How CNS Embraced Trump's Bogus Election Fraud Conspiracy
CNSNews.com gave Donald Trump plenty of space to push unchallenged his claim that the election was stolen from him. After the Capitol riot, though, CNS was briefly shocked into reporting balanced news.
By Terry Krepel
CNSNews.com led into the Jan. 6 Electoral College vote the way it had in the weeks previously: uncritically promoting President Trump's bogus claims of election fraud. ConWebWatch highlighted some of that in documenting CNS' aggressively pro-Trump election coverage, in which it uncritically promoted the Trump camp's baseless fraud allegations.
The attempt by the state of Texas to interfere in the elections of other states through a lawsuit it brought straight to the Supreme Court was yet another case of CNS pushing Trump's narrative.
A Dec. 9 article by Susan Jones uncritically repeated Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton touting the lawsuit on Fox News. Two days later, another article by Jones admitted that Paxton faced "blistering criticism" for filing the lawsuit and actually detailed the responses from the states being sued -- but led off with Paxton declaring (on Fox News, of course) that "we ought to have the chance to be heard at least once."
After the Supreme Court swiftly rejected the lawsuit, CNS didn't do a story on it. instead, two days later, Jones rehashed a Fox Business appearance by Paxton lamenting that "I don't know what else we could have done, other than ask the court to at least hear our arguments." Details on what the Supreme Court said in rejecting the lawsuit were buried in an unbylined article that cited Nancy Pelosi describing the lawsuit as an example of how "Republicans are engaged in an election subversion that imperils our democracy." That was followed by an stenography piece by Melanie Arter in which she detailed Trump's ranting that "it's not over" despite the court's swift rejection of the Texas lawsuit.
CNS also published a Dec. 14 op-ed by Zack Smith of the right-wing Heritage Foundation claiming the Texas lawsuit raised "serious issues regarding election integrity and constitutional law that ought to be addressed going forward."
CNS was pushing Trump's narrative elsewhere as well. In a Dec. 14 article, Jones touted how Republican Rep. Jim Jordan demanded that Congress debate the presidential vote on Jan. 6, the day when it is supposed to sign off on the election. But even Jones conceded the Republicans' effort at obstruction would be doomed: "A simple majority vote in both the Senate and the House is required for any objection to a state’s electoral results to stand. Because the House is controlled by Democrats, that certainly would not happen."
Even the Electoral College officially declaring Biden the winner couldn't be reported straight. Jones dismissed Biden's speech after the Electoral College vote as "an attempt to bolster his legitimacy as the next president," then complained: "Biden repeated that he will be president 'for all Americans,' many of whom remain bitter about the expansion of ripe-for-fraud mail-in voting; affidavits alleging vote fraud; changes in voting laws made not by state legislatures but by election officials; and vote tallying that was shielded from view -- or conducted in the absence -- of election observers." (The article was originally headlined "Biden, Voice Hoarse, Praises 'Honest,’ ‘Free’ & ‘Fair' Election, 'Integrity' of Election Workers.")
An anonymously written article was devoted to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lamely conceding that "the Electoral College has spoken." Craig Bannister huffed: "Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election despite winning the popular vote, cast an electoral vote for Joe Biden on Tuesday then, called for abolition of the Electoral College, which cost her the presidency."
Melanie Arter uncritically wrote about how Ken Blackwell, initially identified only as "former Ohio Secretary of State," insisted that "the clock didn't stop" with the Electoral College vote; it wasn't until the fourth paragraph that she noted that Blackwell is "a Trump elector." She didn't mention at all that Blackwell was a Trump campaign surrogate who also served in Trump White House posts, which meshes with CNS' overall lack of disclosure when it publishes Blackwell's pro-Trump columns.
More bogus narrative
As the Electoral College vote neared, CNS' election fraud narrative escalated. It put a pro-Trump frame in an anonymously written Jan. 4 article on his call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger trying to coerce the official to overturn the election in that state that "'based on what' Trump had 'heard'ballots from November’s presidential election were being shredded in Georgia. Another article, by Susan Jones, carried the uncritical headline "Trump Claims at Georgia Rally of 2016 and 2020 Elections: 'I Won Both of Them'."
The following days featured stories like:
Craig Bannister even trotted out right-wing actor Jon Voight to rant, "We all know how this election was false. We all know. But, is anyone standing up for the truths? Is anyone?"
As expected from such a pro-Trump outlet, none of the articles admitted the fact that no solid, credible evidence exists of massive fraud on the level that might overturn election results. But, surprisingly, CNS did a couple articles to offer a modicum of perceived balance:
On Jan. 6, CNS put an unambiguous pro-Trump tilt on the Electoral College proceedings:
And on the morning of Jan. 6, Melanie Arter served as stenographer for Trump's speech of incitement at the rally outside the Capitol:
President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed that the 2020 presidential election was “pure theft,” alleging that voter fraud changed the election results to favor Joe Biden.
No mention, of course, of the fact that none of Trump's election fraud claims have been proven.
And then the riots began.
After the riot: Briefly shocked into balance
CNS was briefly shocked into balance by the right-wing-driven riot at the Capitol. An early, anonymously written article on the riot was mostly straight, and an article by Arter quoted a Republican congressman denouncing it. Another Arter article noted that "Hours before protesters marched to the U.S. Capitol and stormed the U.S. Capitol building, President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., mocked Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters who looted and rioted in nationwide protests last year, comparing Trump supporters to them at the Save America Rally in Washington, D.C. This was followed by an anonymously written article highlighting that "a pipe bomb was found outside the headquarters of the Republican National Committee," which buried the fact that "A suspicious package was also discovered at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee."
After that, Susan Jones penned articles on both Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell denouncing the riot, followed by an article on Fox News' Tucker Carlson denouncing the riot while also seeming to justify it: "As long as people sincerely believe they can change things by voting, they stay calm." There was no mention of Trump's false claims of election fraud that instigated it.
But then, Craig Bannister echoed the MRC's bogus narrative that Trump was nothing but a man of peace on Twitter, under the headline "Twitter Pulls Trump Video Calling for Peace, Telling Capitol Protesters to ‘Go Home’," even citing those bogus claims in his item.
CNS then did a surprising number of items denouncing the riots and its aftermath and identifying Trump's key role in them, even noting the Trump administration officials who resigned over the riot:
But CNS also delivered some of the nitpicky things they're known for (while not explicitly defending Trump or the riots). Rob Shimshock complained that some random former "Jeopardy!" champion refused to mourn the death of Ashli Babbitt, a protester who was killed in the riot. Shimshock sympathetically described her as a "14-year veteran of the Air Force" but failed to note that she was also a QAnon conspiracy theorist.
An article by Jones on former Republican Colin Powell denouncing the riots and the police response to it framed it as "a 'bash Trump' interview with CNN," further complaining that Powell was "invited by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to view the Capitol police response through a racial lens" and parenthetically adding, "Notably, President-elect Joe Biden is among the Democrats -- many in the media -- insisting that the Capitol police response would have been more violent if the mob storming the Capitol had been mostly black." Jones repetitively hammered home that point again later in the article: "Host Wolf Blitzer brought up the race card, as Biden and many liberals have done as well."
Managing editor Michael W. Chapman grumbled that comedian Kathy Griffin issued "a tweet re-posting her infamous 2017 photo in which she posed while holding up an image of the president’s 'severed head.'" And Bannister returned to tout how "A video montage posted Thursday shows MSNBC and CNN hosts and guests excusing, denying and defending leftwing violence in 2020."