared on All In with Chris Hayes.

  • Eight appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show.

  • Ten appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

Methodology

Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.

For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that in which two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.

The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state-level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:

  • There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).

  • There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).

  • Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).

  • Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).

  • Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate).

  • Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).

  • Voter registration inaccuracies are the same as voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).

  • Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).

  • Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).

  • Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).

  • Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate).

Kelly Matthews, Gabby Miller, and Irissa Cisternino contributed to this report.

Graphs by Sarah Wasko

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.