Rep. Elise Stefanik at a press conference in Washington, D.C. in January 2022. Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum for the Albany Times Union. Used by permission.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik represents the vast majority of North Country Public Radio’s coverage area. The story of her political evolution from moderate newcomer to one of former President Donald Trump’s most trusted and vocal allies is among the most important stories of the decade in our region.
NCPR has been among the few journalism outlets to follow that transformation from the very beginning. In 2022, we doubled down on that history of in-depth reporting, dedicating resources to hire longtime NCPR reporter Zach Hirsch on a contract to follow Stefanik’s continued embrace of Trump, far-right politics, and, in particular, their lies and misleading statements about the 2020 election. Zach worked on this beat with our full-time reporters Emily Russell, Amy Feiereisel, and Cara Chapman.
While national outlets like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Politico have recently published in-depth profiles of Rep. Stefanik and her political transformation, NCPR was years ahead of the curve. We sat down with her in 2016, back when she was a frequent critic of Trump and even hesitated to say his name.
Those national profiles have drawn from and built upon North Country Public Radio’s expertise. In fact, Jesse McKinley, a journalist who contributed to the recent Times piece, tweeted a link to our reporting in May. “A reminder, yet again, for the thousand-th time, that we need news organizations like @ncpr keeping an eye on political leaders,” he wrote.
In our reporting in 2022, misinformation was a common theme. We found that Stefanik used her leverage as a high-ranking member of Congress to mislead and spread conspiracy theories about voting, immigration, mask mandates, critical race theory, and the FBI. We also observed a pattern of provoking anger and fear where the public conversation had been relatively quiet.
We also saw that Stefanik remains popular in the 21st Congressional district by focusing heavily on local issues and constituent services. Even while cultivating a national reputation as a pro-Trump political firebrand, she has advocated for the region – bringing in millions of federal dollars for local projects, occasionally touting programs that she voted against in Congress.
Throughout 2022, we spoke with dozens of local government officials, teachers, parents, and voters for these stories. For deeper analysis, we interviewed political scientists, an election law expert, a rhetorician, and other specialists. We also spoke with Stefanik’s current and former campaign volunteers on background.
Access was the most challenging aspect of the reporting. We repeatedly sent Stefanik detailed questions and interview requests to no avail. Stefanik has a long history of denying interviews to regional media outlets, breaking with a long-standing tradition of accessibility by both Republican and Democratic officeholders in the district.
We reported more than 30 stories about Rep. Stefanik, with about half of those focusing on misinformation and the congresswoman’s political transformation. Two of our reports were later adapted for a national audience on NPR’s Morning Edition. (Our entry only includes stories that were locally reported and edited with no outside help.)
Eleven of our pieces are included in this entry. The full list is below.
SUMMARY OF STORIES IN THIS ENTRY (NOTE – Most host intros are omitted for time):
7:45 – 16:20 (part two)
We kicked off our coverage with a special report documenting and fact-checking Stefanik’s statements about voting and elections – many of which proved to be misleading or untrue. This is the first piece from the two-part special report.
Using publicly available documents, video footage, media appearances, and social media posts, we laid out a detailed timeline revealing Stefanik’s political calculations. We found that she repeatedly – and knowingly – spread false conspiracy theories in order to rise through the ranks of the Republican Party, and that her strategy was successful.
We published the questions we sent her for this story. You can find the original digital story of the two-part special report here. It contains the links to research, previous interviews, and other documentation that backs our reporting.
As former President Trump and Rep. Stefanik held a joint fundraiser, we looked back to our 2016 sit-down interview with Stefanik, when she listed a number of Trump’s ideas that she “absolutely” opposed.
18:36 – 23:31 School officials say Stefanik spread misinformation and fueled confrontations over masks (part one)
The local conversation about masking had been relatively quiet, school officials said — until Congresswoman Stefanik fired off a series of tweets about New York State’s mask mandate, falsely calling it “illegal.”
23:32 – 28:57 School officials say Stefanik spread misinformation and fueled confrontations over masks (part two)
In Part Two of our mask mandate story, Amy Feiereisel reports that Stefanik’s actions had very real consequences for local school officials, even though masking wasn’t a decision for them to make.
We published the questions that we sent Stefanik for this story at the bottom of the original digital piece.
In an image that got a lot of attention on Stefanik’s social media profiles, the congresswoman poses with a sign that says “FOXTROT JULIET BRAVO,” widely understood to mean “f*** Joe Biden” in conservative circles.
Stefanik was in the national spotlight after a white gunman opened fire in a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10 Black people. In earlier campaign ads, the congresswoman had made a false claim that closely resembled the white supremacist “replacement theory,” the racist notion that there is a plot to replace white voters with non-white immigrants. The gunman appeared to have written about that same theory. Regardless, after the shooting, Stefanik defended her ads (and later doubled down on them).
34:47 – 36:18 ‘Dominion’ voting conspiracy, which Stefanik amplified, debunked in Jan. 6 hearings (EXCERPT)
North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik was one of the people amplifying misinformation about Dominion, well after it was debunked in an official letter.
Stefanik brought national talking points about critical race theory onto the local stage, stoking some parents’ fears of a hidden agenda in the classroom, often when there was little or no local opposition beforehand.
After the congresswoman publicly attacked the New York State Education Department over critical race theory, we found that many of her claims relied on the findings of a misleading report by a Republican dark money group.
After the FBI raided former president Trump’s home in Florida, Congresswoman Stefanik made a striking claim: That federal law enforcement agencies have been politically weaponized against Republicans. Cara Chapman had an opportunity to ask Stefanik about that claim.
Stefanik has prided herself on her record of bipartisanship since she first took office. Those examples of crossing the aisle for legislation have become rarer, but her vote on marriage equality was one example in 2022.
As Stefanik ascends the national political ladder, how focused has she been on local, North Country issues? Our reporting found that Stefanik has been successful at attracting federal funding to the region. But we also found instances where Stefanik exaggerated her effectiveness, notably taking credit for projects that she voted against in Congress.
FULL LIST OF NCPR’s STEFANIK COVERAGE IN 2022: