Opinion | Election denier Kari Lake pleads with CNN: ‘Can we talk about issues?’


In her appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” an exasperated Kari Lake, GOP nominee for Arizona governor, asked host Dana Bash, “Can we talk about issues?”

That appeal has long been a mainstay of embattled candidates facing tough questions about personal misconduct, family scandals or political feuds. In this case, Lake wanted to shrug off a series of questions from Bash about her campaign-trail election denialism. As she barnstorms across Arizona in her race against state Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Lake declines to acknowledge Joe Biden as this country’s properly elected president and has said that she wouldn’t have certified the 2020 results in Arizona.

Now that is a campaign “issue” if ever there were one. And Bash gave it the prominence it deserves, in what counts as significant progress in the media’s handling of election deniers in televised interviews.

The difficulties in this pursuit have long been clear. After writing in April 2021 about the big TV networks allowing election deniers to opine on all kinds of issues before they were pressed on their role in subverting American democracy, we here at the Erik Wemple Blog hatched a proposal: Kick off the interview with election-denial questions, and if candidates don’t acknowledge their errors, end the segment without discussing any other “issues.”

In her interview with Lake on Sunday, Bash didn’t do exactly that; she briefly discussed the economy and immigration. But then Bash dug in: “I want to move on to another really important issue, particularly when it comes to your critical swing state of Arizona. And that is what happened in 2020.”

“You called the 2020 election corrupt, stolen, rotten and rigged,” said Bash, noting that there was no evidence to that effect.

Lake responded as most election deniers have so far — with some arcane and serious-sounding allegation that was debunked long ago. “We had 740,000 ballots with no chain of custody. Those ballots shouldn’t have been counted,” said Lake, who promised to get supporting documentation to Bash’s “team.” A claim that 74,000 ballots had been improperly handled didn’t withstand scrutiny last year. A CNN source told the Erik Wemple Blog on Monday that Lake hadn’t yet provided the supporting documentation. Lake, furthermore, alleged on Twitter that CNN turned down her audio feed “on several occasions as I was speaking”; CNN replied with the full video of the interview, noting that there were no audio issues.

After Bash told Lake that her claim was baseless, the former Arizona TV news anchor hit back, saying: “The real issue, Dana, is that the people don’t trust our elections. They haven’t since 2000. I’m a reporter. I have been sitting on your side of the desk for a long time. And, since 2000, we have Americans who don’t trust our elections.”

That’s a bit of circular reasoning right out of the Sean Hannity playbook. Just days after the November 2020 election, Hannity riffed, “Now, tonight, millions of Americans, you do feel betrayed. According to Politico, look at this: 70 percent of Republicans, they don’t believe this election was free, fair, and for a good reason.” That “good reason” is that people such as former president Donald Trump, Hannity himself — and these days, Lake — hype the false idea that our elections are not free and fair.

When pressed on just this dynamic, Lake said that no, she wasn’t causing the decline in Americans’ confidence in their elections. Things then got a little tense, with Lake saying that she talks with Arizonans about contemporary problems while accusing Bash of wanting to discuss a two-year-old election. Some transcript:

BASH: I would never bring this up, ever, had you not been bringing this up consistently on the campaign trail. Let’s look forward, then. Will you accept the results of the election in your election? Will you accept the results?

LAKE: Can we talk about issues? I came on here thinking we were going to talk about the issues facing Arizonans right now.

BASH: We did.

LAKE: And you have spent the entirety of this time talking about 2020. I think you’re stuck on 2020. I really do.

Boldface added for a good reason: Journalists such as Bash should be stuck on 2020. They should ask election deniers about 2020 over and over again. And if those deniers start wailing about how they’d prefer to be talking about the “issues,” then wonderful. That’s a victory.

Because democracy is the uber-issue. Without it, there’s not much point talking about inflation, immigration, abortion or the future of Parler. Put another way: 2020 may be allowed to die as an “issue” just as soon as election deniers concede the truth.

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