In the months since the presidential election last November, some prominent Republicans have not only lied that Joe Biden's victory was marred by fraud, but were repeatedly given a platform to do it on national television. This week's Sunday interview with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was an example of why people think news networks should know better by now.
ABC's flagship Sunday news talk show got hot on Friday when the show's Twitter account announced that the Sunday edition would include an interview with Scalise, a Trump loyalist who spread lies about the 2020 election and opposed it on Jan. 6 electoral college affirmation voted for Joe Biden.
The first question must be, "Do you accept the 2020 election results and the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency?" If he can't answer "yes", then … https://t.co/lIvEubclpk
– Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan), February 20, 2021
And as it turned out, Scalise's interview revealed exactly why people thought it was a bad idea to book him.
The interview ended with host Jon Karl (subbing for George Stephanopoulos) asking a question he probably should have talked to, as it reflects the extent to which Scalise lives in a make-believe world. Karl asked him to confirm that "Joe Biden won the election, he's the legitimate President of the United States, the election wasn't stolen, right?"
Scalise's answer showed that he actually lives in a world of unreality.
"Look, Joe Biden is the president," Scalise said, evading the question. “There were some states that did not obey their state laws. This is really the argument you saw. "
Karl should have cut Scalise here, as his claim that states do not follow "their own state laws" has been repeatedly rejected by federal courts. But instead of pushing back, Karl Scalise tried to discredit Biden's victory.
“The constitution says that state legislators set the rules for elections. This has not happened in some states, ”Scalise continued, offering an interpretation of the constitution inconsistent with the recent Supreme Court precedent, which was confirmed Monday. "That didn't happen in some states."
At that point Karl interjected. But instead of delving into the merits (or lack thereof) of Scalise's position, he just urged him to answer the original question.
"Is (Biden) the legitimate President of the United States and do you admit this election was not stolen?" Said Karl.
Scalise eventually admitted that "once the voters are counted, yes, he is the legitimate president". But he never admitted that Trump's election wasn't stolen. Karl finished the interview and said, "Okay, Congressman Steve Scalise, thank you for joining us this week."
Karl's gentle treatment of Scalise – who at the beginning of the interview refused to acknowledge Trump's responsibility for the insurrection he encouraged – contrasts with Stephanopoulos' dealings with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in this one Week January 24th when Paul was making similar false claims about the election.
"President Trump and his allies have filed 86 lawsuits in court – all of which have been dismissed," said Stephanopoulos. “Every state has confirmed the results after investigations, censuses and recounts. The Justice Department, headed by William Barr, said there was no widespread evidence of fraud. Can you just say the words "This election was not stolen"? "
"George, where you make a mistake, people who come from the liberal side like you, you immediately say that everything is a lie instead of saying that everything has two sides" – Rand Paul is still pushing The Big Lie pic.twitter. com / V6yg3rJG1i
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 24, 2021
Tactics aside, the broader question of whether television news shows should keep booking Republicans who tell lies about the elections is complex. But ABC's dealings with Scalise were the worst scenario of all worlds, in which they were not only invited into the air, but were allowed to lie with impunity.
Don't book liars unless you're ready to call them
On the one hand, Scalise is the whip of the Republicans of the House, and as an elected official with a leadership role in Congress, what he says is inherently topical. The same goes for other Trump Republicans who have recently appeared in the Sunday shows like Sens. Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Mike Rounds, Paul, and others.
Donald Trump put the GOP on a path where its relationship with the truth is more frayed today than ever, but the fact remains that the party is only a handful of seats away from converting its narrow minorities in the House and Senate to majorities . Viewed through this prism, the editorial decision to interview people like Scalise is reasonable in order to keep powerful people informed of their views.
On the other hand, at some level the goal of the news media is to convey accurate information. With Republicans now in the habit of misinforming people about what happened in the 2020 election and other issues, it can be argued that it is irresponsible to provide them with a platform to not only confuse the public conversation, but also Spreading the lies about the elections that inspired the deadly riot on January 6th.
Turn on the Sunday exhibitions and you will get:
ABC: The election was stolen
NBC: The election was stolen
CBS: The election was stolen
Fox: The election was stolen pic.twitter.com/A9cCRHvyz3
– Matt Negrin, Host of Hardball at 7 p.m. on MSNBC (@MattNegrin) February 21, 2021
Of course, the ideas that what Republican elected officials say is important but that they should not be given the opportunity to go on TV and lie with impunity are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to use interviews as forums to hold them accountable for spreading unfounded views.
A good example of this was an interview that CNN's Erin Burnett conducted on January 21 with Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), who, along with Scalise, voted against accepting the election results in the House of Representatives following the January 6 riot.
When Malliotakis tried to spread conspiracy theories about last November's elections that ran counter to the facts, Burnett cut her off and said, “Do you feel like you are getting into a narrative we all know about? that she was completely wrong? I mean, (Trump) is out there saying 5,000 dead in Georgia voted. Two dead were voted in Georgia. But it was such rhetoric that got people like you on board. Do you feel betrayed "
Malliotakis quickly retreated to circular arguments, as evidenced by Trump supporters' suspicions of fraud – but Burnett has pointed that out too.
"These tens of millions of Americans think it wasn't fair because Donald Trump told them so and that Donald Trump's voice was reinforced by other rulers," she said, alluding to Malliotaki's complicity.
Rep. Malliotakis went on Erin Burnett's show trying to defend her vote against confirmation of Biden's election victory. It wasn't going well for her. pic.twitter.com/PFxeTFBOFe
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 22, 2021
When you do interviews this tough, the next time people like Scalise or Malliotakis will accept an invitation to come on your show, the chance. But at a time when Republicans are using lies about electoral fraud to not only delegitimize President Biden, but also to demand changes in state laws that make it difficult for people to vote, there are more important things than achieving a nominal partisan balance .