Mainstream TV news coverage, however, has largely been tepid in pursuing the full story, often ignoring major developments. Media critic Eric Boehlert writes, “The Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed last week that on nine different occasions the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for 2024 urged the Department of Justice to help him overturn America’s last presidential election — and neither the CBS nor ABC evening newscasts covered the story.” He finds, “It’s the latest, troubling example of how the mainstream media continue to normalize Trump’s illegal and undemocratic behavior, even as he stands poised to run for president again.” Coverage of the step-by-step guide to overthrow the election from Trump lawyer John Eastman has similarly been skimpy.
That may be changing. The confluence of the Senate Judiciary report and the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoenas to Trump allies have helped focus more attention on how perilously close to constitutional disaster we came. As a result, some news reporters are just beginning to recognize the crisis is ongoing.
As NBC News acknowledged in its “First Read” newsletter on Monday: “If a losing president refuses to concede, if that same former president only gets stronger and stronger inside his party, and if many in that same party believe that Jan. 6 wasn’t a big deal, then we have a really significant problem on our hands.” Indeed.
Meanwhile, ABC News reports: “In case it wasn’t already obvious, Trump’s latest political flurries make clear his keen interest in resuscitating his lies about the 2020 election. And everything is not in the past: Trump is calling on his supporters to rally outside the Michigan state house on Tuesday, while his loyalists push for a ‘forensic audit’ of the election that happened 11 months ago.”
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) responded to Scalise in a tweet: “Millions of Americans have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.” For such talk, she has been kicked out of leadership and turned into a pariah.
Now that the “rolling coup” has received more attention, the media must — for once — take the side of democracy. What would that look like? First, they would interrogate every Republican about the coup attempt and the threat to discredit elections. That should be the first question of any interview (and if the Republican tries to deflect, the only topic). Second, they must start covering attempts to subvert elections around the country with the seriousness they deserve. Why do Republicans support such efforts? Why would Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) not create an exception to the filibuster to pass a bill with protections against future election chaos and violence (e.g., standardized audit practices, tightening up the Electoral Count Act)?
The White House, too, must lean into the threats to democracy to keep the media from losing interest. Failing to educate the public about the concerted effort to overthrow our democracy and ignoring the connection between election subversion laws and the threat of future coup attempts would be a gross dereliction of duty. Let’s hope the media understand that “fairness” and “objectivity” do not mean helping make Republicans look less crazed and dangerous than they truly are.