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Right-wing media portrayed window covering at ballot center as nefarious. Here's what really happened

Posted November 5, 2020 8:58 p.m. EST

— Right-wing media outlets, which have parroted President Donald Trump's dangerous rhetoric aimed at undermining the integrity of the US election, have portrayed a move at a Detroit ballot-counting center as nefarious.

But a city official poured cold water on the assertions, explaining to CNN Business that the measure at the center of controversy was taken to ensure private voter data wasn't inappropriately exposed to the public.

Reports from pro-Trump outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart, and The Gateway Pundit spotlighted a decision by poll workers at the TCF Center in Detroit to partially cover windows with cardboard as they counted ballots inside and a group of apparent Trump supporters gathered outside.

The reports were widely shared and found their ways to large audiences. On Thursday, for instance, a Breitbart article shared by Trump had even ascended to become the top link on all of Facebook when ranked by interactions for the previous 24-hour period, according to CrowdTangle, an analytics firm owned by Facebook.

The reports from right-wing outlets and personalities implied that poll workers were hiding improper activity from the public.

But Lawrence Garcia, an attorney for the City of Detroit, said that the windows were partially blocked because of concern voter information could be wrongfully revealed to the public. Those concerns were compounded by the fact that protesters standing outside the ballot-counting area were taking photographs and recording video.

"Some -- but not all -- windows were covered, because poll workers seated just inside those windows expressed concerns about people outside the center photographing and filming them and their work," Garcia told CNN Business. "Only the media is allowed to take pictures inside the counting place, and people outside the center were not listening to requests to stop filming poll workers and their paperwork."

Garcia underscored that the City of Detroit had been exceedingly transparent with the public as it counts ballots. CNN and other news organizations have projected Joe Biden will win the state's 16 Electoral College votes.

"Hundreds of challengers from both parties were inside the central counting board all afternoon and all evening; dozens of reporters were in the room too," Garcia said. "At all times, people outside the center could see in through windows that were further away from counting board work spaces."

But dispute the innocuous nature of what happened, the story served as fuel for a right-wing media machine looking to sow distrust in the country's voting system.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson played the story up on his prime time show Wednesday night. Carlson brought on Fox News reporter Matt Finn to discuss what occurred. A banner on the screen read, "CONCERN OVER DETROIT'S ABSENTEE BALLOT COUNTING."

Finn properly explained in his report that poll workers were concerned about exposing private voter information. But Carlson ended the segment blasting Detroit as "one of the most mismanaged places in the Western Hemisphere" which is now "helping to elect your President."

Later in the night, the context Finn had offered Carlson was not included in Fox News' coverage of the story. Anchor Shannon Bream highlighted it on her show, asking, "Why the boarding up of windows? People just want to have confidence. If there is a good explanation, I would love to hear it."

And a story on Fox News' website did not explain why the city took the measure.

A spokesperson for Fox News did not return a request for comment Thursday.

The story also took off elsewhere in the right-wing media universe.

Breitbart's article, which did not include the city's explanation for why some windows had been partially covered, was shared tens of thousands of times, including by Trump.

It said that Trump supporters had grown "alarmed" that Trump's lead had evaporated as "mailed-in-ballots were counted in historically Democrat areas." The story accused poll workers of "attempting to restrict transparency and not allow people outside to observe what was going on inside the counting area," despite the fact that poll watchers and journalists had been allowed inside the room.

The Gateway Pundit story asserted that the "vote counting center was the scene of alleged irregularities and intimidation by Democrats running the count." It claimed, "Republican poll watchers were routinely thrown out and windows covered up to block observers."

A spokesperson for the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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