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kemp_georgia

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks to the media during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol on April 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Corporate Media Obsess About Trump, But Ignore Broad GOP Attack on Democracy

In their obsession with Trump’s win/loss record and their desperate search for “moderate” Republicans, journalists whitewash GOP candidates who paved the way for Trumpism and, ultimately, seek the same end—minority rule—by only slightly different means.

The country’s centrist corporate media have decided what this year’s primaries are mainly about: Donald Trump.

In the wake of an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and continued efforts by the Republican Party to undermine democratic processes, corporate media remain fixated on Trump’s role in the party, seeing the 2022 primaries as a series of referenda on Trump and his role as kingmaker. But the focus on Trump obscures the even more important story that Trump represents: the GOP assault on democracy, which is being carried out only marginally less aggressively by many of those “defeating” him.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is the perfect example of this. After this week’s state primaries, most corporate media made their lead story the losses of Trump-backed candidates, in particular to Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who both played very public roles in refusing to bow to Trump’s demands to “find” votes for him in Georgia in 2020.

The Washington Post (5/24/22) declared, “Kemp, Raffensperger Win in Blow to Trump and His False Election Claims.” A New York Times (5/24/22) subhead read, “The victories in Georgia by Gov. Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, handed the former president his biggest primary season setback so far.” At Reuters (5/24/22), the top “takeaway” subhead read: “Trump Takes Lumps.”

These are stories centrist media like to tell: The voters are sensibly rejecting extremists from their party, so the “moderate” candidates are taking the right path. Journalists tell this story over and over in coverage of Democratic primaries, with “move to the center” stories encouraging the party to reject its progressive candidates. The problem is, candidates like Kemp and Raffensperger are not moderate, except in comparison to Trump—and painting the story as one centrally about Trump obscures the anti-democratic nature of those who defeated his hand-picked candidates.

The Boston Globe demonstrated that this contradiction could be addressed, with an article (5/24/22) headlined, “Kemp Cruises to Victory in Georgia, Dealing Blow to Trump but Not His Voter Fraud Lies.”

The Globe‘s Jess Bidgood reported:

Kemp’s easy win over Perdue on Tuesday may seem to suggest that the former president and his baseless insistence that fraud and irregularities cost him the election have lost their iron grip on the Republican Party….

Even though he stood up to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Kemp found other ways to assuage the GOP base’s unfounded doubts about the issue. He signed a voting bill that added new hurdles to absentee voting and handed some election oversight power over to the Republican-controlled legislature. He spoke of “election integrity” everywhere he went, while Raffensperger leaned into the issue as well.

But even this didn’t go nearly far enough in describing Kemp and Raffensperger’s histories of attacking voting rights. As Georgia’s secretary of state, Kemp for years vigorously promoted false election fraud stories and made Georgia a hotspot for undermining voting rights. He aggressively investigated groups that helped register voters of color; in 2014, he launched a criminal investigation into Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project—which was helping to register tens of thousands of Black Georgians who previously hadn’t voted—calling their activities “voter fraud.” His investigation ultimately uncovered no wrongdoing (New Republic, 5/5/15).

Kemp oversaw the rejection of tens of thousands of voter registrations on technicalities like missing accents or typos (Atlantic, 11/7/18) and improperly purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls prior to the 2018 election (Rolling Stone, 10/27/18), disproportionately impacting voters of color (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/12/20). He refused to recuse himself from overseeing his own race for governor against Abrams, drawing rebukes from former president, Georgia native and fair elections advocate Jimmy Carter (The Nation, 10/29/18), among others. Kemp ran that governor’s race as a “Trump conservative.”

None of Kemp’s history as anti–voting rights secretary of state was mentioned in any of the next-day election coverage FAIR surveyed. (There was an opinion piece on CNN.com on May 26 that detailed “Kemp’s appalling anti-democracy conduct.”)

As governor, Kemp has further eroded voting rights in Georgia, as mentioned by the Globe (a story that the media managed to both-sides at the time—FAIR.org, 4/8/21). He has also taken a hard-right stance on many other rights issues, signing into law a bill to prohibit “divisive concepts” from being taught in schools, a bill to ban abortions as early as six weeks and a bill discriminating against transgender kids in sports.

Like Kemp, Raffensperger was an early supporter of Trump who pushed election fraud stories and voter suppression tactics. As FAIR (3/5/21) pointed out at the time, centrist media fawned over Raffensperger for standing up to Trump in the 2020 election, ignoring his “support of the little lies that made the Big Lie possible.”

For instance, just weeks before an uncritical editorial (1/4/21) praising him, the local Journal-Constitution published a front-page investigation (12/17/20) that found Raffensperger was touting “inflated figures about the number of investigations his office was conducting related to the election, giving those seeking to sow doubt in the outcome a new storyline.” Those claims helped propel the state’s 2020 bill restricting voting rights.

Like Kemp, he launched vote fraud investigations into progressive voter registration groups (AJC, 11/30/20), and oversaw the purge of nearly 200,000 voters, mostly people of color, from the rolls before the 2020 election (Democracy Now!, 1/5/21).

During his re-election campaign, Raffensperger had gone on national television (CBS, 1/9/22) to push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting noncitizens from voting in any elections, as well as to praise photo ID requirements for voting and oppose same-day voter registration. He has also called for an expansion of law enforcement presence at polling sites.

In their obsession with Trump’s win/loss record and their desperate search for “moderate” Republicans, journalists whitewash GOP candidates who paved the way for Trumpism and, ultimately, seek the same end—minority rule—by only slightly different means.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Julia Hollar

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar is FAIR’s senior analyst and managing editor. Julie has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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