When President Donald Trump tweeted “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the election,” early Wednesday morning, Twitter hid the message from users and instead showed the warning, “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”
And yet when Trump took the podium in the East Room of the White House after 2 a.m. to deliver those same, fact-free premature declarations of victory, every major TV news network carried his comments live.
Even before the president started speaking, CNN anchor Jake Tapper warned: “Counting every vote is a fundamental democratic principle. It is part of what is important when it comes to democracy in this country,” adding, “The idea that the president is looking to disenfranchise people, tens of thousands of whom no doubt voted for him, is just remarkable.”
“We are expecting that the president will prematurely and falsely declare victory,” Tapper added, listing off the states that were yet to be called. “That is not what is going on. There is no evidence of ballots or votes being stolen in the states. There is evidence that election officials are trying to count the votes.”
And as predicted, Trump accused a “very sad group of people” of trying to “disenfranchise” his voters. He declared victory in Georgia and North Carolina—states that had not been called for him at the time he was speaking. He talked up his margin in Pennsylvania despite reportedly millions of absentee votes having yet to be counted. “These aren’t even close,” the president claimed.
Not only did Trump claim he was “winning” the election, he declared that “We did win this election” and threatened to challenge the further counting of votes in the Supreme Court.
MSNBC was the first of the cable news networks to cut away from Trump’s speech amid the flurry of lies, with anchor Brian Williams instead explaining why the president’s claims were false.
“There are millions of votes yet to be counted. Our presidents don’t select our victors,” Williams said. “We always allow a lot on election night, hyperbole. But when it veers into falsehood—we have not called the states he claimed for victories.”
“This is straight up autocratic malarkey,” MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace added moments later. “What we have to keep in mind is he is not the boss of the counting.”
NBC News also interrupted the president for a fact-check during his speech. “We're listening to the president speaking at the White House, but we've got to dip in here because there have been several statements that are just frankly not true,” Savannah Guthrie said. “The president going through some of the states, stating that he has prevailed in those states, naming Georgia, saying they're winning Georgia—or that they won Georgia, ‘there's no way they'll catch us, that they're winning Pennsylvania, won Michigan.’ The fact of the matter is those states have not come close to counting all of their vote. There’s still outstanding vote.”
CNN took longer than MSNBC to cut away from the president’s deeply misleading speech, but when they did, Tapper and his co-anchors tore into Trump.
“President Trump, as we anticipated, falsely and prematurely declaring victory, saying that he won,” Tapper said. “He did not win. He has not won… Almost everything he said in his declaration of victory was not true.”
Even if Trump ends up winning the election, Tapper told CNN viewers, “what President Trump just said was undemocratic and false and premature. It is not accurate to say that he won. We do not know who won this election.” While it’s “not a surprise,” he said he found it “shockingly disappointing that he would continue to erode faith that the American people have in institutions.”
“I know we expected him to say something like that,” added CNN reporter Dana Bash. “But hearing the president of the United States, in the middle of an election where they are counting votes all over the country, to say what he said from the White House is just not something that I don’t think any of us expected to see and hear in our lifetime. That is not what democracy elected presidents or candidates say. That’s what authoritarians say.”
Over on Fox News, meanwhile, after co-anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum essentially parroted what Trump had just said and even remarked that the president’s “numbers were accurate,” Fox News Sunday moderator Chris Wallace chimed in to blast the president for creating a potentially volatile situation.
“This is an extremely flammable situation; the president just threw a match into it,” Wallace declared. “He hasn’t won the states. Nobody is saying he won the states. The states haven’t said that he’s won.”
It wasn’t just the news anchors who uniformly denounced the president’s attempt to subvert democracy; several of Trump’s allies also took the president to task for declaring a premature victory on national television.
“I was very distressed by what I just heard the president say,” CNN commentator Rick Santorum said on CNN moments after the president’s speech.
“There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” Chris Christie, meanwhile, sighed on ABC News. “There just isn't.”