Fox’s purported “straight news” side delivered a segment Wednesday on a major story from the night before — the failed attempt by Republican canvassing board members in Wayne County, Michigan, to block certification of the votes from the majority-minority city of Detroit — falsely presenting it as a legitimate story about supposed voter fraud.
The segment on America’s Newsroom was of a piece with other recent Fox “news” coverage, in which the whole network has encouraged President Donald Trump’s attempts to defy the election results and to push conspiracy theories about the victory by President-elect Joe Biden.
In the Detroit case, the local Republican canvassing board members took the seemingly unprecedented step of refusing to certify the vote totals, citing as their official reason the presence of discrepancies in precinct poll books as to voters who had signed in compared to the number of votes cast. After a public outcry, they soon reversed course and agreed to the certification in addition to a request for the state to conduct an official audit of the affected precincts.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the total discrepancies in Detroit add up to just an estimated 387 total votes out of roughly 250,000 total votes in the city, with most individual precincts reporting errors of fewer than four votes each. Election officials told the paper that the most likely explanations come from a voter’s file not being properly updated to show that they had returned an absentee ballot, or if some absentee ballots were placed into the wrong precinct containers — none of which involve fraudulent votes being cast but are instead minor clerical errors with legitimate ballots.
Fox News co-anchor Sandra Smith opened the November 18 segment on this whole story, however, by asserting that “new claims of voter fraud” had been “pushed aside in Michigan.”
“It all began with the county board of canvassers deadlocked,” co-anchor Trace Gallagher explained, “after finding more than 70% of precinct poll books out of balance — mostly in Detroit — meaning there were differences between the number of ballots cast, and the number of recorded voters. The Republican board members finally caving after receiving assurances of an audit.”
At no point did the segment note either the tiny fraction of ballots actually involved or the explanations given by election officials.
Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins echoed Gallagher’s wording that the Republican board members were “caving in” after accusations of partisanship and racism from Democratic officials. Jenkins also repeated an assertion by Trump that the board members had been “threatened” into passing the certification. (The accusation had also circulated on fringe right-wing media posts.)
Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis had also appeared Tuesday on Fox News @ Night, during which both Ellis and Fox anchor Shannon Bream claimed that the board members had received threats. During the interview, Ellis called the situation “mob rule” and declared that “the state of Michigan absolutely should not certify their false results until we get to the bottom of the systematic and pervasive fraud.”
Similarly to Wednesday’s coverage, neither the slim extent of the discrepancies nor the offered explanations were provided to Fox viewers.
During the brief window of time when the Republican board members were refusing to certify the results, Ellis had tweeted out a game plan in which the entire state would be unable to certify the votes and then its majority-Republican legislature might select a new slate of pro-Trump electors — a path that is also reportedly the strategy of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. (However, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, had tweeted that her office and the state canvassing board would ultimately have certified the Wayne County results, if necessary.)
Fox News online coverage of the story also led with the idea of the Republican canvassing board members being “pressured into approval” on the certification, after they were “called racists.”
The board’s Republican chair, Monica Palmer, had also suggested during the meeting that she would be open to certifying results from Wayne County towns outside of Detroit — that is, from the suburbs — but not from the city itself. (On this point, The Detroit News pointed out that other municipalities in the county also had similar discrepancies in their absentee poll books.)
Palmer’s suggestion has led to widespread public accusations of racism and the attempted suppression of minority voters. At the same time, scrutiny has also been focused on social media posts by William Hartmann, the other Republican canvassing board member, containing a number of conspiracy theories, misinformation about voter fraud, and racist caricatures of former President Barack Obama.