Steve Scalise’s interview on ABC was a case study in how not to handle liars

In the months since last November’s presidential election, several prominent Republicans have not only lied about Joe Biden’s victory tainted by fraud, but have been repeatedly given a platform to do so on national television. . This week‘s Sunday The interview with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) stood out as an example of why people think the news networks should know better now.

ABC’s flagship Sunday news show was enraged on Friday when the show’s Twitter account announced that Sunday’s edition would include an interview with Scalise, a Trump loyalist who has spread lies about the 2020 elections and Jan.6. voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

And it turned out that Scalise’s interview illustrated exactly why people thought hiring him was a bad idea.

The interview ended with host Jon Karl (replacing George Stephanopoulos) asking a question that he probably should have directed, given that it reflects the extent to which Scalise is living in a fantasy world. Karl asked you to state that “Joe Biden won the election, he is the rightful president of the United States, the election was not stolen, correct?”

Scalise’s response indicated that he is indeed living in a world of unreality.

“Look, Joe Biden is the president,” Scalise said, dodging the question. “There were some states that did not follow their state laws. That is really the dispute that he has seen continue. “

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 backing down, Karl let Scalise proceed to try to discredit Biden’s victory.

“The Constitution says that state legislatures set the rules for elections. That didn’t happen in a few states, ”Scalise continued, offering an interpretation of the Constitution that is inconsistent with recent Supreme Court precedent, which was upheld Monday. “That did not happen in some states.”

At this point, Karl chimed in. But instead of committing to the merits (or lack thereof) of Scalise’s position, he simply pushed him to answer the original question.

“Is [Biden] the legitimate president of the United States and do you recognize that this election was not stolen? Karl said.

Scalise eventually admitted that “once the voters are counted, yes, he is the rightful president.” But he never admitted that the election was not stolen from Trump. Karl then closed the interview and said, “Okay, Congressman Steve Scalise, thanks for joining us on This week. “


Karl’s gentle treatment of Scalise, who earlier in the interview went so far as to refuse to acknowledge that Trump is responsible for the insurrection he encouraged contrasts with the way Stephanopoulos dealt with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in This week on January 24 when Paul made similar false claims about the election.

“President Trump and his allies filed 86 challenges in court, all were dismissed,” warned Stephanopoulos. “Each state certified the results after investigations, counts and recounts. The Justice Department led by William Barr said there is no widespread evidence of fraud. Can you just say the words, ‘this election was not stolen’? “

Tactics aside, the larger question of whether television news shows should keep telling Republicans who spread lies about the election is complex. But ABC’s handling of Scalise represented the worst-case scenario of all worlds in which they are not only invited on the air, but allowed to lie with impunity.

Don’t reserve liars unless you are prepared to call them

On the one hand, Scalise is the Republican whip of the House, and as an elected official with a leadership role in Congress, what he says is inherently newsworthy. The same can be said for other Republicans loyal to Trump who have recently appeared on Sunday shows, such as Senators Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Mike Rounds, Paul and others.

Donald Trump led the Republican Party down a path in which its relationship with the truth is now more deteriorated than ever, but the fact is that the party is only a handful of seats away from converting its narrow minorities in the House and Senate. in majorities. Seen through that prism, the editorial decision to interview people like Scalise is defensible as a way to get powerful people to voice their opinions.

However, on the other hand, the goal of the media at some level is to convey accurate information. Since Republicans now have a habit of misinforming people about what happened in the 2020 election and other problems, it can be argued that it is irresponsible to give them a platform not only to confuse the public conversation but to spread the same lies about the elections that inspired the deadly insurrection of January 6.

Of course, the ideas that what Republican elected officials say matters, but that they should not be given the opportunity to go on television and lie with impunity are not mutually exclusive. Interviews can be used as forums to hold them accountable for spreading unfounded opinions.

An excellent example of this was an interview that CNN’s Erin Burnett held on January 21 with Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), who voted with Scalise against accepting the results of the House elections after the insurrection. January 6.

While Malliotakis tried to spread conspiracy theories about last November’s election that disagree with the facts, Burnett interrupted her and said, “Do you feel like you’ve swallowed a narrative that we all know is completely false? I mean, [Trump] says 5,000 dead voted in Georgia. Two dead voted in Georgia. But it was rhetoric like that that drew people like you. Do you feel like they cheated on you?

Malliotakis quickly retreated to circular arguments about how suspected fraud by Trump supporters is evidence that it occurred, but Burnett pointed that out as well.

“Those tens of millions of Americans think that it was not fair because Donald Trump said that to them, and that voice of Donald Trump was amplified by other people in power,” he said, alluding to Malliotakis’ complicity.

Conducting difficult interviews like that makes it less likely that people like Scalise or Malliotakis will accept an invitation to attend your show next time. But at a time when Republicans are using lies about voter fraud not only to delegitimize President Biden, but also to push for changes in state laws that will make it harder for people to vote, there are more important things than striking a nominal party balance. .

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