On August 14, a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, unveiled a criminal indictment against former President Donald Trump and 18 co-conspirators for their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state. Among the 41 counts in the indictment are charges that Trump and his allies made false statements about election fraud to solicit illegal actions from members of the Georgia legislature and election officials. Many of these false statements were later parroted by right-wing media outlets.
According to the indictment, “The purpose of these false statements was to persuade Georgia legislators to reject” the state’s lawful slate of electors who voted for the winner, Joe Biden, in the Electoral College, and to “corruptly” solicit state election officials to violate their oaths “by unlawfully changing the outcome” of the election in favor of Trump.
Right-wing media aided the Trump team in spreading several of the same falsehoods and conspiracy theories that the indictment charges the former president and his allies used in attempting to overthrow the election results in Georgia, including:
- False accusations about widespread election fraud in Georgia
- False accusations that Ruby Freeman or Shaye Moss committed election fraud
- False accusations about fraud in other states
Right-wing media spread numerous lies about election fraud in Georgia
The 41-count criminal indictment accuses Trump and 18 other co-defendants of engineering false claims of election fraud in Georgia as part of an illegal scheme to steal the state’s electoral votes from President Joe Biden. Those lies include false claims that felons, underage voters, unregistered or illegally registered, and dead voters unlawfully cast votes. The indictment also mentions false claims about mail-in ballot shenanigans and alleges that the Trump team cited some of these false claims in a lawsuit challenging the state’s election results. While Georgia officials debunked some of Trump’s election lies, right-wing media — particularly Fox News — seized on Trump’s claims, uncritically broadcasting bogus election fraud claims to millions of viewers.
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham aired the testimony of a supposed election “eyewitness” who falsely claimed that “2,506 felons voted illegally in Georgia.” After airing an assortment of other election fraud claims made at the same Georgia state Senate hearing, Ingraham blasted other media outlets for not covering it. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 12/3/20]
- Fox host Sean Hannity falsely claimed that “10,315 dead people may have voted” in Georgia. Hannity’s guest, then-White House press secretary and Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, falsely claimed that Georgia’s “mass mail-in voting system with no safeguards'' led to widespread election fraud in the state. [Fox News, Hannity, 12/3/20]
- Hannity uncritically cited figures from a pro-Trump legal complaint falsely claiming that “66,000 underage voters” and “twenty-five hundred people who were not on the state’s voter rolls” had voted. “And given the widespread irregularities in nearly every battleground state, it's no wonder that Americans have lost faith in this entire process,” Hannity added [Fox News, Hannity, 12/9/20]
- Then-Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell on Fox: “We don't even have the data yet from everybody who voted on Election Day to be able to see how many dead people voted, how many people voted who — who voted in Georgia as well as voted in another state.” Fox anchor Jon Scott introduced Mitchell as “something of an election law expert” and asked her, “Do you see glaring evidence of fraud, or errors, or anything else on the horizon there that could deny Joe Biden the White House?” Mitchell replied, “It’s not over,” and highlighted supposed problems in Fulton County before saying: “We don't even have the data yet from everybody who voted on Election Day to be able to see how many dead people voted, how many people voted who — who voted in Georgia as well as voted in another state.” [Fox News, Fox News Democracy 2020: Election Coverage, 11/7/20]
- Then-Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed deceased voters cast ballots in Georgia. Carlson dedicated one of his show’s opening monologues in the days after the election to promoting this lie: “Fewer than 15,000 votes separate Donald Trump from Joe Biden in the state of Georgia. It's close enough that it's worth getting specific about what happened there. Georgia's secretary of state has now confirmed there will be a hand recount of all votes cast.” After listing several voters he claimed were dead but had cast ballots anyway, including one he got completely wrong, Carlson continued: “As of right now, there aren't enough of these votes to alter the outcome. But the point is this: They are dead, but they voted anyway. The question is, how did they do that? How exactly did they cast their ballots? And the short answer is: by mail. Dead people, like any other group, tend to vote more often when you make it easier for them to vote, and this year, we made it much easier for the dead to vote.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 11/11/20]
- National Review hyped a Republican lawsuit which claimed over 10,000 dead people voted in Georgia. A National Review article on a Republican election lawsuit in Georgia highlighted an expert cited in the lawsuit who claimed that he had identified “as many as 10,315 people who cast ballots who were dead before Election Day.” [National Review, 12/9/20]
- On Newsmax, former Republican National Committee spokesperson Liz Harrington falsely claimed, “That Georgia hearing this week uncovered over 10,000 dead voters.” Harrington, who is now a spokesperson for Trump's presidential campaign, further claimed the 2020 presidential election was “fraudulent.” [Newsmax, The Count: 2020 Election Special, 1/2/21]
- Newsmax host Rob Schmitt noted that Trump in a Georgia rally “talked about 10,000 dead voters in Georgia.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 1/4/21]
- Gateway Pundit hyped Sidney Powell’s failed “Kraken” lawsuit in Georgia, including Powell’s demand that “96,600 votes must be disregarded” because they were supposedly counted erroneously. [Gateway Pundit, 11/25/20]
- A PJ Media article similarly hyped Powell’s baseless claim that “96,600 mail-in ballots ‘were fraudulently cast’” in Georgia in its opening paragraph. [PJ Media, 11/26/20]
Right-wing media pushed lies about Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss
Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, one of 19 co-defendants charged in the indictment, led a vile campaign against Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, claiming the two had openly committed election crimes on camera. In reality, the widely circulated security footage cited by Giuliani and others showed the mother-daughter duo performing their normal duties as election workers. The indictment states that several defendants “falsely accused” Freeman “of committing election crimes” in their efforts to persuade state legislators and other government officials to help them overturn the results of the presidential election. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets ran with Giuliani’s lies, which supercharged a harassment campaign and violent threats against Freeman and Moss. Moss testified to Congress that even though senior election officials debunked Giuliani’s lies, the harassment campaign spurred on by right-wing media forced her to leave her job.
