Several US TV networks late Thursday halted live coverage of Donald Trump’s first public appearance since election night after concluding that the president was spreading disinformation.
Trump unleashed a flood of incendiary and unsubstantiated claims in a 17-minute address, insisting that Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us”.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he claimed. “They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”
The president spoke as late vote-counting in battleground states showed Democrat Joe Biden steadily closing in on victory.
“OK, here we are again in the unusual position of not only interrupting the president of the United States but correcting the president of the United States,” said MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, as the network quickly ended its live coverage.
NBC and ABC News also pulled the plug on their live coverage of Trump.
“What a sad night for the United States of America to hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper.
He described it as “lie after lie after lie about the election being stolen”, with no evidence, “just smears”.
Trump’s rhetoric – he also tweeted early Friday reiterating his claims – came as his campaign aggressively challenged the integrity of the huge number of ballots mailed in rather than cast in person on Election Day.
The big shift to postal ballots this year reflected the desire of voters to avoid risking exposure to Covid-19 in crowded polling stations during a pandemic that has already killed 235,000 Americans.
Mail-in ballots have tilted heavily to Democrats. In the crucial state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign moved to stop the counting of ballots, which authorities were forbidden from processing before Election Day.
Mixed support for Trump
Representative Will Hurd called Trump’s call to stop vote-counting “dangerous and wrong,” while Rupert Murdoch’s long supportive New York Post called Trump’s allegations “baseless”.
But prominent Republicans rallied behind Trump and signalled that they could challenge the legitimacy of results if the president loses.
“I think everything should be on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham said when asked by Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify results.
Biden, 77, was just one or at most two battleground states away from securing the majority to take the White House. Trump, 74, needed an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump’s extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, appealed for “people to stay calm”.
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator (Kamala) Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said in comments to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The process is working,” he said. “The count is being completed. And we will know soon.” (FRANCE 24 )