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Column: Bigger holes keep appearing in the ‘Big Lie’

Liz Cheney at a House panel hearing
Rep. Liz Cheney has lost her standing in the Republican Party but gained national prominence for defending democracy.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

“People are stupid.”

That subject line, in an email Wednesday from Donald Trump, grabbed my attention more than other fundraising messages I get several times a day from the ever-grifting former president.

Stupid people, the email said, are those who don’t believe there was “massive Election Fraud” in 2020. To “solve” that fraud, Trump needed $45 from patriots like me “desperately.”

The man is desperate all right.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

And yet, this loser’s 13-month-old delusion that he won reelection is fully embraced by millions of Americans and one of our two major parties. In fealty to his “Big Lie,” Republicans in 19 states have passed laws making it harder to vote and solidifying their party’s control over elections, and now they’re putting partisans in local offices charged with certifying results. The prospect of chaos in the 2022 and 2024 elections is real.

Every week brings fresh evidence of Trump’s danger to democracy and this week was no different. Newly disclosed text messages from yet-to-be-named House Republicans to Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, documented their real-time terror about the Jan. 6 insurrection they now downplay and of their collusion in schemes to overturn Joe Biden’s election.

For the mainstream media, the challenge has been to convey the seriousness of this crisis to a public exhausted by politics and polarization. Covering “the lie of the year” like politics as normal won’t cut it.

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Yet as the week’s developments underscored, the far-right media ecosystem — Fox News and its imitators — propelled Trump’s con from the start and continues to drive it. Its audience, full of the election deniers most in need of truth, gets the alternative “news” it wants. For them, any reporting from the mainstream media is discredited after years of Trump’s anti-press rants.

Not surprising that Fox News, Newsmax and One America News didn’t broadcast the public hearing Monday night of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Their viewers didn’t see Rep. Liz Cheney and other members read aloud some text messages Meadows received amid the siege from frightened Republican lawmakers and Donald Trump Jr., begging Meadows to get the commander in chief to stop the attack. The pleaders included Fox celebrities Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank read what he aptly called a particularly “chilling” text to Meadows from a House Republican, lamenting the failure of the scheme to throw out millions of Biden votes: “Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.”

When Fox News finally did address the hearing on Tuesday, its hosts dismissed the texts and attacked the messengers, chiefly Cheney, a popular target for its anchors because she’s stood up to Trump, which got her bounced from the House Republican leadership team in May and the Wyoming Republican Party last month.

Real journalists would have noted that the Republicans’ plaintive texts contradicted their efforts since Jan. 6 to play down the violence and oppose a bipartisan investigation. A real news network would have been embarrassed to have its stars exposed as such hypocrites, pleading with the White House based on the fact that the rioters were Trump loyalists and then suggesting otherwise to viewers.

Ingraham texted Meadows during the insurrection, “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Hours later, she was on air suggesting a discredited theory that the siege was the work of “people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement,” including perhaps “antifa sympathizers.”

The disclosure of the text messages came just a day after Chris Wallace, a respected longtime Fox News anchor, announced he was leaving. It was regrettable that he left without offering any criticism of the network, unlike two longtime conservative contributors, including my colleague Jonah Goldberg, when they recently resigned in protest.

Fox News is not the same place it was when Wallace joined it 18 years ago. Even then, its “fair and balanced” slogan was easily mocked. But in recent years, Fox News has become a truth-defying partisan propaganda operation led by Tucker Carlson. It is unabashedly in league with the first president ever to reject the peaceful transfer of power — a former president who, Cheney suggests, could be criminally liable for his role in disrupting Congress’ constitutionally required count of the electoral college votes.

Cheney gets the last word, from her speech to the House Tuesday night:

“Whether we tell the truth, get to the truth, and defend ourselves against it ever happening again, is the moral test of our time.”

Her estranged Republican colleagues, and their enablers in conservative media, seem determined to fail that test.

@jackiekcalmes


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