As we woke up Wednesday morning, there was a virtual dead heat in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Celebrity doctor and Trump endorsee Mehmet Oz held the slimmest of margins over David McCormick in a race that could, ultimately, have a huge impact on the balance of the Senate and the future of the country following the midterms later this year.
What’s interesting — and what many political observers were quick to note — was that no one in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else in the country, for that matter) was complaining about voter fraud or rigged elections or questionable write-in ballots or faulty machines or any of the ridiculous claims that made up the Big Lie of the 2020 presidential election.
Then Donald Trump, of course, couldn’t help himself. He pulled out his old playbook and then took to his Truth Social platform Wednesday afternoon.
Trump wrote, “Dr. Oz should declare victory. It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find.’”
Sound familiar? It’s the same strategy Trump used in 2020 when he falsely declared he had won while legal votes were still being tabulated. To this day, Trump has never conceded that loss to Joe Biden and, disturbingly, Trump’s Big Lie conspiracy has a cult-like stranglehold over many of his supporters and even those holding offices in the Republican Party.
In fact, stay in Pennsylvania where Doug Mastriano, who has strongly backed Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen, will be the Republican candidate for governor after easily winning that primary.
As CNN’s Eric Bradner wrote, “The GOP’s selection of Mastriano means that if he wins in November, an election denier who attempted to overturn voters’ will in the 2020 election would have power over the election machinery in one of the nation’s most important battleground states during the 2024 presidential race. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state — the person in charge of running Pennsylvania’s elections and signing off on its electors.”
And so it would appear that Trump’s insistence about the 2020 election still plays well with many Republicans — as Tuesday’s primaries showed.
The New York Times’ Reid J. Epstein wrote, “The Republican candidates who did best on Tuesday were the ones who have most aggressively cast doubt on the 2020 election results and have campaigned on restricting voting further and overhauling how elections are run.”
Epstein added, “The success of the election deniers comes after a year and a half in which Mr. Trump has continued to fixate on his 2020 loss and, in some places, has called on Republican state legislators to try to decertify their states’ results — something that has no basis in law.”
Two takeaways from all this.
One, Trump’s Big Lie not only hasn’t gone away, it seems to have grown stronger.
And, two, the media must continue to point out that the Big Lie is exactly that — a big lie. Our elections are fair and square and honest and that needs to be pointed out as consistently and as loudly as the other side wrongly screams that it is not. This is a battle over one of the bedrocks of our democracy and those who lie simply because they don’t like the outcomes of certain elections must be exposed.
Yes, the media should look deeply into voting rights, access to voting, voting districts and, of course, should continue to make sure our elections are honest. If there are truly irregularities, they should be examined.
But that’s not the same as simply yelling that an election is rigged because this person won instead of that one — which is what Trump, and those politicians born from his example, are doing.
It’s up to the media to continue to point out that those lies are lies.
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Must-read Twitter thread
Be sure to check out this Twitter thread from Will Bunch, national opinion columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Bunch goes into detail about the potential threat posed by Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s candidate for Pennsylvania governor.
Aside from promoting Trump’s election lies, Mastriano also seems to be at war with the press, banning them from a big pre-primary rally last weekend. In a piece for the Inquirer last week, Bunch wrote, “… we should be shocked and alarmed, because what’s happening right here in the state where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were drafted is a huge downward spiral in a war not just over the freedom of the press in America — an important, fundamental right in and of itself — but our very notions of democracy, which doesn’t function without an informed public.”
Bunch added, “What started some seven years ago as a terroristic threat from a future president of the United States — who branded the media with the Stalinist term ‘enemies of the people’ and encouraged a kind of Two Minutes Hate toward penned-in reporters — has now devolved in tandem with an antidemocratic Republican Party. Journalists are blocked and bullied. Debates with potential hard questions are shunned. Basic fact-checking is deflected.”
Sadly, this isn’t a one-off thing from one politician. Bunch wrote, “The nation that was birthed in the spirit of the New England town meeting and a celebration of open political debate is now holding elections in an information vacuum, in a climate in which one political party now sees journalists not as the upholders of our 231-year First Amendment tradition but as enemies of a state eager to enforce a right-wing populist ‘culture war.’”
Read more of Bunch’s Twitter thread, which links to his columns about what’s a stake in Pennsylvania this election season. Because what happens in Pennsylvania could have a great impact on the rest of the country.
What did Tuesday’s results in the primaries say about Trump’s influence over the Republican Party?
The New York Times’ Michael C. Bender and Maggie Haberman wrote, “In each of the most contentious primary races this month — including two closely watched contests next week in Alabama and Georgia — nearly every candidate has run a campaign modeled on the former president’s. Their websites and advertisements are filled with his images. They promote his policies, and many repeat his false claims about election fraud in 2020. But Mr. Trump’s power over Republican voters has proved to be less commanding.”
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote, “The primaries so far have been a mixed bag for former president Donald Trump’s endorsements.”
As Blake noted, Trump helped push Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance over the top, but Nebraska governor candidate Charles Herbster lost in his bid. Blake wrote, “Tuesday brought more reason to doubt Trump’s status as a GOP kingmaker, even as Trump-y candidates continue to win plenty.”
Controversial politician voted out
Another Trump endorsee — 26-year-old North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who has courted controversy and stoked divisiveness during his time in Congress — lost in his primary Tuesday.
The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor and Cory Vaillancourt quoted one voter who voted for Cawthorn in 2020 as saying, “He’s proven himself to be too immature to handle the job. He doesn’t show up for votes in Congress. He just speeds around the country.”
