Fox News pushes Georgia “suitcase” conspiracy theory before — and after — Fox debunked it

Fox News is hyping a video of election workers supposedly counting “suitcases” of ballots in off hours as a serious allegation of voter fraud, even though Fox News has also reported that these allegations are “simply not true.”

Since December 3, Fox News has been promoting a surveillance video of a polling site in Georgia, which allegedly shows Democratic election workers counting ballots from suitcases after hours, while their Republican counterparts were absent. The video, originally presented by the Trump campaign to the Georgia Senate, was hyped on Fox’s December 3 prime-time shows and on the following day’s morning show, Fox & Friends. Although a correspondent reported that these allegations are “simply not true,” the following “straight news” show, America’s Newsroom, continued to cover the debunked claim as evidence that supposedly raised serious questions about election integrity.

On The Five, Fox host Jesse Watters aired the video at the top of the show, with Fox “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum saying that it sounded “very suspicious.”

Tucker Carlson then aired the video on his December 3 show, claiming that it “appears to show poll workers pulling ballots out of suitcases after they told people to go home.” Carlson added, “That's on tape and it's unbelievable.”

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Citation From the December 3, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight

Next, Sean Hannity said Trump “has every right to be concerned” because of “evidence” from “real whistleblowers, one witness who claimed vote counting continued even after partisan observers were forced to leave the room. This is called evidence, for those of you in the mob. … Several large, mysterious suitcases -- yeah, they believe filled with ballots -- were rolled out from under a table.” Hannity also invited several of the “whistleblowers” on the show to re-air their claims.

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Citation From the December 3, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Hannity

On her show, Laura Ingraham called the testimony “incredibly eye-opening” and told Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in an interview that “in the middle of the night, they kick the observers out, then they went back and kept looking at ballots. They’re finding them under the tables. I mean, this is like a banana republic, and people -- I'm telling you what people are saying about it.” Kemp replied, “I completely understand.”   

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Citation From the December 3, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle

The morning after, on Fox & Friends, reporter Griff Jenkins mentioned that the secretary of state’s office “found nothing” to these claims -- but the co-hosts seemingly dismissed, or didn’t even hear, his point, concluding that “it’s pretty hard to dispute that there’s something going on that needs some explanation,” and noting that “one lady [at the Trump campaign hearing] said, ‘I could have rolled out one of those suitcases in the loading dock, thrown it in my car, and no one would have known.’”

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Citation From the December 4, 2020, edition of Fox News Fox & Friends

Later on Fox & Friends, Jenkins delivered a more conclusive report after speaking to “a senior source in the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger’s office, a Republican,” who said that there were designated observers present the entire time. He said the source had “seen this video and they’re familiar with the claims; they said that they’re simply not true. The suggestion that Georgia vote counters were sent home and ballots were brought in in suitcases, also not true. And that what appears is reported as suitcases are actually the normal containers that ballots are put in.”

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Citation From the December 4, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends

Over on Fox Business, anchor Maria Bartiromo hyped the video during two separate interviews with Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis.

The following “news” division show, America’s Newsroom, featured another segment on the topic, with Jenkins reporting that these allegations had been investigated and found to be unfounded. But it was immediately followed by an interview in which anchor Sandra Smith promoted the above Hannity segment, and the Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn said that “Sean’s right, in the sense that it raises real concerns” about the election. McGurn acknowledged that “Georgia officials say they have investigated and they didn't find anything untoward. Let’s hear their explanation for it.”

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Citation From the December 4, 2020, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

The story has been further debunked as well. Republican Gabriel Sterling, who is Georgia's voting system implementation manager, told Lead Stories on December 3 that “If you look at the video tape, the work you see is the work you would expect, which is you take the sealed suitcase looking things in, you place the ballots on the scanner in manageable batches and you scan them.” Sterling also has said as much on Facebook.

Furthermore, Francis Watson, chief investigator for the Georgia secretary of state, told Lead Stories that “There wasn't a bin that had ballots in it under that table. It was an empty bin and the ballots from it were actually out on the table when the media were still there, and then it was placed back into the box when the media were still there and placed next to the table.” Watson added that the “cutters” were free to return, saying, “Nobody told them to stay. Nobody told them to leave. Nobody gave them any advice on what they should do. And It was still open for them or the public to come back in to view at whatever time they wanted to, as long as they were still working.”

The entire Lead Stories post is worth reading; here is the summary: 

Two high-level officials with the Georgia secretary of state's office and a state elections board monitor each told Lead Stories that their investigations revealed nothing suspicious in the video. The officials said the ballots seen in the video were in regular ballot containers -- not suitcases -- and they had been removed from their envelopes and processed while news media and election observers for the Republican Party and Trump campaign were present. The media and party observers were never told to leave because counting was over for the night, but they apparently followed workers who left once their job of opening envelopes was completed, the chief investigator for the secretary of state told Lead Stories. The observers were free to return at anytime, she said. Georgia law allows observers, but does not require them to be there for ballots to be counted, she said.

Georgia Public Broadcasting has also debunked the claim, and reporter Stephen Flower noted that Fulton County Elections Director explained why the video is misinformation.

Fox News' rush to amplify this video — even while it has been conclusively debunked — shows just how much the network is feeling the heat from its even further right challengers.

Update (12/4/2020 8:15 p.m.): On the December 4 edition of Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, guest host Trace Gallagher questioned the fact-checking process of the Georgia suitcase video:

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Citation From the December 4, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum