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On Conservative Radio, Misleading Message Is Clear: ‘Democrats Cheat’

Radio remains perhaps the most influential conduit for right-wing thought, despite the rise of podcasts and social media. Tens of millions of people nationwide, especially older Americans and blue-collar workers, listen to it regularly. Misinformation experts warn that talk radio channels, many of which air political commentary 24 hours a day, receive far too little scrutiny compared with other mass media. Talk radio is also uniquely difficult to analyze and harder to moderate, because the on-air musings from hosts usually disappear over the airwaves in an instant.

“Liberals or even most moderates never listen to it, they don’t pay attention to it, they don’t see it, they don’t hear it,” said Lewis A. Friedland, a professor who studies radio at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “So you don’t know it exists, you don’t know how widespread and how powerful it really is.” In Wisconsin, he said, local radio stations play “extreme right-wing propaganda” five or six hours a day.

Asked about the false statements, Mr. James, the host of “The Charlie James Show,” and other conservative radio hosts and their networks defended them. Many pointed to examples of voter fraud in the past or raised conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. They said bleak polling results for the Democrats raised alarms about the integrity of the midterm elections.

“I think a host, guest or caller on talk radio might be forgiven wondering if ‘cheating’ might not be needed to win,” said Tom Tradup, the vice president of news and talk programming at the Christian and conservative Salem Radio Network.

Other hosts and radio networks declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Liberal commentators have also claimed Republicans cheated or will cheat again, but to a far lesser extent. After Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, lost in 2018, Democrats raised doubts about the election’s integrity, citing voter suppression. A petition that received nearly 60,000 signatures after the election was titled: “Don’t Let Georgia Republicans Cheat and Steal the Governor’s Mansion From Stacey Abrams.”

As Ms. Abrams campaigns for the office again this year, conservative radio hosts have painted her efforts to improve voter access, particularly for historically disenfranchised groups, as a way to enable cheating.

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