Newsrooms have been buzzing about the scenario for weeks: How would they handle covering a president in real time who makes false claims about his own reelection? The answer proved to be fact-checking, in some cases during his remarks from the White House, and tough criticism after he finished.
A bit before 2:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, that scenario became reality. President Trump baselessly alleged Democrats were committing fraud. Trump also claimed he “did win the election,” even though some pivotal swing states have not yet been projected for him by The Associated Press or any of the major television networks.
NBC and MSNBC broke into his remarks, as did NPR, to correct the record. “There have been several statements that are just not true,” NBC’s Savannah Guthrie said, noting his false claims of taking Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
MSNBC’s Brian Williams said, “Our presidents don’t select our victors. ... 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.”
MSNBC did not return to Trump’s remarks live.
CBS and ABC returned to their studios once Vice President Pence stepped forward. “The president of the United States [is] castrating the facts of the election results that have been reported tonight,” said Norah O’Donnell of CBS.
“We’ve never had a situation like this in the country,” said John Dickerson of CBS. “The president is a steward of the American electoral system. ... And he is trying to undermine it while the count is still going on.”
“If we were watching this in another country, we would be shocked,” said CNN’s Abby Phillip. “It’s a sign our democracy is in peril.”
Fox News anchor Bret Baier told viewers most of the president’s claims were accurate. Then Fox’s Chris Wallace weighed in: “This is an extremely flammable situation; the president just threw a match into it. He hasn’t won the states [he claimed]. Nobody is saying he won the states. The states haven’t said that he’s won.”
— David Folkenflik, NPR media correspondent