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On Conservative Radio, Misleading Message Is Clear: ‘Democrats Cheat’


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November’s midterm elections are still months away, but to many conservative commentators, the fix is already in. Democrats have cheated before, they are saying, and they’ll cheat again.

Never mind that the claims are false.

In Lafayette, La., Carol Ross, host of “The Ross Report,” questioned how Democrats could win a presidential election again after a tumultuous few years in power. “They’re going to need to cheat again,” she said. “ that. There will likely be rampant cheating.”

In Greenville, S.C., Charlie James, a number on 106.3 WORD, read from a blog post arguing that “the Democrats are going to lose a majority in the course of the midterm elections unless they’re in a position to cheat in a large wide-scale way.”

And on WJFN in Virginia, Stephen K. Bannon, the erstwhile adviser to former President Donald J. Trump who was indicted for refusing to comply with subpoenas issued by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, summed it up this manner: “If Democrats don’t cheat, they don’t win.”

Mr. Trump introduced the nation to a flurry of false claims about widespread voter fraud after his electoral loss in 2020. The extent of his efforts has been outlined extensively previously couple of weeks in the course of the hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — including a speech that day during which he falsely said Democrats modified voting laws “because they wish to cheat.”

Republican politicians and cable outlets like Fox News have carried the torch for Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories ever since. However the loudest and most consistent booster of those unfounded claims has been talk radio, where conservative hosts reduce the jumble of false voter fraud theories right into a two-word mantra: “Democrats cheat.”

Mentions of “Democrats cheating” and similar ideas were raised greater than 5,000 times on syndicated radio shows and native broadcasts this 12 months, in line with an evaluation of information from Critical Mention, a media monitoring service. Similar ideas were mentioned just a few hundred times on television shows and podcasts tracked by Critical Mention in the course of the same period.

Radio stays perhaps probably the most influential conduit for right-wing thought, despite the rise of podcasts and social media. Tens of tens of millions of individuals nationwide, especially older Americans and blue-collar staff, hearken to it often. Misinformation experts warn that talk radio channels, a lot of which air political commentary 24 hours a day, receive far too little scrutiny compared with other mass media. Talk radio can be uniquely difficult to research and harder to moderate, since the on-air musings from hosts often disappear over the airwaves instantly.

“Liberals and even most moderates never hearken to it, they don’t listen to it, they don’t see it, they don’t hear it,” said Lewis A. Friedland, a professor who studies radio on the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “So that you don’t comprehend it exists, you don’t know the way widespread and the way powerful it truly is.” In Wisconsin, he said, local radio stations play “extreme right-wing propaganda” 5 – 6 hours a day.

Asked in regards to the false statements, Mr. James, the host of “The Charlie James Show,” and other conservative radio hosts and their networks defended them. Many pointed to examples of voter fraud previously or raised conspiracy theories in regards to the 2020 election. They said bleak polling results for the Democrats raised alarms in regards to the integrity of the midterm elections.

“I feel a number, guest or caller on talk radio is perhaps forgiven wondering if ‘cheating’ won’t be needed to win,” said Tom Tradup, the vp of stories and talk programming on the Christian and conservative Salem Radio Network.

Other hosts and radio networks declined to comment or didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Liberal commentators have also claimed Republicans cheated or will cheat again, but to a far lesser extent. After Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, lost in 2018, Democrats raised doubts in regards to the election’s integrity, citing voter suppression. A petition that received nearly 60,000 signatures after the election was titled: “Don’t Let Georgia Republicans Cheat and Steal the Governor’s Mansion From Stacey Abrams.”

As Ms. Abrams campaigns for the office again this 12 months, conservative radio hosts have painted her efforts to enhance voter access, particularly for historically disenfranchised groups, as a option to enable cheating.

“That is why Stacey Abrams is doing this within the state of Georgia — to increase the time, the period of time that individuals can vote and drop off ballots,” said Jennifer Kerns, a guest on “The Joe Piscopo Show” and host on the All-American Radio network. “It gives them more time to — as you and I aren’t allowed to say — cheat.”

When shows like “The Joe Piscopo Show” are distributed by major syndicators like Sinclair Broadcast Group or Premiere Networks, a single falsehood or misleading claim can quickly reach audiences from coast to coast.

Mike Gallagher said on his radio show recently that “the one way the Democrats can expect to win again is in the event that they cheat.” The show was syndicated through the Salem Radio Network, allowing it to achieve a whole lot of markets from Sacramento, Calif., to Salisbury, Md.

Lots of the misleading claims focused on measures to enhance voter access in the course of the 2020 presidential election as Covid-19 swept the country. Conservative commentators said attempts to expand vote-by-mail options or ballot drop-off locations were tantamount to cheating or directly enabled cheating.