- Carlson described footage of Freeman and Moss doing their jobs as “pretty unbelievable” and falsely claimed that video showed them “pulling ballots out of suitcases.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 12/3/20]
- Fox host Jesse Watters played the video of Freeman and Moss and asked “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum if then-Attorney General Bill Barr should look into the footage. “That sounds very suspicious and it’s something that would absolutely need to be looked into,” MacCallum responded. [Fox News, The Five, 12/3/20]
- Hannity parroted Georgia “whistleblower” claims that the “mysterious suitcases” seen in the video of Freeman and Moss were “filled, they believe, with ballots” and that “partisan election observers were forced to leave the room.” Hannity later singled out Moss with a spot shadow and claimed that she was one of the workers to “stay behind” and can be seen “wheeling out the suitcases.” Hannity also brought on Jacki Pick Deason, a pro-Trump podcaster and attorney, who proceeded to single out “the lady with the blonde braids,” referring to Moss, claiming she ordered other monitors out of the room and was “acting outside the law.” [Fox News, Hannity, 12/3/20]
- Ingraham played footage of Freeman and Moss that included narration from Pick, who claimed that election workers started “scanning ballots” once the “press and observers” left the room. Ingraham later falsely accused Freeman and Moss of kicking observers out “in the middle of the night” before “they went back and kept looking at ballots.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 12/3/20]
- Fox & Friends’ hosts continued to push the ballot-stuffed suitcases conspiracy theory even though Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins reported that state election officials had refuted the claims. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt: “How about those suitcases that were pulled out from the table in Georgia?” “I was watching that last night,” co-host Brian Kilmeade responded. “It’s pretty hard to dispute that there’s something going on. That needs some explanation.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/4/20]
- Carlson insisted the video “looks like fraud” even though Georgia investigators refuted his claims. Carlson cited an explanation from Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, who said that investigators looked into that video and determined that the election workers were engaged in “normal ballot processing.” Nevertheless, Carlson demanded answers about how many votes “were counted in those 90 minutes when the workers were unsupervised.” “Again, this is not a conspiracy theory,” Carlson said. “Those are legitimate questions.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 12/4/20]
- Hannity again played the footage and claimed Moss and other election workers pulled out “containers apparently filled with thousands and thousands of ballots,” which were “counted by the workers that were allowed to remain in the room that pulled them out of the suitcases they conveniently had there — without partisan observers, without the media.” [Fox News, Hannity, 12/7/20]
Right-wing media also spread lies about election fraud in other states
According to the indictment, Giuliani and Trump also made false claims about election fraud in other states to persuade Georgia officials to change the election results in their state. This includes statements Giuliani made during a Georgia state Senate hearing, and Trump’s infamous phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he implored the election official to “find” the votes to change the election results in his favor. Among the false statements highlighted in the indictment are claims by the Trump team that Pennsylvania tallied more votes than voters, dead people voted in Michigan, and a Dominion Voting Systems “glitch” altered the vote count in Michigan. Right-wing media outlets parroted those lies.
- Appearing on OAN as the Trump campaign’s head legal counsel, Giuliani claimed about the Pennsylvania election results: “They found 220,000 unexplained ballots. There are more ballots than people who voted.” Giuliani concluded, “If they just allowed a vote based on the evidence that's been produced to the Pennsylvania legislature, I'm confident that, first of all, it would be decertified.” [OAN, One America News, 1/6/21]
- OAN spread Guiliani’s baseless claim several other times. OAN reported that Trump tweeted about the claims on December 28, 2020. The next day, OAN aired a report alleging at least 250,000 unique voters “appear to be fake,” citing conspiracy theorist Bobby Piton’s “analysis of PA voter rolls,” which alleged Biden’s vote count couldn’t be accurate because it’s “statistically improbable” that more than “520,000 Pennsylvania voters had unique last names." On December 30, 2020, Pennsylvania state senator and former GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano promoted the report on Real America. [Media Matters, 10/11/22]
- Then-Newsmax White House correspondent Emerald Robinson reposted a Trump social media post in which the former president claimed that Pennsylvania had counted “205,000 more votes than there were voters.” “How's this possible?” Robinson wrote. “I was told there was no election fraud.” [Twitter/X, 12/29/20]
- The Gateway Pundit published an article that claimed the certified results of the Pennsylvania election were “ in error” because “more ballots were cast than people voted by more than 200,000 votes.” [The Gateway Pundit, 12/28/20]
- The Gateway Pundit hyped a letter from Mastriano about supposed “voter irregularities and fraud” in Pennsylvania, and cited the more votes than voters conspiracy theory as “evidence against Democrat fraud.” “The most damning evidence against Democrat fraud in the state is the fact that 205,122 more votes were counted in the state than the number of people who voted!” [The Gateway Pundit, 12/31/20]
- Fox anchor Martha MacCallum misled viewers about “864 dead people” voting in Michigan’s primary, a false claim which she later corrected. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 8/17/20]
- Then-Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn reposted a ludicrous conspiracy theory claiming that several dead people voted in Michigan’s 2020 election. The conspiracy theory mistook default birthdates for registered voters as evidence that several people with identical 120-year-old birthdates had cast ballots in Michigan. [Media Matters, 11/5/20]
- On Hannity, then-Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox claimed that a software glitch had flipped Republican votes in her county: “We discovered that the Antrim County clerk said there was a glitch in the software and that they were going to hand-count all the ballots, which ended up being a 6,000-vote flip back to the Republican candidate.” [Fox News, Hannity, 11/6/20]