In recent days, pro-Trump media figures and Republican lawmakers have tried to justify the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the president’s electoral loss on the basis that there are many people who believe it was rigged. Needless to say, this is absurd.
On Wednesday, when Congress meets to count the electoral votes, more than 100 House Republicans and a dozen Republican senators plan to object to the tally. The event, which is usually just a formality, represents a last-ditch effort to keep Trump in power following dozens of failed and baseless lawsuits. Right-wing media, especially Fox, have been bolstering Republican efforts with persistent coverage about supposed election fraud.
“This is how I feel,” said Fox News host Will Cain during the January 5 edition of Fox & Friends about the factually unsupported doubts over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. “I think Americans, I think Republicans, conservatives, can be forgiven for their skepticism, because whether or not an election was rigged, it certainly feels like society is rigged right now. ... You start to think, if not an election, the entire society is rigged against people who hold my values.”
A day earlier, on January 4, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt defended Republican efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump by saying that “people who are staunch conservatives in our country just feel so -- just so defeated because of this election. They do feel like it was rigged.”
On January 2, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins asked Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) whether Republicans have “perhaps a duty and really a reason to object” because there are “tens of millions of Americans that have questions about the integrity of the presidential election.”
On Fox Report with Jon Scott the same day, host Jon Scott cited a December Fox poll that found more than a third of registered voters “believe that there was fraud in this presidential election and they believe that it was essentially stolen from President Trump.”
Cain interviewed Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) during the January 2 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, during which she defended her plan to try to block certification of the Electoral College votes by saying that “about 75 million Americans … have questions” about the validity of the vote totals.
“It's not just Trump supporters,” Blackburn continued. “You've got independents, you've got Democrats that question election integrity because they have heard from people about how ballots were mailed out, how processes were put in place, they have seen videos that have caused them trouble, and then they have also heard about areas where they’ve had more ballots than they had registered voters. This deserves our attention in order to preserve the integrity of the system.”
They are correct in the sense that yes, there certainly is a sizable portion of the electorate that falsely believes Trump was the actual winner of the election, but what’s missing in this analysis is the question of how they came to believe that in the first place.
Fox News has been a cesspool of electoral disinformation, which explains why so many of its viewers believe total fabrications about voter fraud and election integrity.
On November 4, the morning after the election, Fox host Maria Bartiromo suggested that the Trump administration should use “policing” to stop Philadelphia from finishing its vote count. Her guest, Trump 2020 pollster Jim McLaughlin, spent the interview claiming that there was an attempt to “steal this thing.” (As a key swing state, Pennsylvania’s slow shift to Biden as votes were tallied in the days following the election represented Trump’s weakening grip on power. With Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia flipping to Biden, Trump’s defenders pinned their electoral hopes on the Keystone State.)
Others on Fox have made similar calls to “do everything to try to prevent” Pennsylvania from getting an accurate vote count or have the Supreme Court toss Pennsylvania votes altogether. On his Fox and radio show, host Sean Hannity called the election corrupt, said it was “an absolute disgrace” that votes in Pennsylvania were being counted after the Election Day, claimed that a “do-over” in the state was “the only remedy,” said that “there’s good reason here not to have confidence or not to believe this is fair,” asked how anybody could trust the election results, demanded that mail-in voting be abolished, and baselessly bellowed that there is “no doubt this was stolen.”
Since Election Day, Fox has been on the front line of Trump’s attack on democracy, repeatedly amplifying Trump’s lies about the election while downplaying fact checks and efforts to strongarm elected officials into altering the vote totals in Trump’s favor. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs has called on Trump to take “drastic action” to overturn the results, accused then-Attorney General Bill Barr of being “compromised” by “the deep state,” and warned that there “will not be a quiet surrender” if the results aren’t overturned.
Fox viewers have been bombarded with messages baselessly telling them that the election was stolen, so of course they’re going to believe it. Though it is by no means the only offender -- Rush Limbaugh, Newsmax, One America News, and right-wing blogs have all contributed to the questions -- it is a key player in the disinformation wars being waged against our democracy.
It doesn’t matter if 100% of Trump’s voters “feel” like the election was “stolen” from him, because it wasn’t.
Right-wing media figures have a tendency to make bold fact-free statements about bias against conservatives backed up by nothing more than their own feelings. In classic examples of conservatives “working the refs,” they have railed for decades against supposed liberal bias in the media to nudge mainstream news outlets to the right in hopes of quelling conservative anger. More recently, they’ve repeatedly claimed that social media is somehow biased against conservatives, which multiple studies have shown simply is not true. They’ve also endlessly shouted about conservative speech being squelched on college campuses, but it’s a problem that actually affects people with left-leaning views just as much.
People in right-wing media have learned that contrary to what a certain “cool kid’s philosopher” says, feelings have been a pretty powerful weapon when facts aren’t on their side.
None of that is reason to overturn an election. In fact, it’s concerning that this strategy of complaining about imaginary bias has been so successful that they think it should be enough to gum up the gears of democracy.
On November 12, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency published a joint statement from the members of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee:
The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result.
When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.
No matter how anybody feels about it, the fact remains that Trump lost fair and square.