2018 midterm elections | Media Matters for America

2018 midterm elections

Tags ››› 2018 midterm elections
  • Chuck Todd falsely claims both parties engage in antidemocratic power grabs like the GOP did in Wisconsin. There’s no evidence of that.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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.

  • Three ways Fox News reacted -- or didn’t -- to news of election fraud in North Carolina

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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:

    Drawing false parallels  

    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.)  

    Ignoring that the alleged election fraud possibly benefited the Republican candidate 

    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.

    Ignoring the story altogether

    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.

  • Despite an obsession with “voter fraud,” Fox News has virtually ignored possible election fraud in North Carolina 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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.

  • Anti-abortion ballot measures based on right-wing misinformation are a threat to reproductive health

    With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, West Virginia's and Alabama’s new state constitutional amendments could further restrict abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Election Day, voters in Alabama and West Virginia passed amendments that will not only codify anti-choice misinformation in their state constitutions, but will also place further restrictions on abortion access. Anti-abortion advocates portrayed the measures as harmless and unlikely to impact abortion rights. However, the amendments are actually part of a long-term strategy to end abortion access in these states should the Supreme Court -- now with a newly minted Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- eliminate federal abortion protections by overturning Roe v. Wade.

    West Virginia’s Amendment 1 added language to the state's constitution declaring, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Alabama’s Amendment 2 featured almost identical language, but also included a requirement that the state’s “public policy” is “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life” -- a subtle way of asserting the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception.

    Before the midterm elections, anti-abortion advocates in Alabama and West Virginia depicted the amendments as innocuous measures, and criticized what they viewed as hysterical prognosticating from pro-choice advocates about their dangers. Several representatives of Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama wrote in an op-ed that they had “watched with outraged disbelief the absurd attacks that Planned Parenthood is hurling at Amendment Two,” and asserted that such characterizations of the amendment were based in “lies” and “distortions.” Similarly, Yes on 1, the anti-abortion campaign in West Virginia, said that opponents of the measure had “some hysterical claims about what will happen when Amendment 1 passes.” Right-wing media and abortion opponents also deployed this tactic when Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by painting pro-choice advocates predicting that he would overturn or restrict Roe as emotional and delusional. However, many of those same abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a step toward that very goal.

    Anti-abortion groups in both states pushed similar misinformation about their respective constitutional amendments before Election Day. Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama sent out a so-called “Myth Busters Memo” attempting to debunk claims from pro-choice groups that the state’s amendment would “outlaw all abortions without exceptions” and prohibit certain types of fertility treatment. Yes on 1 similarly whitewashed the West Virginia amendment, alleging that it was not a threat to abortion access because “no rights will be taken away” with its passage.

    In reality, both of these amendments are dangerous because both could be enforced to prohibit all abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. As Lauren Holter explained for Rewire.News, the West Virginia amendment “does not include exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or threats to the pregnant person’s life,” and Alabama’s amendment “could lead to the criminalization of some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization" because it establishes the standard of "personhood" upon conception.

    West Virginia and Alabama are not the first states to pass anti-abortion constitutional amendments, and their common language stems from a previous state amendment pushed by anti-abortion groups in Tennessee. Pacific Standard described that “pro-life legal tactic” as “the culmination of a decade-long battle against abortion rights,” and noted that since it was passed in 2014, “Tennessee has again implemented 48-hour waiting periods, a ban on public funding, and a ban on abortion after viability.”

    West Virginia’s The Register-Herald spoke with Jessica Arons, senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom at the American Civil Liberties Union:

    Arons sees West Virginia’s ballot measure as “‘one piece of the puzzle”’ in a national strategy by anti-abortion activists to enact laws that sound reasonable, but when you take a closer look, make it harder to access abortion.

    "They make it sound like they’re just trying to protect women’s health and safety, but the reality is they’ve been designed to cut off access to care and to shame and harass women for seeking abortion services," she said.

