Fox News, the network that avidly promoted President Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the election results, is now almost silent on a major story from over the weekend: the reports in both The New York Times and Axios that Trump is flirting with martial law.
The news outlets reported over the weekend that Trump met with conspiracy theorist attorney Sidney Powell and his disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, with Trump pondering whether to seize voting machines for examination, and perhaps even to appoint Powell as a special counsel to investigate the election.
Powell has at times divided even parts of right-wing media with her theories about an international conspiracy of South American communists, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and computer servers in Europe all coming together to change the election results. Flynn has been publicly calling for Trump to impose martial law in order to nullify the election, telling Newsmax last week that “within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities, and he could place them in those states and basically re-run an election in each of those states.”
Outgoing Attorney General Bill Barr, who stated earlier this month that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that would shift the election result, also reaffirmed to reporters on Monday: “If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one. But I haven't, and I'm not going to.”
But over the weekend, the whole topic got scant discussion on Fox News. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked only one question about the Times report to President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in the context of questioning whether Biden believed that Trump had committed an “abuse of power” in contesting the election.
In response, Psaki largely brushed off the topic, trying to focus instead on important issues facing the Biden administration such as the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment. “We know that he has tried to challenge the results of the election. They were certified this last week,” Psaki said.
The story got some more discussion on Fox’s Sunday show MediaBuzz, which treated it as a media story, not as a live controversy about the sitting president of the United States and his ongoing attempts to overturn his defeat in the election.
Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway noted of the reports that “President Trump tweeted last night, I believe, that that was fake news. So you have it from the horse's mouth., But she also added that the media ought to be covering what she thought were genuine questions about the election.
“This is one of the things where the media have spent the last four years running false and defamatory stories using anonymous sources. They are not held accountable when those stories do not turn out to be true,” Hemingway said. “But again, there are legitimate stories here that could be covered by a credible media that wasn't so partisan in how they handle things. There are very legitimate concerns about this very sloppy election.”
And finally on Sunday, Trump’s Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith mentioned denials of the story as one brief headline read during an appearance on Fox Report with Jon Scott — along with mentioning Trump’s continued legal challenges to the election. “But this is also very clear, Jon, that the president plans to keep on fighting this thing until the very end,” he said.
However, the cause of rejecting the democratic process and seizing election equipment received further promotion Monday morning on Fox Business, when anchor Maria Bartiromo hosted White House trade adviser Peter Navarro to promote his new report claiming election theft occurred in six swing states.
Forbes reporter Joe Walsh wrote Thursday that Navarro’s report “hinges on debunked allegations that have largely been rejected when raised in court,” while Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump bluntly declared, “This might be the most embarrassing document created by a White House staffer.”
Bartiromo has been a major promoter of Powell’s conspiracy theories, as well as the rest of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. She agreed with Navarro’s suggestions that the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia need to be postponed and that a special counsel should be appointed to seize voting machines.
Just to be clear, Navarro’s references to Antrim County, Michigan, involve an elaborate conspiracy theory that has been built on top of an election night reporting error that genuinely did occur in the small Republican county, resulting from what was in essence a botched spreadsheet merger from across its precincts. The data collection error was soon discovered and fixed. Far from demonstrating that the vote-counting machines had a “68% inaccuracy rate,” a hand count completed last week showed a net gain of only 12 votes for Trump in comparison to the corrected spreadsheets and the original precinct results.
In addition, the “cyber-surveillance company” described by Navarro, called Allied Security Operations Group, is an affiliate of Everylegalvote.com, which has also published material associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory. The author of the group’s private “audit” of the county has also committed a number of other errors in election cases, including mixing up voter turnout and population numbers between Michigan and the smaller state of Minnesota.
One last point: The election results have been certified in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the Electoral College members voted last week to formalize Biden’s victory. At this point, appointing a conspiracy theorist as special counsel to seize voting equipment would sow continued paranoia about the election results — which Fox has already helped to do — but it could not alter any vote numbers from an election that’s already over. It would only have a similar effect on the health of the American body politic as when Wile E. Coyote’s traps spring back on him, after the Road Runner has already sprinted off into the distance.