Commentary: Why Was President Trump's Vote Conspiracy Theory Tweet Atop WKRC-TV Facebook Page?

Jul 21, 2020

Why was President Donald Trump's unfounded conspiracy theory about absentee voting at the top of WKRC-TV's Facebook page for hours on Tuesday?

Is Local 12 endorsing or agreeing with the claim he's made for years – without providing any proof – that "Mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation's History! #RIGGED ELECTION."

Have reporters for Local 12 – or right-leaning owner Sinclair Broadcast Group – finally found evidence of massive mail-in vote fraud which Trump's commission couldn't find after the 2016 election?

Trump's tweet was the top "photo" on Local 12's Facebook page for hours Tuesday.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Why was this obvious partisan post featured prominently on Local 12's Facebook page?

Turns out it was Local 12's Facebook question of the day – which was totally unmarked as the Facebook question of the day. When you clicked on the image, you got a page with Trump's tweet and a comment box saying: "From President Trump on Tuesday morning… agree or disagree?"

The station made no effort to let facts get in the way of the president's rant promoting misinformation.

"If you clicked on it, it took you to a question we asked our Facebook fans about what the president said about mail-in ballots," says Tim Geraghty, news director. "We do these photo questions all the time on our Facebook page.  We did not – nor would we ever – take a position on something the president or any other politician says.”

Not taking a position, I understand that.

What I don't get is why a news organization which prides itself on being a source of objective, accurate information wouldn't bother to point out some basic facts: There has never been proof of widespread voter fraud in modern elections.

Why not point out that President Trump's commission examining voting integrity found no evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in its final report in August 2018? (Trump had claimed that "between 3 million and 5 million ballots were illegally cast" in the 2016 presidential election, when he won the popular vote, according to the Associated Press.)

Why not note that Trump – despite his scare tactics – voted by mail three times since elected president, according to Snopes.com? Or that Kayleigh McEnany, his White House press secretary, has voted by mail in Florida 11 times since 2010, according to FactCheck.org?

It's OK for them, but fraudulent for the rest of the nation? Especially when people are limiting their interaction with others during a pandemic that has killed 141,000 people in 4-1/2 months?

I'm guessing it's because the Trump tweet was clickbait. Local 12 folks wanted to get a lot of web traffic – and they did. By 4 p.m., the post had 985 likes and 762 comments. Many comments were by people who agreed with Trump's unproven conspiracy theory, and could have benefitted from some facts.

Why not use this opportunity to educate people? To practice a little journalism?  But no, why let facts get in the way of getting a ton of traffic?