By:
September 23, 2021

Even before the 2020 election, Donald Trump laid the groundwork. If he lost, he said, then it had to be because the election was rigged.

Actually, that conspiracy theory based on nothing but Trump’s own imagination (or devious planning) dated all the way back to the 2016 election. He said if he lost that election, it would be because of fraud. Except he actually won that time.

So as Election Day 2020 carried into Election Week and Trump watched his lead in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan and Georgia evaporate as mail-in ballots were tabulated, Trump convinced himself — or at least sold it publicly — that he was cheated.

And he had willing accomplices among conservative media who either questioned the election themselves or handed Trump a megaphone to amplify his false claims. The big lie was based on claims, with no proof, that the voting machines were faulty.

But now we find that even those inside his campaign knew it wasn’t true. That’s according to a Trump campaign internal memo released in court documents this week. The memo acknowledged that claims that Dominion Voting Systems and software company Smartmatic helped rig the 2020 presidential election — charges led by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — were simply not based in fact. (The court documents are part of a defamation lawsuit against the campaign by a former Dominion employee.)

The New York Times’ Alan Feuer wrote, “Even at the time, many political observers and voters, Democratic and Republican alike, dismissed the efforts by Ms. Powell and other pro-Trump lawyers like Rudolph W. Giuliani as a wild, last-ditch attempt to appease a defeated president in denial of his loss. But the false theories they spread quickly gained currency in the conservative media and endure nearly a year later.”

And therein lies the problem. As Feuer wrote, the lie lives on. And conservative media is partly responsible for it. In fact, several media outlets and on-air personalities are being sued for pushing claims about Dominion.

And there’s more, according to a special report from Reuters. Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange have a story with the headline: “​​Backers of Trump’s false fraud claims seek to control next elections.”

They write, “Reuters interviewed nine of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada — and reviewed public statements by all of the candidates. Ten of the 15 have either declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated.”

It’s an example of how the big lie, perpetrated by far too many pro-Trump media, is having a damaging effect on our democracy. Just check out this analysis by CNN’s Stephen Collinson: “New bombshells show Trump’s coup threat was real and hasn’t passed.”

Trump sues The New York Times

Trump is suing his niece, Mary Trump, The New York Times and three Times reporters over what he claims was an “insidious plot” to obtain his tax records. Trump’s lawsuit claims the Times convinced Mary Trump to “smuggle records out of her attorney’s office and turn them over to the Times.”

The Associated Press’ Michael R. Sisak wrote, “The lawsuit accuses the Times and three of its investigative reporters, Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russell Buettner, of relentlessly seeking out Mary Trump as a source of information and convincing her to turn over documents. The suit claims the reporters were aware the settlement agreement barred her from disclosing the documents.”

Relentlessly seeking out Mary Trump? That’s not what Craig thinks. She tweeted, “I knocked on Mary Trump’s door. She opened it. I think they call that journalism.”

The Times story about Trump’s taxes helped the three reporters win a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 2019.

In a statement, the Times said, “The Times’s coverage of Donald Trump’s taxes helped inform the public through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest. This lawsuit is an attempt to silence independent news organizations and we plan to vigorously defend against it.”

Mary Trump was more blunt, telling The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani and Harry Siegel, “I think he’s a (expletive) loser, and he is going to throw anything against the wall he can. It’s desperation. The walls are closing in and he is throwing anything against the wall that will stick. As is always the case with Donald, he’ll try and change the subject.”

In a piece for The Washington Post, media writers Paul Farhi and Sarah Ellison write, “If history is any guide, this one is also likely to generate a flurry of attention before quietly stalling out.”

Report: The Athletic might be for sale … again

Big industry news reported by The Information’s Sahil Patel and Jessica Toonkel. The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports website that has attracted some of the best sportswriters in the business — has hired LionTree to find a buyer at a price of more than $750 million.

This is not The Athletic’s first attempt at this. In the past, it has had flirtations with Axios and The New York Times. However, it isn’t believed that either was all that close to partnering with or buying the site that launched in 2016 but really cranked up its operations in 2018. The site employs about 600.

Patel and Toonkel wrote, “LionTree alerted potential suitors a few weeks ago that it wanted bids submitted by mid-October, one of the people said. The company is on track to generate close to $80 million in revenue this year, up 50% on 2020, people familiar with the matter said. Next year the company hopes to increase revenue another 50% to $120 million and to be profitable, one of the people said.”

One possible suitor, according to Patel and Toonkel, is the sports-merchandise retail giant Fanatics.

Live from New York …

Lorne Michaels poses for a photo with the award for outstanding variety sketch series for “Saturday Night Live” at the Emmy Awards Los Angeles on Sunday. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)

The 47th season of “Saturday Night Live” debuts on Oct. 2 and the late-night show announced its first four guest hosts: Owen Wilson (Oct. 2) with musical guest Kacey Musgraves; Kim Kardashian (Oct. 9) with musical guest Halsey; Rami Malek (Oct. 16) with musical guest Young Thug; and Jason Sudeikis (Oct. 23) with musical guest Brandi Carlile.

Meanwhile, “Saturday Night Live” also will be livestreamed on Peacock for the first time. Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes, “As young viewers find new ways to watch their TV favorites, however, the late-night show is taking up new roosts.” He adds that streaming ”SNL” on Peacock marks “NBC’s latest attempt to put the show in front of a broader audience that uses other screens than the one that belongs to a traditional TV set.”

Home is where The Post is

The Washington Post has launched a new reporting series to help readers with homeownership. It’s called “The Home You Own.”

It will include topics such as home improvement and mortgage refinancing. The series debuted with stories on upsizing from apartment to a house; questions to ask before purchasing a home; home warranties; and fall gardening tips.

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Correction: The item about “Saturday Night Live” was updated to show that Young Thug will be the musical guest when Rami Malek hosts on Oct. 16, and Brandi Carlisle will be the musical guest when Jason Sudeikis hosts on Oct. 23.

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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