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Opinion Bogus ‘suitcase’ story rolls away from Fox News

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, center, and members of his staff walk to a press conference at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 2. (Alyssa Pointer/AP)
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The Trump campaign and its hangers-on have amassed a dismal record when it comes to accuracy in election-fraud allegations. The campaign has filed dozens of lawsuits challenging one aspect or another of swing states’ ballot processing, only to see them crumble on account of thin evidence and bad lawyering. One of its erstwhile attorneys, Sidney Powell, connected Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president who died in 2013, to the vote-flipping conspiracy.

The Trump team “disavowed” her.

Shoddy, ragtag, worthless — those are some of the more charitable terms to describe the Trump effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Even so, it retains credibility on the precincts of Fox News that matter: the programs of prime-timers Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. On Thursday night, all three trafficked in a Trump campaign-promoted video alleging a massive instance of fraud on election night in Fulton County, Ga. Here’s that video:

The video — the star exhibit in a Thursday hearing of the Georgia Senate — depicts activity in a Fulton County elections-processing room at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The narration describes apocalyptic democracy-subverting maneuvers: A woman with “blond braids” sets up a black table at 8:22 a.m. on Election Day, says narrator Jacki Pick of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and workers subsequently pull “suitcases” out from under the table. “I saw four suitcases coming out from underneath the table,” says Pick. “So what are these ballots doing there, separate from all the other ballots, and why are they only counting them whenever the place is cleared out with no witnesses?” There were “multiple” scanning machines at the site, continues Pick, calculating that there was enough volume to account for the margin of victory.

Carlson — a guy who famously pronounced himself skeptical of Powell’s claims — laundered the “suitcase” story: “We’re going to show you a video you may have already seen today. It seems real. It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Carlson. After showing the video, Carlson riffed, “I mean, what the hell? We spent all day trying to find out exactly the context here. We reached out to officials in Fulton County, Georgia. They didn’t answer any of our specific questions about this footage. We’re going to keep pressing because again, that’s on tape. It is unbelievable. We know that fraud took place. We know ballots just kind of showed up in various places.”

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Hannity bit even harder: “In Georgia, look at this new surveillance footage we’ll be showing you. Mysterious suitcases potentially filled, we believe, with ballots rolled out from under a table after partisan election observers were asked to leave the room.”

And Ingraham couldn’t resist, either, as she quoted Pick saying, “They will wait until the witnesses over there, … the press and the observers, leave the room. Then you will see them move into action and begin scanning ballots. Once everyone is gone, the coast is clear. They’re going to pull the ballots out from underneath a table. Saw four suitcases coming out from underneath the table."

Anyone with a few years’ experience in municipal management knows: When you’re looking to steal an election, you place the suitcases under the table.

Of course, there’s another explanation, one offered on Friday by Fulton County Director of Registration and Elections Richard L. Barron: “According to my staff, that’s just normal," he said in a Friday meeting of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections. The room where those staffers were processing ballots wasn’t big enough for all their equipment plus the media, explained Barron.

Okay, but what about booting the observers, as Hannity alleged? “No one from my staff made an announcement for anyone to leave,” said Barron.

As to the conspiratorial thrill of calling the containers “suitcases”: “Those are bins,” said Barron.

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, tweeted that state investigators had watched hours of the video. “Shows normal ballot processing,” he wrote.

Frances Watson, chief investigator for the Georgia secretary of state, said the black bins were standard for election-processing activities. As to why election officials were pulling out the bins late on the evening of Nov. 3: They had stowed them away as they completed work for the evening. Then they received orders to continue their work — so they grabbed the bins and scanned the ballots inside of them.

The “suitcase” hatchet job is following the same arc as many Trump conspiracies at Fox News: Credulous, pro-Trump propaganda on the opinion hours, checked by actual reporting from the news side of the network. A story on, for instance, details the refutations of top Georgia officials, right below embedded video of Hannity and the tagline: “Hannity: New video shows suspicious activity in Nevada, Georgia.” The juxtaposition yields a screenshot that encapsulates the central Trump-era conflict at Fox News:

Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins reported the denials of Georgia officials throughout Friday.

You know something? Neither Tucker Carlson nor Sean Hannity has the most minimal idea of what election fraud might look like on surveillance video. And they’re not alone: We here at the Erik Wemple Blog don’t either, and we’ll guess that 99 percent of our peers in journalism share this ignorance. Elections are managed by local governments — they all have their procedures, their checklists, their technologies, their bureaucratic quirks, their standard operating procedures.

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Without knowing those procedures, it’s pretty tough to identify a fraudulent departure from them. Never underestimate guys like Carlson and Hannity, though — they are election-procedure hobbyists. They know suitcase-abetted fraud when they see it. No need to investigate much further.

In a follow-up on his Friday night program, Carlson showcased that cockiness, caring not a whit that the presence of “suitcases” had been amply debunked. “Last night we showed you surveillance footage shot from inside the State Farm Arena in Atlanta on election night, Nov. 3," said Carlson. “The tape appears to show poll workers retrieving suitcases full of ballots from underneath a table and doing that well past midnight. Keep in mind poll watchers were told to go home at around 10:30 p.m. What was that? It looks like fraud. So we asked.”

The answer — that this was “normal ballot processing” — didn’t please Carlson.

People interested in “good government,” said Carlson, should want to know more about this situation. Carlson himself read a number of such questions that, he said, were supplied by a lawyer “involved in the Trump legal effort, but any person who thought about it for 10 minutes could have come up with them."

“We’re going to keep pressing till we find out," said Carlson.

Good job, investigative ace Tucker Carlson — the same fellow who recently apologized for falsely claiming that a dead man voted in this same state. Questions, of course, are wonderful. But perhaps it would be best to collect all the answers before saying things like, “It looks like fraud.”

Read more from Erik Wemple:

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