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Double standard? Media quick to use phrase 'election deniers' — but only for Republicans

Prominent press outlets have insistently labeled Kari Lake and others who questioned the 2020 and 2022 election results so-called deniers, while letting Hakeem Jeffries and others who questioned the 2016 election results off the hook.

Published: November 22, 2022 8:16pm

Updated: November 22, 2022 11:23pm

The mainstream media appears to be using the term "election denier" inconsistently in its reporting, reserving the seemingly disparaging phrase only for Republicans and conservatives who questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election and not for Democrats and progressives who questioned the results of previous elections — most notably the 2016 presidential race.

In recent months, prominent press outlets have normalized the election denier phrase as a standard feature of political coverage — especially in the run-up to and aftermath of this month's midterm elections.

The Washington Post, for example, frequently published articles with headlines such as "Where Republican election deniers are on the ballot near you," as well as "trackers" monitoring the performance of what they calculated were the nearly 300 GOP candidates who fit their definition of election denier.

The New York Times similarly tracked the status of so-called deniers and tallied "more than" 220 "election deniers and skeptics," all Republicans, who won their races.

Numerous media outlets — including TimeReuters, the Associated Press, and NBC News — employed the term election denier routinely in their reporting, attributing the term specifically to Republicans who questioned, challenged, contested, or denied the 2020 election outcome.

Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake has particularly been a target of the election denier label for calling the 2020 contest stolen and not conceding her 2022 election after mainstream media outlets projected her Democrat opponent Katie Hobbs as the winner. Vote counting is still reportedly happening in the race.

However, these same publications have refrained from applying the term election denier at all to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is now poised to succeed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as his party's leader in the House.

Jeffries has repeatedly denied the legitimacy of Donald Trump's 2016 election victory. "The more we learn about 2016 the more ILLEGITIMATE it becomes," he tweeted from his congressional account in February 2018. "America deserves to know whether we have a FAKE President in the Oval Office."

Jeffries has often accused Trump of "cheating" in 2016 and being a "Russian asset," arguing the former president colluded with Russia to win the White House.

"LIE (more than any administration in the history of the Republic.) CHEAT (2016 election/Russian Interference). STEAL (one or two Supreme Court seats). When will Republicans put country ahead of party?" he tweeted separately.

In 2019, Jeffries claimed at a congressional hearing that Trump had been put into the White House "artificially," despite Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluding Trump hadn't colluded with Russia.

"Is Donald Trump?... A. a legitimate President... B. a Russian Asset... C. an organized crime boss... D. a useful idiot," Jeffries tweeted that same year. "The American people deserve to know."

"History will never accept you as a legitimate president," Jeffries tweeted from his personal account about Trump in 2020.

Yet the same outlets that consistently used the term election denier in reference to Republicans questioning 2020 results haven't done so for Jeffries, according to a Just the News review of recent press coverage.

Joe Concha, a longtime media critic at the Hill newspaper and commentator for Fox News Channel, asked on Twitter on Friday whether the press will call Jeffries an election denier.

"Will the media label him an election denier in an effort to be consistent with the same applied to some GOP candidates in the 2022 midterms?" he wrote.

Beyond Jeffries, numerous other Democrats challenged the legitimacy of the 2016 election. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), for example, questioned whether Trump was "an illegitimate president of the United States currently occupying the White House." The late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) also called Trump an illegitimate president. Hillary Clinton did the same on several occasions, even saying before the 2020 election that Biden shouldn't concede "under any circumstances" if he lost.

Beyond 2016, Stacey Abrams refused to concede the 2018 Georgia governor's race after she lost. Several Democrat senators suggested the election was "stolen."

Many other Democrats, including members of Congress and former presidents, have similarly cast doubt on previous elections, in some cases objecting to what they described as "fraudulent electoral votes."

Like Jeffries, none of these high-profile Democrats have been labeled election denier by mainstream media outlets.

Just the News reached out to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press asking why they don't use the term election denier for Jeffries and other Democrats as they do for Republicans. Just the News also asked whether they define an election denier as someone who challenged the 2020 outcome specifically or as someone who challenged an election outcome more broadly. None of the three outlets responded.

CBS News, however, answered the question separately in a "review" it conducted days before the midterms of every federal and statewide race to determine how many candidates were "election deniers." At least 308 of the 597 Republicans running fell under that category, according to CBS News, which defined an election denier as any candidate who did one or more of the following:

  • Explicitly said they believe the 2020 election was stolen.
  • Repeated disproven claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020.
  • Supported a type of post-2020 audit.
  • Signed on to a Texas lawsuit looking to overturn the 2020 election results in several battleground states.
  • Objected to certifying the 2020 electoral college results in Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, 2021.
  • Been unclear when asked if they believe President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

Critics have lambasted media outlets for focusing exclusively on those who questioned the 2020 results as election deniers, arguing such a selective definition ignores Democrat challenges and shines a spotlight only on Republicans.

"When we are dealing with something as fundamental to the functioning of our republic as questioning the outcome of the democratic process, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to limit those factors to just the last 24 months," wrote Mick Mulvaney, a former member of Congress, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and White House chief of staff. "To assert that one party, and one party alone, is responsible for the undermining of confidence in the integrity of elections is to revise history. And to abuse the language."

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