Ainsley Earhardt, a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” was taken with how many folks believe the sorts of claims that Trump tossed at Raffensperger.
Here’s the question that a lot of people are asking: If there is a question about the votes and if they think that it was rigged, and many people do believe that, then we need investigations, and we need to know that our votes count, that our — votes were legal, and we need to find out where the problems are so we can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future because if these Democrats, if they win Georgia, people fear that from here on out, there are going to be mail-in votes, which we don’t trust now because the president doesn’t trust it and we all have heard these stories of people getting four ballots and two of them were dead people. And so you have to have trust and integrity in the system; it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we should all want that. And with so many people questioning what’s happening, an investigation — many of these Republicans just want it investigated.
Stripped of context, Earhardt’s assessment is accurate: People are indeed distrustful of the election results and trust in the system is indeed important. With context, however, Earhardt misleads by omission: It’s her network, after all, that’s playing a leading role in spreading misinformation about the 2020 presidential election.
Prime-time host Sean Hannity has led the pack, using his highly rated program to bolster any allegation of voter fraud that the Trump campaign has cared to advance. “We saw blatant election-law violations in state after state,” said Hannity a week after the election. Night after night, he invited White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany onto his show, so that his viewers could hear unfiltered distortions about the election right from the source. Wherever there was a flimsy suggestion, an affidavit alleging an irregularity or a prospective lawsuit, there was Hannity attempting to will Trump into another term in the White House.
Other conspiracy pushers in the Fox family include Lou Dobbs (who scolded White House adviser Stephen Miller for insufficient gusto in pushing the voter-fraud case) Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. The Fox News and Fox Business crews have done such enterprising work in spreading election nonsense that they’ve drawn legal threats from two companies — Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems — claiming that several of the broadcasts have defamed the companies.
A survey by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found that just about a quarter of Republicans trust in the accuracy of the 2020 election results, a finding that’s consistent with other surveys on the same topic. Trump bears blame from some of that sentiment, which he whips up on Twitter and anywhere else he manages to sneak a word in. But key voices at Fox have amplified those claims and expanded the ranks of the election-disbelieving crowd.
And that crowd has turned into something of a monster in need of feeding. In addition to the way-out-there hosts on Fox, Newsmax and One America News have seen fit to toss in some sustenance. Ratings explain why: Newsmax’s audience has skyrocketed since the election as it has promoted the election-fraud fraud. “In this day and age, people want something that tends to affirm their views and opinions,” Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy told the New York Times.
Again, 100 percent accurate, and 100 percent anti-journalistic. One approach to handling the plume of Republican viewers who distrust the election would be to level with them — tell them that the president is wrong, that their distrust is based on debunked propaganda peddled by the likes of Trump, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell. That message does get airtime on Fox, to be sure: Neil Cavuto, Chris Wallace, Eric Shawn, Bill Hemmer, Jedediah Bila, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum have been among the network figures who have, at one point or another, punctured the president’s precious narrative. And Steve Doocy on Monday reminded Earhardt that “we haven’t seen the evidence” to back up Trump’s claims. None of those folks, however, molds conservative psyches like Hannity.
There’s a circularity to this disinformation campaign: Trump and his minions spew lies about the election, Fox’s opinion folks run with them and then act shocked that the public is buying the whole thing. At times like these, it’s always tempting to theorize about when a moment of comeuppance might arrive for someone like Hannity or Dobbs.
But it never does. These folks work in a zone devoid of accountability.