Larry Elder's Accusations of Media Bias, Explained

When Newsweek asked Larry Elder why he lost his bid to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom, he largely cited media bias. Exhibit A: a now-famous Los Angeles Times column that called him the "Black face of white supremacy." The insult prompted UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian in an article for the the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution to write, "That is horrendous and undeserved.… Elder's dad worked hard, saved his money, and bought property. He instilled in Elder the principle that hard work will succeed in America. Does this sound like 'the Black face of white supremacy?'"

But there's so much more than a single line from the state's largest newspaper, Elder told Newsweek, rattling off several examples of alleged bias against him.

  • Elder claims he never said there's no racism in America, though CNN reported multiple times that he had. Addressing his assertion at his concession speech Tuesday, Elder began with, "I'll speak slowly because I know CNN is here."
  • After a woman threw an egg at the former Republican gubernatorial candidate, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo of Elder just about to hug a fan that could easily be construed as him about to slap her, and the headline read, "LAPD is investigating altercation involving Larry Elder at Venice homeless encampment." After the woman in the photo complained, the Times took down the picture but the arguably misleading headline remained. "What do you think would have happened if a candidate such as Barack Obama running for president had a white woman in a gorilla mask throw an egg at him?" Elder asked Newsweek. Front pages of major newspapers would be screaming that "systemic racism (is) alive and well in America," he said. He added: "This is the kind of crap I put up with for seven weeks. And you're shocked that I lost?"
  • When actress Rose McGowan claimed Newsom's wife offered her hush money to keep quiet about her accusation that disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein raped her, headlines at many outlets were a variation of, "Rose McGowan Stumps for Larry Elder," which, he says, buries the lead in an effort to downplay Jennifer Siebel Newsom's alleged behavior. "The mainstream media's headlines should have been, 'Rose McGowan Accuses Harvey Weinstein of Raping Her and Newsom's Wife Tries to Buy Her Silence,'" he said. (A spokesperson for Siebel Newsom has denied McGowan's claim.)
  • Elder said media outlets far and wide repeated the alleged lie that he said slave owners deserved reparations for having their "property" taken from them, an assertion he says was deliberately taken out of context from a conversation he had with Candace Owens in which he was making the point that reparations would be "the extraction of money from people who were never slaveholders to people who were never slaves." Explaining his point to Newsweek, he said, "If you really want to play this game ... the slave trade could have never existed without African chieftains selling people to Arab and European slavers. Should we get reparations from them?"
  • Some in the media, he said, reported the "flat-out lie," as he put it, that he was an anti-vaxxer because, if elected, he wouldn't mandate masks or coronavirus vaccines. "I'm vaccinated, and I encourage people to get vaccinated, but I also encourage freedom," he told Newsweek in an attempt to clarify his position.
  • Elder said he was asked repeatedly by reporters if he thought Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square. "I told several reporters, and none of them did anything with it, that just once I'd like them to ask Newsom if Trump won the 2016 election fair and square, because for four years Hilary Clinton said the election was stolen from her and that Trump was illegitimate," he said. "If Newsom said he believed Trump won in 2016, the next question should be whether Hillary Clinton should have her social media platform shut down for pushing the big lie the way Trump has had his shut down. Nobody ever asked him. Nobody. One reporter said, 'Well, that's what-aboutism.' I said, 'No, it's called consistency and being fair,'" Elder told Newsweek.
  • He said the "biggest hit" on him was when reporters dug up a 20-year opinion article where he wrote about what he called, "the SHE issues," where he cited a university study saying that men were better informed about politics than women because the latter got their information primarily from local news rather than national. "SHE" referred to Social Security, health care and education, issues that concerned women more than men. "I've written 1,200 articles. That's all you got?" he told Newsweek. "I've written men and women have the same average IQ, that there are more women in college than men, that the number of men and women entering medical and law school is equal, all that's ignored."
  • Many in the media also said he was anti-woman because he'd prevent legal abortion in California. "I wrote in 2005 that if Roe v. Wade is overturned then states can make their own laws regarding abortion," he told Newsweek. "California is adamantly pro choice, whether Larry Elder likes it or not. There is zero prospect that if Roe v. Wade is overturned the same lawmakers who are pro-choice will suddenly pass restrictions on abortion.… It's scaremongering and it takes advantage of people's ignorance of federalism."
  • He also complained that media outlets across the country ran stories about an old girlfriend claiming he assaulted her, an accusation he flatly denied. Then the same outlets downplayed the fact the district attorney declined even to investigate the matter.

The conservative Media Research Center also has a collection of a few dozen of what it says are biased hit pieces against Elder, including segments about Republican wealthy donors while ignoring Newsom's far wealthier ones (Netflix founder Reed Hastings, for example, is worth an estimated $6 billion) and an MSNBC claim that a Governor Elder "would lead to increased hate crimes."

The Los Angeles Times, CNN and MSNBC did not respond to Newsweek's requests for comment.

"The national media ignored the California recall for many weeks, until Elder rose to the top of the polls. Then it was pretty rough," said the MRC's Tim Graham. "Black conservatives are always going to get rough treatment. This was no exception. That 'Black face of white supremacy' is their dominant approach."

Larry Elder Speaks to Supporters
Larry Elder claims he lost the California gubernatorial recall election to Gavin Newsom due to media Bias. Above Elder speaks to supporters at an election night event on September 14, in Costa Mesa, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

While the MRC leans right, some nonpartisan observers agree that the coverage of the recall election was largely anti-Elder. "My heart goes out to him," said Christos Makridis, a research professor at Arizona State University and senior adviser at Gallup.

"I saw that L.A. Times, among other, headlines attacking him, so the notion of media bias and the stories that get amplified seems very plausible," Makridis said. "Negative news sells more, gets more clicks—and it seems like there's also not accountability on stories that are false."

"It's fair to say that coverage of Elder was generally negative," said John J. Pitney Jr., the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

He added, though, that "negativity does not necessarily mean journalistic bias. Elder was running an improvisational campaign against someone who has held public office since 1997. With his experience and staff support, Newsom was in a better position to control the media narrative…having worked as an opposition researcher many years ago, I would not be shocked to learn that much of the negative information about Elder originated with the Newsom camp."

Newsom did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

On the flip side, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America attacked Fox News and Newsmax TV for their favorable coverage of Elder, as well as a local news station for a "sloppy" report about 91 of 1,510 voting machines mistakenly showing votes that were not cast. "Voter fraud conspiracy theories have been at the heart of the right-wing media coverage of the recall campaign for weeks," the group said Wednesday.

Even with all the negative publicity, Elder told Newsweek he never once regretted his decision to run. "I complained about being called 'the Black face of white supremacy' and 'the Black David Duke,' but I certainly anticipated it, because I have zero respect for the media. They are the public relations bureau for the Democrats. They long stopped even trying to be objective. I just hope that now people are seeing what I've been seeing for decades," Elder said.

Updated 09/20/21, 1:38 PM ET: The headline of this story has been updated to more accurately reflect the article.