Others rallied to the president’s defense. Newsmax, the TV and digital-commentary outlet that has backed Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud since he began making them, gave the Georgia story extensive coverage, largely casting it as a legitimate exercise of presidential power.
“Trump Ga. Transcript Shows Case for Vote Fraud, President Acted Properly,” was the headline on one of Newmax’s stories.
Among mainstream news outlets — CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, The Washington Post — Trump’s captured-on-audiotape call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was big news, dominating opinion and as well as news coverage, and reflecting various shades of alarm about the president’s blatant efforts to undermine a result that has survived court challenges and been certified by the state.
It was, in short, another reflection of two media realities — one in which Trump’s actions are rationalized or ignored, another in which the same facts are treated as matters of grave concern.
The Washington Post broke the news Sunday afternoon that Trump had called Raffensperger on Saturday and buffeted him for more than an hour with demands for a “recalculation” of the Nov. 3 election in the state. Trump, who lost Georgia to Joe Biden by more than 11,000 votes, repeated a series of debunked and discredited conspiracy theories about why the state’s count was allegedly tainted. He suggested Raffensperger, and a state attorney on the call, Ryan Germany, could be “at risk” if they didn’t “find” enough votes to declare him the winner.
Raffensperger and Germany listened patiently but rejected Trump’s arguments, telling him at various junctures that his claims had been investigated and that his information was “inaccurate.”
The Post later posted a leaked audio recording of the call, which documented Trump’s most vigorous effort to date to overturn a democratic election.
The Post’s lead story on its website Monday carried the headline “Trump pressures GOP official in Ga. to ‘find’ votes.” It was accompanied by a timeline of updates (“11:06 AM: Did Trump break the law in his call to Georgia’s secretary of state? Some lawyers say yes.”)
The New York Times devoted a quarter of its homepage to the story. One news-analysis piece telegraphed its thrust in a sub-headline: “President Trump’s effort to overturn the election he lost has gone beyond mere venting of grievances at the risk of damaging the very American democracy he is charged with defending.”
The story was prominent, if not dominant, in regional mainstream news sources, too. The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, for example, both played the story prominently on their websites, though below extensive coverage of the coronavirus’ local impact.
Fox News — once Trump’s favorite channel but which he has recently blasted for not sufficiently rallying to his cause — discussed it on its morning “Fox & Friends” broadcast, where Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) ventured the mild criticism that the call was not “helpful,” particularly on the eve of the runoff vote in Georgia.
But in a later interview on Fox, Republican Sen. David Perdue tried to turn the tables calling it“disgusting” that a private conversation involving the president was leaked. He added, “I didn’t hear anything in that tape that the president . . . hasn’t already said for weeks now since the November election.”
Anchor Sandra Smith challenged Perdue: “Perhaps then you’re not seeing what [constitutional scholar] Jonathan Turley saw when he said it was absolutely breathtaking to hear the president [say he wanted] to find the 11,780 votes.” She asked Perdue for his reaction to the actual contents of the call. Perdue replied that “something untoward happened here in Georgia, and we have not gotten to the bottom of it.”
As the day wore on, the story waxed and waned. Fox featured reports about the Georgia Senate runoff race, the upcoming electoral challenge by congressional Republicans, rising gun sales, and even the latest round of firings of NFL coaches.
Other Fox personalities pushed back against the leaking of the call. “It feels like somebody in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office wants Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to lose,” said Fox Business Network anchor Dagen McDowell, referencing the GOP incumbents whose runoff elections on Tuesday will determine the majority in the Senate.
Breitbart, once headed by former Trump campaign chairman and adviser Stephen K. Bannon, largely ignored the Georgia story. Its lead at mid-morning Monday was: “Franklin Graham: If Progressives Rule, ‘We Won’t Even Recognize This Nation.’” It also had a story about weekend violence in Chicago, a familiar Breitbart topic.
The Daily Caller, formerly owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, similarly seemed to shift its readers’ attention. Its top headline on Monday mid-morning: “It Took Six Months Of Rioting, Millions In Property Damage For Portland Mayor To Escalate Law Enforcement Efforts Against Antifa.”
Another prominent story carried the headline, “The New York Jets Announce Major Head Coaching News. Will Fans Like The Move?”
The Caller later posted several reaction stories, including one reporting that “key” Republican senators weren’t commenting about the call and another about a testy exchange between Fox News host Martha MacCallum and Raffensperger about whether he approved the release of the phone recording.
This story has been updated to reflect media coverage that emerged later on Monday.
Jeremy Barr contributed to this story.