A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Subscribe for free right here.
Election Week has given way to two parallel Americas, one that’s reality-based and one that’s grievance-based.
The reality is that Joe Biden is the president-elect. The presidential transition and the pandemic should be the big stories now. As NBC’s Lester Holt said when breaking into regular programming to cover Biden’s remarks about the coronavirus on Monday, Biden “does not have the authority of president right now, but he does have the megaphone.”
That’s true, but Trump still has an even bigger megaphone. And right now he is abusing it. His presidency began with a lie about his popularity — the inauguration crowd size debacle — and now it is ending the exact same way, with lie after lie about his popularity. He and his biggest promoters in the media are in denial about the election results, or are pretending to be. And many Republican party leaders are falling in line.
Today’s lies will have consequences tomorrow, because tens of millions of people are being exposed to this stuff, through websites like Breitbart and shows like “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News.
The sites and shows are peddling false hope that Trump could emerge victorious. They are portraying the election as fraudulent when, in reality, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and legal experts have said Trump’s legal challenges have little to no merit, much less any chance of swinging the election. Trump is watching and sharing all of this and it is having a terrible impact on the transition process. Here is our full story about it.
This is a five-alarm fire
“This massive effort being waged in right-wing media to de-legitimize Biden as President-elect should not be written off and dismissed. It has enormous consequence,” my colleague Oliver Darcy wrote on Monday night. “Right-wing media has a firm grip on the Republican Party. GOP senators and other prominent leaders are actively being encouraged to play along with this nonsense. And the ones who don’t actively fuel the fire will likely be less likely to speak out over fear of facing the wrath of people like Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, etc. This is a five-alarm fire…”
They’re blaming the media
From Mark Levin to Ted Cruz, one of the Trump-might-have-won crowd’s main themes is that the major networks hastily called the election for Biden. It’s a farcical claim since we all waited five days to know the outcome and since the networks simply report on the results of the vote count. But the claim is sticking, nonetheless, and it is stoking right-wing rage against the media. Sean Hannity put up a graphic on Monday night that said “THEY HATE YOU,” referring to the media and the tech platforms. That’s been the takeaway from his show for years, but he rarely says it so bluntly. Subtext is becoming text all over the place right now.
From an emailer: “It’s like Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, Bartiromo, Dobbs are pretending that they are not part of the ‘media that has called this race’ – Fox News..”
They claim they’re just asking questions
“We don’t know how many votes were stolen on Tuesday night,” Carlson said toward the end of a 23-minute monologue on Monday night. “We don’t know anything about the software that many say was rigged. We don’t know. We ought to find out.” Hannity did the same thing an hour later – both men claimed to be “just asking questions” while sowing doubt and suspicion on behalf of Trump.
At 9 p.m. Eastern, Hannity led with the news that Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr “has now authorized the Department of Justice to probe substantial allegations of voting irregularities in multiple states.” Minutes later, The New York Times reported that Barr’s “authorization prompted the DOJ official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post.” CNN has since confirmed the news.
Here is political analyst Ron Brownstein with the big picture: “The post-election temperature changed radically today from Trump’s personal pique to a party-wide effort,” blessed by Mitch McConnell, “to find any pretext to try to overturn the results w/the help of Barr’s weaponized Justice Dep’t. However implausible, are Ds ready for this fight?”
Trump’s forever campaign
“Paradoxically, Trump’s loss may well increase the loyalty of his most ardent fans, who will be angry that he has been unfairly deprived of his rightful role,” The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum wrote on Monday. “They will now become loyal purchasers of flags, ties, MAGA hats, maybe even degrees at a revived Trump University. They could become the customer base for Trump TV… Maybe they will buy tickets to rallies and other public events where he plays familiar old hits such as ‘Lock Her Up’ and ‘Stop the Count…’”
Now, back to reality
“Donald Trump lost, Joe Biden won and will be the next President,” Anderson Cooper said on CNN Monday night, labeling Trump’s fraud cries as “distractions” and noise. “No, we’re not gonna repeat his allegations because it just perpetuates the lies,” he said. “Anecdotes from people on social media is not evidence. Evidence is presented in a court of law and if the president has it, that’s what he and his attorneys should do.”