    The ending of Medicaid-funded abortion in West Virginia would be the “immediate impact,” Arons said, “but the proponents of this measure, again, they’re playing the long game.”

    Enacting anti-choice restrictions under the guise of protecting patients’ health is a longstanding right-wing tactic for eliminating abortion access. As part of this strategy, anti-abortion advocates frequently couch anti-choice restrictions aimed at banning or limiting abortion access in neutral or seemingly helpful language, such as burdensome and unnecessary clinic regulations disguised as safety precautions, but with the true purpose of closing clinics. This tactic was quickly picked up by right-wing media who lament abortion as unsafe -- despite the fact that having an abortion is an incredibly safe and normal part of health care.

    Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, told Glamour’s Macaela Mackenzie that West Virginia’s amendment “is something that we consider to be discriminatory, something that targets people of color and people with lower incomes and discriminates against people based on the insurance coverage that people have.” Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described how West Virginia’s amendment in particular makes it easier for the state legislature to pass anti-abortion legislation, in addition to its “immediate ramifications” for those on Medicaid, who will “lose their ability to access funding for abortion care.”

    Cauterucci also noted that in West Virginia, which still has an unenforced pre-Roe ban on abortion on the books, the new amendment “would, in concert, criminalize abortion providers as felons if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.” This could also prove true in Alabama, as Rewire.News’ Imani Gandy forewarned:

    Prosecutors in Alabama could, technically, begin enforcing an abortion ban immediately. They don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe. Prosecutors could begin charging abortion providers for performing abortions under the state’s pre-Roe ban, testing the willingness of state court judges to defy federal law and let those cases proceed.

    The midterm elections resulted in several Democratic flips of governorships and legislatures that could potentially protect and even expand abortion access. However, those gains are of little comfort to people who need abortion access in West Virginia and Alabama, or to those in other states that are also vulnerable to further anti-choice restrictions and media misinformation from anti-abortion advocates.

  • Fox & Friends contradicts itself on Florida vote count

    Guest co-host Katie Pavlich falsely states vote count deadline has passed minutes after reporter correctly says Florida law allows four days after election for vote tallies

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends contradicted itself within five minutes in a report on the ongoing process of tallying the votes from the 2018 Florida Senate race between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott. Guest co-host Katie Pavlich parroted Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) debunked smear that “the early voting numbers that were in on Sunday were -- they’re all supposed to be … counted on Tuesday by Florida law standards,” suggesting election officials were circumventing the law in an attempt to change the results of the election. But, literally minutes prior to Pavlich’s spurious claim, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins correctly noted that Florida officials “have until noon” on Saturday, November 10, “to submit their unofficial vote totals.”

    From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    GRIFF JENKINS (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): Now, under Florida law, any race with a margin of half a percent or less automatically goes to a recount. Attorney Mark Elias, now representing [Sen. Bill] Nelson, said this, he says, “We’re doing this not just because it's automatic, but we are doing it to win.”

    And in the race for governor there, also in the razor-thin majority -- recount territory, rather, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis leads Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by more than 36,000 votes, or .4 percent -- .44 percent. Gillum, who conceded the race to DeSantis on Tuesday night, indicated through his lawyers that they're also gearing up for a fight.

    Now, Florida has 67 counties, they all have until noon tomorrow to submit their unofficial vote totals. One thing is for sure, It's good to be an attorney for election law in Florida in November.

    ...

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Here’s the thing, and this is the reason that Rick Scott has sued Palm Beach and Broward County. Suddenly, mysteriously, apparently Broward County is finding more ballots. Now, how is that?

    KATIE PAVLICH (GUEST CO-HOST): All of a sudden.

    PAVLICH: The other issue here, in terms of legal problem, is the early voting numbers that were in on Sunday were -- they’re all supposed to be voted by Tuesday -- or counted on Tuesday by Florida law standards, and yet, here we are getting to the weekend, and those early totals are still being counted in Broward County.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): They were busy.

    PAVLICH: Very busy.