Some radio networks cracked down on election fraud claims after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Cumulus Media, which owns and operates 406 radio stations, released a memo on the time saying hosts couldn’t “dog-whistle discuss ‘stolen elections’” on its network. Over a 12 months later, several shows distributed through Westwood One, its syndication arm, have aired claims that Democrats cheated or will cheat within the midterms.

Michael Knowles, a radio and podcast host syndicated through Westwood One, gave a stark warning in regards to the midterm elections. “They’re just going to attempt to cheat and steal the election,” he said. “That’s what they’re going to attempt to do. You’re seeing it without delay.”

Lars Larson, one other radio host syndicated to over 100 stations through Westwood One, warned that the increasing popularity of mail-in voting meant “Democrats nearly at all times win — or, no less than, they cheat to a win.”

After Mr. Trump lost his re-election bid, many false attacks focused on Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company falsely accused of tampering with election results. Mentions of the corporate plummeted after January 2021, as the corporate filed a lawsuit accusing several groups, including Fox News, of advancing lies that devastated its status and business. But radio hosts continued implying that Democrats would cheat by expanding mail-in voting or conducting so-called ballot harvesting, a law in lots of states allowing third parties to gather and return ballots.

“You don’t get as specific as a specific company in order that they can’t come back and sue you,” said Jerry Del Colliano, a professor at Recent York University and publisher of Inside Music Media. He added that the shift in strategy toward vaguer cheating claims “allows them to proceed with this misinformation that their audience just loves” without risking serious consequences from firms or their syndicators.

Understand the 2022 Midterm Elections

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Why are these midterm races so essential? This 12 months’s races could tip the balance of power in Congress to Republicans, hobbling President Biden’s agenda for the second half of his term. They may also test former President Donald J. Trump’s role as a G.O.P. kingmaker. Here’s what to know:

What are the midterm elections? Midterms happen two years after a presidential election, on the midpoint of a presidential term — hence the name. This 12 months, numerous seats are up for grabs, including all 435 House seats, 35 of the 100 Senate seats and 36 of fifty governorships.

What do the midterms mean for Biden? With slim majorities in Congress, Democrats have struggled to pass Mr. Biden’s agenda. Republican control of the House or Senate would make the president’s legislative goals a near-impossibility.

What are the races to observe? Only a handful of seats will determine if Democrats maintain control of the House over Republicans, and a single state could shift power within the 50-50 Senate. Listed below are 10 races to observe within the House and Senate, in addition to several key governor’s contests.

When are the important thing races going down? The first gauntlet is already underway. Closely watched races in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia were held in May, with more going down through the summer. Primaries run until September before the final election on Nov. 8.

Go deeper. What’s redistricting and the way does it affect the midterm elections? How does polling work? How do you register to vote? We’ve got more answers to your pressing midterm questions here.

That leaves many hosts walking the road between detailing specific claims of stolen elections and rankling advertisers or executives.

“I hesitate to discuss it,” the actor Joe Piscopo said on his radio show. “You’ll be able to’t say ‘election,’ and you then can’t say the word ‘fraud’ right after that. But you possibly can say it was bought, there have been shenanigans. I actually have catchphrases, like ‘shenanigans’ or ‘we’re undecided what happened.’”

When a listener called into “The Lars Larson Show” to suggest that Republicans could cheat to maintain up with Democratic cheating, Mr. Larson expressed mixed feelings.

“My gut says yes to that,” he replied. “My brain says no.”

In an interview, Mr. Larson pointed to quite a few voter fraud claims from the 2020 election, including a debunked report that almost 20,000 votes were received late in Arizona. He added that the shortage of proof was expected because “with election fraud, especially vote-by-mail, you’ll never have proof.”

Unlike television and even podcasts, radio welcomes live listener input. That may give anyone a moment within the national highlight for off-the-cuff remarks and construct the looks of consensus for election conspiracy theories. A few of the strongest claims of voter fraud got here from callers, with hosts often agreeing with their claims.

“There’s no penalty for having these people on the air,” Mr. Friedland on the University of Wisconsin-Madison said of the callers. “In actual fact, there’s a profit. Your online business does higher in case you can skirt the extremes, because that gets more people calling in and listening.”

Because the midterms draw near, commentators are also contending with the unintended consequences of their cheating claims.

Callers repeatedly expressed doubts about voting in any respect, falsely claiming that elections are so rigged by Democrats that their votes now not matter. In response, radio hosts have implored Republicans to vote in even larger numbers — a lot in order that a supposed Democratic cheat would prove ineffective.

“I’ll let you know what’s happened — and I give the Democrats numerous credit for this,” said Michael Berry, a radio host based in Houston, “is that they have convinced numerous people on our side that it’s not price it to vote.”

Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro.

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