Speeds around the country and, often, finds himself in controversy. As the Post wrote, “The freshman has been accused of insider trading, office misconduct, approaching a TSA airport checkpoint twice with a gun, driving with a revoked license and breaking House floor rules. The incidents, many of them repeated, left Republicans wondering when he would learn to take responsibility for his actions. The low point for Cawthorn in Washington may have been when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) publicly rebuked the freshman for falsely accusing House Republicans of partaking in orgies and using cocaine. (North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom) Tillis and other GOP elected officials in the state charged that the Make America Great Again champion wasn’t paying attention to constituent needs or legislation.”
Before Tuesday, Trump endorsed Cawthorn, saying he should be given “a second chance” for some “foolish mistakes.” Voters rejected that idea.
Cawthorn will finish out his term and there already are predictions that he’ll end up in conservative media somewhere. The New York Times’ Reid J. Epstein wrote, “Now, at age 26, he is left with an enormous social media following and potentially lucrative career opportunities outside electoral politics.”
Apparently, Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity played a big role in the GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania. Says who? Two of the three candidates.
During a speech late Tuesday night, Mehmet Oz said, “I want to thank Sean Hannity. Sean’s like a brother to me. When Sean punches through something, he really punches through it. He understands exactly how to make a difference and he’s been doing that this entire campaign. Much of it behind the scenes. Giving me advice in late-night conversations — again the kinds of things that true friends do for one another.”
This would appear to be a serious journalistic breach. Many were livid when CNN’s Chris Cuomo helped advise his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and they had every right to be livid. It crossed a journalistic line. Same here: A candidate openly thanking and admitting that a prime-time host on a news show is advising him should be concerning to Fox News.
Meanwhile, Kathy Barnette, who finished behind Oz and David McCormick, is not happy with Hannity. She said Wednesday afternoon, “I do want to say, never forget what Sean Hannity did in this race. Almost single-handedly, Sean Hannity sowed seeds of disinformation, flat-out lies every night for the past five days. And that was just extremely hard to overcome, apparently.”
Chris Wallace update
It was a big deal when Chris Wallace left Fox News after 18 years to join CNN earlier this year. Wallace was the big name on CNN’s new streaming service called CNN+. But when CNN+ closed shop after less than a month, the big question was: What will happen to Wallace?
Now we know.
His interview show that aired on CNN+, “Whose Talking to Chris Wallace?” will switch over to HBO Max with featured interviews also airing on CNN. That weekly spot will be part of a block known as “CNN Sunday,” which is expected to include longer features, kind of like “60 Minutes.”
Wallace also will have more of a presence in live CNN coverage. For example, he could be seen on Tuesday night’s election coverage.
More CNN news
CNN CEO Chris Licht also announced Wednesday that the network will “reimagine” its morning show.
During Warner Bros. Discovery’s Upfronts presentation on Wednesday, Licht told the audience, “We will reimagine our morning show leveraging our correspondents and unmatched resources in the U.S. and around the world to provide news that viewers need to know as they start their day. (To) be honest there, we are seeking to be a disrupter of the broadcast morning shows in this space, and we believe we have the people and resources who can do it.”
Licht also gave a general overview of the future of CNN, saying, “The next chapter in CNN is one where we aspire to be a beacon for the kind of journalism essential to a functioning democracy. At a time where extremes are dominating cable news, we will seek to go a different way reflecting the real lives of our viewers and elevating the way America and the world views this medium.”
Journalists at The Hill announce union drive
For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague, Angela Fu.
Journalists at political news outlet The Hill announced Wednesday they are unionizing with the NewsGuild, the largest union of journalists.
The proposed unit has roughly 80 newsroom workers, including reporters, designers, copy editors and video producers. The union wrote in a press release that their goals include “equitable and transparent” pay, better health care and a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
“During a tumultuous time for news media in general, ensuring that workers can feel secure about their employment and benefits is crucial to fostering a newsroom that produces the best journalism it can,” the union wrote.
The union drive comes months after Nexstar Media Group, the largest local television company in the United States, acquired The Hill in August. That transition has been “challenging,” the union wrote in their release. They have asked Nexstar for voluntary recognition of their union. If the company declines, workers will have to participate in a National Labor Relations Board election to get their union certified.
Asked if Nexstar plans to recognize the union, spokesperson Gary Weitman declined to comment.
The Hill staffers’ union drive follows a string of other successful unionization efforts led by the NewsGuild. This month alone, unions at the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, the Financial Times and the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle officially joined the NewsGuild after either winning their NLRB election or receiving recognition.
- The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple with “Tucker Carlson ducks his own potential link to the Buffalo shooting.”
- Another notable story from The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz: “How the Biden administration let right-wing attacks derail its disinformation efforts.”
- For her latest “Sway” podcast for The New York Times, Kara Swisher talks with Wesley Lowery and Jared Holt with “The Digital Tools That Aided the Buffalo Gunman — and What To Do About Them.”
- The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin with “Elon Musk, notorious Twitter troll, is now trolling Twitter itself.”
- For Poynter, Marina Bolotnikova with “In the age of social media blasts, what’s the point of letters to the editor?”
- New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand with “ESPN promotes Dan Orlovsky to No. 2 NFL booth after Fox Sports pursuit.”
- New York Times City Hall bureau chief Emma G. Fitzsimmons tweeted this on Wednesday: “*NEW* from The New York Times – the company is delaying our return to office date in June because New York City moved to the high covid alert level, and the company is now strongly encouraging employees to wear masks in common areas at our office.”
- Here’s a fun list: The Hollywood Reporter with “The 35 Most Powerful People in New York Media 2022.”
- For The New Yorker, Masha Gessen with “Inside Putin’s Propaganda Machine.”
- In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Sergio Peçanha and Yan Wu with “How 1 million COVID deaths compares to other tragedies in U.S. history.”
- For The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany with “Why the Internet Hates Amber Heard.”
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