Excerpt: Battling the Big Lie (Out Today!)
Battling the Big: How Fox, Facebook, the MAGA Media are Destroying America is out TODAY
“Battling the Big Lie” is out today! Below is an exclusive excerpt of the book for Message Box readers. Thank you to everyone that has already preordered the book. I am so appreciative of your support. If you get a chance to share a photo of the book or promote it in any way on social media, I would be very grateful. If you haven’t yet bought the book, I hope this excerpt convinces you to do so. Either way, thank you for your support of this newsletter and my work. I hope to see you at one of the stops on the book tour — dates, times, and locations can be found HERE:
Let’s do a thought exercise. It’s Election Night 2024. For the third election in a row, it all comes down to Wisconsin. This campaign is a rematch of 2020. President Biden is once again running against Donald Trump, who has somehow avoided prison for his sundry crimes.
If Democrats were still capable of feeling good about elections, we would be feeling pretty good on this night. President Biden has run a strong campaign. The economy is roaring. Unemployment is under 4 percent. Wages are up. Costs are down. The Biden Economic Plan has ushered in a new era of prosperity. Heck, some commentators are calling it “the new New Deal.”1 The Democratic Senate has even passed a voting rights bill that unwound the rash of voter suppression laws passed by Republicans in the wake of the 2020 election.2
The pandemic is in the rearview mirror. America’s oft-delayed return to normalcy is in full swing. We are once again gathering indoors, going to concerts, and generally socializing without fear of contracting a potentially deadly disease. Masks are worn only on Halloween, during surgeries, and by hockey goalies. Sure, we have to get a COVID-19 booster every six months, but Republicans and Democrats agree that this is a small price to pay. To use a term from political science, Americans are in a great fucking mood.
All Americans except Trump, that is. The campaign hasn’t gone well for him. He refused to participate in any of the presidential debates because the Biden campaign wouldn’t agree to any of his chosen moderators. Trump’s choice of podcaster Joe Rogan as vice-presidential candidate has not turned out to be the political masterstroke Politico Playbook believed. Many Americans are skeptical that the former host of Fear Fac-tor, a man who made a living encouraging contestants to eat live cock-roaches on television, should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. (In this hypothetical, Trump is still a famously unhealthy man with a penchant for McDonald’s and Diet Cokes by the case.) And the Republican National Committee’s decision to host the party’s convention in authoritarian Budapest was not the messaging bonanza for which Trump hoped.
Biden is a clear favorite for reelection against the twice-impeached, two-time loser of the popular vote, but there are, of course, obstacles. The Electoral College dramatically favors the Republicans. Although Biden is widely expected to exceed his 2020 popular vote margin, the election will once again come down to a couple of states whose populations are just a little bit more MAGA than the rest of the nation. This is worrisome for so many reasons— not the least of which is the fact that the safeguards that prevented Trump from stealing the 2020 election are no longer in place. The Republicans now control the House and the Senate. Also, the brave election ofﬁcials who were the bulwark against the Big Lie the last time around have all been purged. In their place now is a coterie of conspiracy-believing opportunists, not-so-well-hidden MAGA sleeper cells waiting for the signal to overturn the election.
Election Nights have taken on a familiar, but painful rhythm. The redder, rural counties report ﬁrst, and then Democrats wait with broken glass in our stomachs for the big cities and the mail ballots to come in. We listen to every word uttered by Steve Kornacki and read every tweet by a nerd named Nate, straining for threads of hope. Are there enough votes left to overcome Trump’s lead? In 2016, there weren’t. In 2020, there were. In 2024, there is real optimism that not only will Biden win, but he will win by a margin large enough to render the inevitable Big Lie 2.0 moot.
As we wait with an underlying dread for the votes to be counted— we are Democrats, after all— there is some evidence that 2024 will be the election we hoped for in 2016 and 2020, the electoral ass- whipping that Trump so richly deserves. Based on early returns, it appears the MAGA base has not turned out at anywhere near the level of the previous campaigns.
With most of the other battleground states decided, Wisconsin will be the one deciding the next president of the United States. As we wait and wait for the votes in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison to come in, CNN and MSNBC ﬁll airtime with blabbering pundits and pointless interviews.
Democrats are either dismissive or blithely unaware of what is happening in the right-wing media ecosystem.
Seven in ten Republicans still believe Trump was the actual winner of the 2020 election, but that was an incredibly close election, conducted in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. If Biden wins by more this time, the Big Lie will fall on deaf ears.
