By:
October 28, 2021

If you spend half your day on Twitter and Facebook and the other half surfing between cable news networks, it’s easy to plunge into the bleak perception that half the country still believes the 2020 election was rigged.

Donald Trump rallies and statements, you-know-who cable news stations and websites, a pillow salesman and far too many politicians are quick to make baseless claims about fraud, and it all snowballs into one big conspiracy theory that can feel massive.

But then you take a step back, take a deep breath and tell yourself, no, half the country doesn’t really believe that. That’s just the noise of this particular echo chamber. Most of the country knows Joe Biden is president, fair and square. Right?

Right?!

And then …

You see the poll put out Wednesday by Politico/Morning Consult.

The poll showed only 28% of Republican voters trust the election system a lot or some. Just 9% of Republicans trust the election system a lot.

And now this depressing number: 60% of Republicans in the poll felt the 2020 presidential election results should definitely or probably be overturned. Among self-identified 2020 Trump voters, 72% said the 2020 elections were probably or definitely not free and fair.

These numbers likely show that those who question elections — as well as the 2020 results — are not just some small society of rabble-rousers, but a bigger-than-you-might-think group of voters.

While it might make some Trump supporters sleep better to believe in baseless claims of fraud, it could end up being a problem for Republicans. Politico’s Meridith McGraw writes, “The numbers demonstrate the vast skepticism and distrust Trump voters have of elections and the potential challenges Republicans could have convincing voters their ballots count.”

As McGraw points out, prominent Republicans are trying to discourage Trump and others from concentrating on an election that has already been decided.

In an appearance on “Meet the Press,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said, “I’m of the view that the best thing that President Trump could do to help us win majorities in 2022 is talk about the future. (Better) off to talk about the future than to focus on the past in every election.”

And Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said “relitigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022.”

It will also be interesting to watch how the media — particularly conservative media — continues to hold on to absurd stories about election fraud, especially as more notable Republicans stress digging into the past could be a sure-fire way to bury their future.

WSJ runs Trump’s false claims

And just as I said the media needs to be more responsible on the topic of Trump and his election fraud claims, The Wall Street Journal is taking quite the heat — and deservedly so — for allowing Trump to push his claims of a rigged election in a letter to the editor on Wednesday. Trump was responding to an Oct. 24 Journal editorial about voting in Pennsylvania during the 2020 election.

Trump wrote (and the Journal seemingly published without raising one red flag), “Well actually, the election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven’t figured out. Here are just a few examples of how determinative the voter fraud in Pennsylvania was.” Then he listed a bunch of unproven or already debunked bullet points.

In a scathing, but well-reasoned column with the headline, “The 14 things you need to know about Trump’s letter in the Wall Street Journal,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote, “The Wall Street Journal should not have published it without assessing the claims and demonstrating where they were wrong, misleading or unimportant.”

Others were even harsher.

Bill Grueskin, a Columbia University journalism school professor who served as deputy managing editor of the Journal, told The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr that letters to the editor are meant to give readers a chance to respond to pieces in newspapers. He told Barr, “That’s generally fine, but if someone is going to spout a bunch of falsehoods, the editor usually feels an obligation to trim those out, or to publish a contemporaneous response. The Wall Street Journal editorial page chose not to do that in this case.”

It should be noted that the opinion section handles letters to the editor and is separate from the rest of the newsroom.

The Journal declined to comment when asked about the letter by Barr.

Politico White House reporter Alex Thompson tweeted, “Odd to just print this Trump letter w/ 0 fact checks given how much great reporting the WSJ newsroom did on the election.”

The Bulwark’s Amanda Carpenter, who is a frequent guest on CNN, tweeted, “The WSJ publishes a garbage oped from Trump spewing election lies but calls it a ‘Letter to the Editor’ to avoid taking responsibility. Btw, WSJ LTEs are normally capped, I believe, at 200 words. Take responsibility WSJ!!!”

Trump’s letter was nearly 600 words.

Carpenter went on to tweet, “Trump couldn’t post this on Facebook but the editors at the WSJ collectively decided to put it on their platform. Think about that. And they think they can distance themselves from it by doing it as an LTE. As of that magically absolves them from pushing the lies.”

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler tweeted, “Why would they publish, without analysis, a bunch of stuff that already been fact checked as false?”

And CNN’s Jake Tapper went the full sarcasm route, tweeting, “Coming soon to the WSJ letters to the editor: ‘The moon landing was faked,’ by that dude @TheRealBuzz Aldrin punched in the face.”

Newspapers have a long tradition of allowing readers to express their views and even giving them a little latitude to do so. But in this case, the Journal allowing Trump to falsely call the election “rigged” is incredibly and surprisingly irresponsible.

And there’s more …

There also are real-life consequences to the Big Lie. CNN’s Isaac Dovere and Jeremy Herb report that some secretaries of state fear for their safety. Many secretaries shared some of the threats they are getting.

Colorado Democrat Jena Griswold told CNN, “I take these threats very seriously. It’s absolutely getting worse.”

Many secretaries are asking for more protection. Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, told CNN, “It creates an air of apprehension everywhere you go and over everything you do. You’re always looking behind your back and over your shoulder.”

These are just more examples of why news outlets need to be more responsible by refusing to give any credence to baseless fraud allegations in the 2020 election.

Worth remembering

In Wednesday’s newsletter, I featured a Washington Post story — “Five points for anger, one for a ‘like’: How Facebook’s formula fostered rage and misinformation” — and how Facebook’s algorithms helped to stoke anger. Well, it needs to be noted that The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey and Jeff Horwitz had many of those same details back in September with their story, “Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead.”

