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Opinion ABC News, Rep. Steve Scalise and the Big Lie

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), center, at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 3. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl, filling in as host on Sunday’s edition of “This Week,” began his interview of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) with a question about reopening schools. Then came some back-and-forth on the stimulus package, followed by a discussion of President Donald Trump’s culpability for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. But it was the last exchange that sparked criticism long after Karl signed off. “Clear this up for me,” requested Karl. “Joe Biden won the election. He is the legitimate president of the United States. The election was not stolen, correct?” Scalise responded, in part, “Look, Joe Biden’s the president. There were a few states that did not follow their state laws. That’s really the dispute that you’ve seen continue on.”

Unsatisfied with that weak answer, Karl pressed again: “Is he the legitimate president of the United States, and do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question. Please just answer it.”


Look, once — once the — once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president. But if you're going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that's the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don't want to see happen again.
You know, look, we — you can rehash the election from 2020 all day long, but there are people concerned about what the next election is going to look like. Are we going to finally get back to the way the rule of law works?

Boldface inserted to highlight Scalise’s scramble to move the focus from his past actions to future issues. That’s a logical imperative for a fellow who promoted the Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump. Scalise was among the House Republican majority who signed on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit from the Texas attorney general that would have voided election results in four key states that broke for Biden.

In a Dec. 13 interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Scalise was asked if he’d stop challenging Biden’s election following the vote of the electoral college the following day. “Well, Chris, look, there has been a lot of contesting of the election in multiple states. The president’s done it, other groups have done it too, and that’s because of the concerns people had.”

So, no — he wasn’t going to stop.

The Trump years consisted of lies, sometimes leavened by mere bad faith and evasive behavior. All that conduct reached its apotheosis with the Big Lie — that Biden stole the election. The deception failed, Biden was inaugurated, Trump left the White House and a not-quite-peaceful transfer of power played out.

But how should media outlets handle all the big liars? A debate over how to approach these folks has been percolating for years now, stretching back at least to when then-White House adviser Kellyanne Conway referred to “alternative facts” in the early days of the Trump administration.

As recent months have shown, the stakes surrounding public mendacity have heightened — lying about who won a presidential election, after all, is not like lying about inaugural crowds. Riffing on the Republican leaders who’d signed on to the Texas lawsuit, CNN host Jake Tapper in December said, “We know clearly how much these individuals care about facts or truth, how much they care about democracy, or the principles that make this country great, which is to say not at all.” Lying about who won the presidency isn’t like lying about a health-care bill or about police funding or federal education policy. It’s a foundational lie that threatens the joists of American democracy and the rule of law. That’s not an opinion, either: It’s a cause-and-effect relationship borne out on Jan. 6, when hundreds of rioters stampeded the U.S. Capitol building in the belief that Trump had won another term in the White House.

We’ve asked ABC News about its considerations for booking folks such as Scalise. We’ll update this post if we receive an answer. (Disclosure: Before Sunday’s interview, The Post published an op-ed on covid relief that was co-bylined by Scalise.) Other Sunday programs have featured clashes with prominent Republicans over the election. In early January, for instance, NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd scolded Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for questioning the results of the election, and Wallace, on “Fox News Sunday,” pressed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on whether Trump bore responsibility for the riot. CNN’s “State of the Union” appears to be steering clear of this crowd altogether, hosting less conspiratorial Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

As for Karl, he questioned Scalise on the election and on Trump’s role in riling up his supporters on Jan. 6. That stuff, however, followed a straightforward discussion of other policy issues. Why not flip the order and ask first about the Big Lie? If the prominent House Republican refuses to acknowledge his betrayal of democracy, then say this: Thank you for your time, sir. We have no other questions.

That’s merely a suggestion, though, not some tried-and-true solution to this problem. After all, when you’re dealing with these election liars, there is no solution. Let them stick to their more friendly interviewers at Fox News? Invite them on the Sunday shows at the risk that they’ll poison the airwaves? Both options stink.

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