On CNN, just as Rick Santorum is conﬁrming his status as America’s dumbest pundit on one of those eight-person goat rodeos masquerading as roundtables, Wolf Blitzer interrupts him for a “KEY RACE UPDATE”:
“With a new batch of votes from Milwaukee and Madison,” Blitzer says, “Joe Biden has now taken a one- hundred- ﬁfty-thousand- vote lead in the key state of Wisconsin, and CNN is prepared to declare that Joe Biden has been reelected president of the United States.”
A bigger popular- vote win, larger margins in the battleground states— surely any effort to sow distrust in the integrity of the election, let alone overturn the election, will be a fool’s errand. Republicans may not believe in science, but they have to believe in math, right?
While we are all listening to the dulcet tones of David Axelrod on CNN or geeking out on Kornacki’s knack for back-of-the-envelope math on MSNBC, over on Fox, a different conversation is happening. There, it is all conspiracy-mongering and nonstop reporting about specious claims of imaginary voter fraud. The same folks who lied about 2020 are lying about 2024. Even though Mark and Sheryl repeatedly promised to do better, Facebook has once again been chock-full of disinformation about mail-in ballots and the integrity of the electoral process. There were stories about dead people who registered to vote, about boxes of mail-in ballots found outside a Smoothie King. Each of these unproven, out-of-context allegations has been shared thousands, if not millions, of times. Trump has echoed these false claims on the stump and in his Gettr posts.5
After the other networks call the election for Joe Biden, Fox refuses, based on the same trumped-up bullshit it has been peddling for months. And as Joe Biden is giving his victory speech in front of a raucous COVID-19-free crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, Trump calls into Fox, which is refusing to air Biden’s speech.
“The Fake News is at it again,” he says. “I won this election, and the Democrat mayors, the elites, and illegals are trying to steal it. It’s mail fraud and fake votes. We have to take our country back. The Big Lie is Sleepy Joe won. Many people are saying that Sleepy Joe’s friends in China tapped the machines.”
It makes no sense. This is the ranting of a sad, deranged man, but that hardly matters. People tune in, and Trump’s MAGA base buys every word.
Using a smuggled phone, Steve Bannon starts a Facebook Live stream on Dan Bongino’s page from the toilet of the federal penitentiary that has been his home for the previous eighteen months and will be for the next seven years:6 “It’s time for real Americans to stand up and take our country back,” Bannon says. “Every Republican has a duty to stop the steal by any means necessary.”
A meme with Trump’s face superimposed over the famous “By Any Means Necessary” photo of Malcolm X begins to make the rounds on social media.
At ﬁrst, Republican ofﬁcials are dismissive of Trump’s claims. They make promises to honor the election. In a sign of good faith, Mitch McConnell heads to the White House for a photo op with Biden.7
The blowhards on Fox go bananas. Tucker Carlson calls on his viewers to protest the Vichy Republicans unwilling to ﬁght. Protestors show up at GOP ofﬁces. A new poll by Crooked Media— by 2024, Crooked is the premier polling unit in American media8— shows that eight in ten Republicans believe the election was stolen.
Not long after, Rudy Giuliani is called to testify before the hastily convened Special Congressional Committee on Voter Fraud. The former New York City mayor, arriving with crates of afﬁdavits from supposed “witnesses” who claim voter fraud, spins an incredible and not-so-sober tale of foreign election interference that has all the logical consistency of QAnon. One by one, the Republican leaders announce that they will not vote to certify the election.
The Republican governor of Wisconsin announces that his own hastily formed commission, this one helmed by former Trump aide Stephen Miller, has found sufﬁcient evidence of foul play. Therefore, he will not certify the election. Instead, the Wisconsin state legislature will send a slate of electors who intend to cast their votes for Trump. Michigan and Pennsylvania quickly follow suit, denying Biden the requisite 270 electoral votes. Despite no real evidence of malfeasance and a larger margin of victory, another Big Lie takes hold— this time, faster and with more force.
America faces its greatest political crisis in history. The person who won the popular vote and the Electoral College will be denied the presidency.
This is what we are facing. The clock is ticking. The consequences are real. The threats are growing.
I will be deadly honest with you: I don’t have all the answers. There are no easy solutions, and addressing the disinformation will take time we don’t have. But just because we as a society can’t solve the whole problem, it doesn’t mean we can’t do better, ﬁght harder, and think smarter. If we don’t, we are doomed. With that in mind, I have put together a series of ideas about what to do— a plan for Democrats, the media, and every one of us to take up arms in the battle against the Big Lie.
Excerpted from Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America
©2022 Dan Pfeiffer and reprinted by permission from Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group.