With Election Day looming, the expert consensus is that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is in a strong position, with President Donald Trump needing to catch a number of breaks to win. But Fox News’ propagandists are making it sound like the president is the odds-on favorite, priming their audience to attribute any defeat to Democratic fraud.
Fox’s effort is a necessary -- if not sufficient -- step toward enacting Trump’s openly touted plan to try to steal the election (if it is close enough to do so) by preventing the counting of ballots legally cast for Biden. And even if the network fails to keep Trump in the White House, its reckless disinformation could raise tensions to feverish heights, potentially leading to political violence.
Fox’s election coverage over the past 24 hours has revolved around presenting anecdotal evidence that favors a Trump win as superior to polling data pointing to a likely Biden victory.
On Sunday afternoon, a Trump campaign aide denounced Fox’s pollster, whose final offering of the cycle shows a substantial Biden lead, to no pushback from the network’s anchor. The network’s prime-time offerings were filled with chyrons touting “HUGE ENTHUSIASM FOR TRUMP DESPITE CONFLICTING POLLS,” the “MASSIVE CROWDS” at Trump’s rallies, and the “ENTHUSIASM GAP” between the candidates, while claiming that “BIDEN’S BATTLEGROUND LEAD EVAPORATES.”
And throughout Monday morning’s Fox & Friends, network hosts deployed to swing-state diners reported near-universal Trump support from their patrons, and suggested that this was a better way to assess the election than polling numbers showing Biden favored in those states.
“If we are to believe the polls, President Trump is having some trouble with suburban women. What do you say to that?” Fox’s Will Cain asked a diner patron during one such segment. “If the media has not been honest with us in so many things -- except for Fox -- why would we believe this? I think it's going to be a red tsunami,” she replied.
The message from Fox is quite clear: Trump is going to win, and if he doesn’t, the reason is because of voter fraud by Democrats.
The Insider Advantage guy makes the same lie: “We have to worry about the sort of playing with the ballots and the like in Pennsylvania”
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 2, 2020
Under normal circumstances, a major cable news network drastically misinforming its audience about the prospects of their chosen candidate’s chances might spark something between mirth and sadness. But these are not normal circumstances. The Trump campaign has for months been openly telegraphing that its narrow path to victory relies on a massive campaign of voter intimidation, suppression, and disenfranchisement. And Fox’s eagerness to serve as a pro-Trump state TV outlet is a key part of that effort.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States. But Trump and his Fox propagandists have spent much of the year baselessly warning that the election has been “rigged” by Democrats planning to “steal” it, particularly through the expanded use of mail-in voting.
Republicans are using this voter fraud conspiracy theory as cover to suppress the Democratic vote. They have tried to block efforts to make it easier to vote safely during the pandemic. Under the leadership of one of Trump’s major donors, the U.S. Postal Service has slowed down mail delivery, likely keeping some ballots from arriving by state deadlines. Republican poll watchers and election lawyers are preparing to target individual votes in Democratic strongholds, challenging voters at the polls and disputing the legitimacy of mailed ballots. GOP operatives are poised to tape and release decontextualized videos of poll operations in hopes of generating chaos.
Trump himself reportedly plans to prematurely declare victory on Tuesday night if he appears to be leading and launch a legal blitz against counting the legally-cast ballots that might reverse the outcome -- even though Republicans have ensured that counts of mail-in ballots in some key states can’t begin until Wednesday.
None of this is subtle, and none of it has been hidden. It amounts to a recipe for an election crisis, deliberately manufactured by the president and his party in hopes of creating enough chaos to retain power without the support of the voters. And Fox’s propaganda is a necessary ingredient. As the news source the president’s supporters listen to, it can convince them that Democrats are trying to steal the election and rally them to take direct action in response. As the news source the president listens to, it can provide fodder for him to spin out in pursuit of his goal.
The Republican plot is a dire threat to the republic, but its success is by no means a fait accompli. For it to work, Trump needs a number of things to fall into place, including for the election results to be relatively close. But none of it is possible without Fox convincing its audience that Trump is actually winning, in spite of all available evidence to the contrary.