Fraudulent Fraud Claims
Trump’s claims of voter fraud have populated network coverage this week. Top Republicans have voiced concern that Trump won’t accept defeat if he loses the election.
All three networks showed Trump repeating his claim at multiple speeches, but the similarities end here.
CBS and NBC devoted an entire package to Trump’s voter fraud comments.
The two networks both interviewed Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on separate occasions, but used almost identical sound bites. In the interviews, Husted said he wasn’t aware of any systemic problems in any state regarding voter fraud. Husted condemned Trump’s rhetoric as “irresponsible.”
CBS and NBC also both referenced a study published in the Washington Post, which found there were only 31 of 1 billion fraudulent votes between 2000 and 2014.
CBS and NBC each had elements that were exclusive to their broadcasts.
CBS included a 2007 study from the Brennan Center for Justice, which stated the average American is “more likely to be struck by lightning than cast a fraudulent ballot.”
NBC interviewed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The governor said he is “convinced that the election will be a fair one and that the process will be one that will be accepted by the American people.”
NBC also included:
– An additional study from Loyola Law School, which found voter fraud to be “practically non-existent”
– NBC political analyst Benjamin Ginsberg
– Mike Pence asking voters to “respectfully participate in the [voting] process”
– Tim Kaine, saying Trump is just a “bully” feeling defeat, and now – “he’s starting to whine”
The two networks debunked Trump’s accusations by focusing on the evidence, and dissenting opinions. NBC even speculated why Trump made the claims. At the top of the broadcast, Lester Holt said “Whether it’s meant to fire up the base, or provide an excuse in case of defeat, it is raising tensions.” NBC left viewers with no doubt these claims are false.
ABC however, fell short.
ABC transitioned to Trump during a package covering Melania Trump’s CNN interview.
It showed four separate clips of Trump claiming the “system” is rigged, and throwing blame on the media. ABC followed this up with one Trump supporter who said if Clinton won the election, he would do everything in his power “to take her out of power.”
There were only two dissenting voices in ABC. One was about a three-second clip of Pence saying the Trump campaign would “absolutely accept the results of the election.”
The other was Tom Llamas quoting the Jon Husted interview after his package was over.
Former CBS and ABC correspondent Jack Laurence believes ABC got the balance wrong, and should have done more to rebut Trump’s claims.
“As professional journalists, we often have to study the merits of what newsmakers say to separate truth from falsehood,” said Laurence. “When a statement made by a public figure can be proved to be false, journalists and their editors have a responsibility to contradict the claim.”
Trump’s claims gave raise to backlash from all sides. At the most extreme, the potential consequences of his claims are voters losing faith in the Democratic system. With more than the election at stake, the networks should be doing their most to debunk false claims.