Hagey and Horwitz wrote how Facebook’s algorithms were making it an angrier place, adding, “Company researchers discovered that publishers and political parties were reorienting their posts toward outrage and sensationalism. That tactic produced high levels of comments and reactions that translated into success on Facebook.”

There are so many stories out there about Facebook right now that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But I did want to take a moment to reiterate the good work done early on by The Wall Street Journal.

Speaking of Facebook …

Here are more stories, columns and analyses worth your time regarding the Facebook story:

Exclusive interview

In an upcoming book, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, writes that she was sexually assaulted by a U.S. senator when she was in her 20s. She is now 45. Her book, “Both/And: A Life in Many Words” is due out next week. She does not name the senator, and has not said whether that senator is still in office.

In an excerpt obtained by The Guardian, Abedin described a scene in which she was invited to the senator’s apartment for coffee after a dinner party and the senator forcibly kissed her without her permission.

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell spoke with Abedin in an interview that will air on Sunday’s “CBS Sunday Morning” In a released clip of the interview, Abedin told O’Donnell, “I did go back to a senator’s apartment, a senator who I knew, and I was very comfortable with. And he kissed me in a very shocking way because it was somebody who I’d known and frankly trusted.”

O’Donnell then asked, “Are you suggesting that the senator assaulted you?”

Abedin said, “I’m suggesting that … I was in an uncomfortable situation with a senator, and I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I buried the whole experience but in my own personal opinion, no. Did I feel like he was assaulting me in that moment? It didn’t feel that way. It felt like I needed to extricate myself from the situation. And he also spent a lot of time apologizing and making sure I was OK and then we were actually able to rebalance our relationship.”

NBCUniversal strikes deal with Aspen Ideas Festival

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Starting next year, NBCUniversal News Group will become the exclusive media partner of the Aspen Ideas Festival, the annual gathering of influencers, politicians and other newsmakers. NBC replaces longtime media partner The Atlantic.

In its release, NBCUniversal says it will help create content for the festival, writing, “Top anchors and journalists from NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Noticias Telemundo will drive conversations during the festival through marquee interviews, fireside chats, and expert panel discussions throughout the festival’s programming.”

The festival has been around since 2005. The 2022 event is scheduled to be held June 25 to July 1.

Off the air

On Wednesday, for the third consecutive day, conservative radio host Dan Bongino was not on the air. Bongino has been in a contentious and very public battle with Cumulus Media, which syndicates his show, over its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Bongino has said on the air that Cumulus can have its policy or him, but it cannot have both. On his podcast Tuesday, Bongino said, “Behind the scenes, it’s getting a little ugly here … you don’t treat people this way.”

On Wednesday’s podcast, he said it’s an “ugly fight” with Cumulus.

“Best of” shows have been airing during Bongino’s absence.

Holt hits the road

(Courtesy: NBC News)

All next week, Lester Holt will anchor the “NBC Nightly News” from five different cities in a series called “Across America.” The cities on Holt’s tour include Austin; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Nashville and Phoenix. NBC says Holt will take an “in-depth look at how the pandemic is impacting the cities’ real estate markets, school structures, crime rates and political systems, and he will also speak to residents who are making a difference in their communities.”

In addition, Holt will interview General Mark Milley in Washington next Wednesday, as well as anchor a special edition of “NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition” from the road next Thursday.

Personal news from Poynter

For this item, I turned it over to my colleague Kristen Hare.

In Local Edition, my newsletter for local journalists, we announced Wednesday that I’ll be starting a new role at Poynter. After eight years as a reporter, I’m joining the teaching team to work with local journalists on the critical skills they need to serve their communities. I’m excited to get started and to hear from you. I’ll share a sentiment I wrote about this move in my newsletter: I’m excited (and nervous) to take on this new job, but I’m building it off what I’ve learned in five years covering local news, eight years as a media reporter and 18 years as a journalist.

One of those lessons: Local news is not merely a rung on the ladder of a great career. It’s a place to build something that matters to you and your community.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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Comments

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  • I have a question about characterizing an action. Today’s column includes this:

    Exclusive interview

    In an upcoming book, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, writes that she was sexually assaulted by a U.S. senator when she was in her 20s.

    In an excerpt obtained by The Guardian, Abedin described a scene in which she was invited to the senator’s apartment for coffee after a dinner party and the senator forcibly kissed her without her permission.

    O’Donnell then asked, “Are you suggesting that the senator assaulted you?”

    Abedin said, “I’m suggesting that … I was in an uncomfortable situation with a senator, and I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I buried the whole experience but in my own personal opinion, no. Did I feel like he was assaulting me in that moment? It didn’t feel that way. It felt like I needed to extricate myself from the situation. And he also spent a lot of time apologizing and making sure I was OK and then we were actually able to rebalance our relationship.”
    ============
    It does not appear that, at any time that Abedin characterized the action as an assault. She was asked, “Are you suggesting that the senator assaulted you?” She answered, “…in my own personal opinion, no. Did I feel like he was assaulting me in that moment? It didn’t feel that way.”

    Absent her calling it that, is is accurate to call the action an assault?

  • While I do find the numbers pretty shocking, this April, only 40% of U.S. adults identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/343976/quarterly-gap-party-affiliation-largest-2012.aspx) That’s not even half, something I think is very important when we frame conversations about representation.

    So in this context, the 72% of Republicans, if we include Republican-leaning independents, who think the election was not fair, constitutes about 28.8% of US adults, if I’m using my numbers correctly. If the poll on elections only includes Republicans, the number is likely to be less, especially if you assume many of those independents left the party because of the current direction.