“I gave him that award for the right reasons,” Scott insisted: Trump made strides on border security, the economy, holding China and Cuba accountable. “I mean, he worked hard,” Scott said of the president who made famous the derisive term “executive time.” “You know, every president I know would like to get more things accomplished, but, I mean, he — he did some things that prior presidents had not gotten done.”
Stephanopoulos was right: Trump had indeed spread election lies. But what about the record of the person being interviewed? After the Capitol riot, Scott was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s electors. Mind you: This was after the riot, after the damage done by the Trump machine’s election lies had manifested itself in the halls of Congress, after barricades were thrown, windows were broken and police officers were abused.
Some lawmakers abandoned their plans to block certification after the riot. Not Scott. Yet he managed to get in and out of his appearance on “This Week” without having to answer for his vote. Apparently Stephanopoulos thought that the goofy Trump award was more deserving of his accountability journalism.
We here at the Erik Wemple Blog have visited this neighborhood before. When “This Week” welcomed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in February, he was allowed to riff about all kinds of public policy issues before the topic turned to the effort to steal the election. Afterward, we advanced a proposal for dealing with promoters of the Big Lie: Ask them first about their vote to overturn U.S. democracy, and if they don’t recant their actions, end the interview.
But Stephanopoulos took the same approach with Scott on Sunday, plowing through the Derek Chauvin verdict, police reform, President Biden’s upcoming congressional address and former President George W. Bush’s criticism of the Republican Party, before getting to the award and election lies. “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace pursued a similar sequence in his interview with House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The interview started out with issues such as Biden’s infrastructure plan, Bush and taxes. Only then did Wallace ask McCarthy about his phone call with Trump on the day of the Capitol riot, the one in which McCarthy reportedly asked the president to call off his supporters. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump is said to have responded.
The questions were good ones — about what Trump said to McCarthy and whether he’d tried to coordinate messaging with McCarthy after the call. Wallace also asked about McCarthy’s position on a special committee to study the riot.
But there was no hot-seat moment when McCarthy was asked to account for his post-riot vote for decertification. (Matt Negrin, a watchdog of Big Lie-enabling journalism, highlighted other relevant interviews with Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.) Fox News’s transgressions in this area, of course, aren’t limited to interviews. It hired one of the ringleaders of the Big Lie, former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted that the ABC News approach smacks of “amnesty” for Big Liars and appealed to media reporters to press network executives on the matter. Alas, the Erik Wemple Blog failed to pry a statement out of either ABC News or Fox News.
The Sunday shows happen each week, so they feel compelled to wrap up events that have happened since their last show. What a misplaced compulsion. The Big Lie and its consequences, particularly the Jan. 6 riot, eclipse in importance all the Beltway chatter and blather that have followed in the past three months. There are occasions when news organizations should make time stand still, to refuse to move on — and to keep pressing the Big Liars till they can’t take it anymore.
That’s not happening.