Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.
Trump’s election sabotage campaign is running out of time, but the damage he’s inflicting will have long lasting consequences. Covering this unprecedented attack on American election integrity, the press is still not being honest about Trump’s ruinous final chapter.
The Daily Beast last week reported on Trump’s “quixotic and potentially destructive effort” to steal a victory. “Quixotic” and “possibly destructive”? He’s the first president in 240 years who has not accepted the election results, after losing by six million votes. Worse, he’s been on a three-month crusade to denigrate free and fair elections in America, and he’s making it impossible for there to be a smooth transition of power.
This is so far beyond “quixotic.” Of course it’s destructive to our democracy — does anyone think the Republican Party will soon return to the days of rationally accepting ballot results? The GOP has blown a permanent hole in our election process.
A hallmark failure of the press for four years has been that it refuses to use the proper language to describe the truly lawless nature of Trump and today’s GOP.
Instead of referring to his treasonous post-election behavior surrounding the would-be coup by a power-hungry authoritarian out to steal an election, we get news updates about Trump’s “tactics,” his vague “moves” and “chicanery”; his legal “strategy” and “power play” while “sulking” and “brooding” inside the White House. None of that captures the historic events that have unfolded since Election Day. Events that if they occurred in a foreign country would be covered much differently by the American press.
The idea that Trump’s harmlessly wandering the West Wing in a funk, despondent over his loss doesn’t match reality. In truth, Trump has spent weeks, with laser-like focus, actively trying to engineer the open theft of a presidential contest. He’s dispatched an army of lawyers who are committed to throwing out as many legitimate U.S. votes as possible. When that has proven to be a failure, he’s shifted to getting state Republicans to block or delay the certification of the popular votes in their states. And much of the Republican Party supports him, either publicly or tacitly by standing by and watching.
Trump’s just “sulking” and Republicans are nervous and upset about his actions — that’s the false narrative too many in the press are pushing.
“Senior GOP lawmakers grow anxious over Trump's effort to overturn election results,” read a recent CNN headline. But CNN could find just three Republicans who were supposedly “anxious” about Trump trying to overturn an election where more than 150 million Americans voted. One CNN report last week suggested Republicans had “no choice” but to back Trump’s election sabotage. Politico dismissed Trump’s ongoing rampage as nothing more than “performance art” and “bad sportsmanship.”
When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State to making the stunning inquiry about throwing out legal ballots, the New York Times headline made it seem like a quirky strategy: “Lindsey Graham’s Long-Shot Mission to Unravel the Election Results.”
Amidst Trump’s stunning election sabotage campaign, the Times sat down with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for a lengthy Q&A. The paper did not pose a single question to McCarthy about how the Republican president was trying to get legitimate votes thrown out and overturn an election. Instead, McCarthy and the Times reporters discussed what a long-term asset Trump could be to the Republican Party after he leaves office.
Additionally, the Times cast a sympathetic eye on Republicans state officials who supposedly face the tough “choice” of certifying verified voting results, or helping Trump cast doubt on them as he tries to overturn an election. That’s a truly dangerous way to view, and to present, what’s currently unfolding.
Incredibly, Trump-appointed General Services Administrator Emily Murphy who refuses to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory — her call would officially begin the transition process — has been receiving kid-glove coverage as the press depicts her as simply caught in a tricky position. She’s “struggling” to do the right thing, CNN stressed, while quoting anonymous friends about how honorable she is. What’s the struggle? Biden won, period. Murphy is purposefully making the transition more difficult. Yet, the Washington Post framed the story as a partisan one, suggesting Democrats were “fuming.” Fact is, no GSA in history has refused to acknowledge the clear election winner, the way Murphy now refuses.
Authoritarianism has been on display for weeks now, as Trump throws all his energy into casting doubt over free and fair elections in the world’s oldest democracy. The daily news coverage needs to say so, and drop the idea that Trump’s simply passing his days feeling sorry for himself, in a state of “denial.” He’s been waging a multi-pronged war on America.