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Right-wing media promoted misinformation that helped GOP win in Virginia

Conservative outlets like Fox News, Newsmax, One America News, and the Sinclair Group of stations repeatedly misinformed viewers about the issues Virginia voters said were most important to them.

By Oliver Willis - November 03, 2021
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Glenn Youngkin

The Republican victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election on Tuesday came after months of lies, misinformation, and deception on the part of conservative media outlets about the issues voters said were most important to them.

The exit poll results for Virginia indicate that, in order, the top issues for voters were the economy and jobs; education; taxes; the coronavirus; and abortion. On all of the issues but the pandemic, more voters preferred Republican Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Economy and jobs

As the economy has recovered from the pandemic that began under former President Donald Trump, conservative media has sought to lay the blame for several issues relating to jobs and the economy on President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

In October, Fox News told viewers to “blame Biden” for a rise in gas prices. But energy experts have said that current higher gas prices are a result of supply cuts during lockdowns in 2020, when people weren’t driving. Now that the economy has reopened — with help from vaccines delivered by the Biden administration — the demand has gone back up and is exceeding supply, and prices have gone up as well.

In reporting on disruptions in the supply chain, Fox’s White House correspondent Peter Doocy in October alleged that the Biden administration was offering conflicting statements about possible shortages of goods during the upcoming holiday season. But in reality, the administration officials he cited in his reporting were both telling the public there would be disruptions but not massive shortages.

As with gas prices, problems with the global supply chain began during Trump’s presidency and has been a lingering issue that has been left to Biden to address.

Education

Fox News has spent months falsely describing anti-racist curricula in public school systems as “critical race theory,” a term describing an academic approach to the study of systemic racism that the right deploys as a stand-in for any teaching about racism that they don’t like.

In June, Media Matters for America reported that Fox News had mentioned “critical race theory” over 1,900 times in the previous 3 1/2 months. In July, it reported that the network had spent 4 1/2 hours of air time running 78 segments about purported “critical race theory” in Virginia’s Loudoun County public schools in the preceding four months.

This repetition dovetailed with Youngkin’s promise to “ban” the subject from Virginia public schools, where it is not being taught, school officials say.

Taxes

President Biden’s major tax proposal has been centered on increasing taxes for billionaires and large corporations. But in conservative media, the plan has been falsely portrayed as targeting middle- and low-income earners.

Fox host Sean Hannity (who is a multimillionaire) alleged that taxes would be raised on “all of us,” including on pension funds and 401(k) plans, after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in October discussed raising taxes on “extremely wealthy individuals.” Without evidence, Fox host Charles Payne said the proposed taxes would expand over time to those earning less money.

Conservative pundit Stephen Moore, who was also an adviser to the Youngkin campaign, made similarly baseless accusations that the taxes would spread to lower-income people during appearances on One America News and Newsmax.

Right-wing outlets like the Daily Wire and the Wall Street Journal said the same thing.

In reporting on Biden’s plan to increase corporate taxes, the Sinclair group of local news stations made the false claim that the proposal would cut jobs and decrease wages for average Americans. Virginia voters would have been able to see the inaccurate information from Sinclair on the 4 stations the group owns in Virginia and on its 3 stations in the Washington, D.C., media market that reach Virginia homes.

Coronavirus

From the beginning of the virus outbreak, Fox News has serially misinformed its viewers about the dangers of COVID-19 and attacked masking, vaccination, and vaccine mandates. Newsmax has also lied to its viewers about the virus, making false claims like the allegation that there is a plan “now underway to use vaccine mandates to take your guns.” One America News, contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, repeatedly told viewers that COVID-19 vaccines are unproven and unsafe, even while the death toll from the delta variant of the coronavirus was increasing.

Echoing right-wing media’s fearmongering, Youngkin said in September that he could “remove” Virginia’s vaccine requirement for state employees on his first day in office as governor.

Abortion

Republican lawmakers in Texas instituted an abortion ban that took effect on Sept. 1 and severely restricts access to the procedure for millions of people in the state. While Youngkin was never forthright in his views on abortion bans prior to the election, going as far as saying he wasn’t able to express his views on abortion because it might lose him votes he needed to win, he was recorded saying, “So you’ll never hear me support Planned Parenthood, what you’ll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don’t want.”

Right-wing media has played down the extreme nature of the Texas ban.

After the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the ban from taking effect, Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that it was not “especially radical” and “not a crazy statute.”

Every issue voters said was important to them in the gubernatorial election in Virginia was distorted not only by politicians and their campaigns, including Youngkin’s, but also by right-wing media. When voters went to the polls, their perceptions and views partially shaped by the misinformation and lies of conservative media, Glenn Youngkin and the Republican Party turned out to be the beneficiaries.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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