When Fox News became the first network to project Joe Biden as the winner of the typically conservative state of Arizona, Trump administration officials and conservatives across the country called foul. In the end, Mr. Biden’s lead narrowed so extensively in the Grand Canyon state that regardless of the final outcome, the network’s call was undoubtedly premature.
So, why was the conservative station so eager to call the race – and was the decision a harbinger of a changing ideology at the network?
In 2019, President Trump flirted with the idea of abandoning Fox News in exchange for One America’s News Network, a conservative start-up channel.
He wrote on Twitter, “Fox News doesn’t deliver for U.S. anymore. It is so different than it used to be.”
Trump later tweeted, “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore.” He then went on to praise one of its competitors, “Thank you to @OANN One America News for your fair coverage and brilliant reporting. It is appreciated by many people trying so hard to find a new, consistent and powerful VOICE!”
Should a network be “working” for any candidate in the first place?
Fox News then and now continues to dominate cable news in terms of ratings, but the allegiance of loyalists has been frayed in recent months.
On Election Night, Fox News expressed such certainty with their Arizona projection that a member of the Decision Desk came on and said that they were “100%” sure and that there was no way Trump could have won the state.
As of Wednesday, November 11, eights days after the election, just 12,813 votes separate Mr. Biden from Mr. Trump – a razor thin margin with 99% of its votes tallied.
It seems like more and more the Arizona call was premature, and a way for the network to both distance itself from Trump and be one of the first to announce the night’s victor.
The administration was unhappy, and Fox News executives, anchors and analysts received a barrage of calls demanding a retraction.
As The Washington Post puts it, “The fury with which Team Trump fought back against Fox’s call for Arizona signified the extent to which it saw it as a dire omen — and a betrayal.”
This souring relationship goes beyond the Arizona call.
The Washington Post reports that anchor Neil Cavuto cut away from a White House press conference by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany when she started talking about voter fraud. He said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”
Sandra Smith, host of “America’s Newsroom,” was caught on camera grimacing and seemingly rolling her eyes at a Trump supporter who challenged election legitimacy, saying on a hot mic “What? What is happening? Like, Trace (Gallagher), we’ve called it.”
Todd Starnes, the conservative host, noticed this as well. On Facebook, he shared, “In my final year at Fox News Channel, my editors told me that I could no longer write any columns defending religious liberty against the LGBT movement. They refused to publish any column that reflected negatively on LGBT activists. That’s when I figured my time at the Fox News Corner of the World was nearing an end.”
While it’s understandable that Fox News wants to distance itself from Donald Trump to avoid looking like it’s only interested in one candidate and party, the challenge is that it may eventually put a large dent in its audience in the process.
In the media world, conservatives rarely have an outlet that will pay them much attention. MSNBC remains uber liberal and, in recent years, CNN is as bad or worse. Fox News has been a place where conservatives could hear perspective that was either middle of the road or right-leaning. That’s in part why the network remains so dominant in the ratings.
If Fox News abandons that conservative viewpoint, will its audience eventually move on as well? It’s possible.
Both One America News Network and Newsmax are alternatives that, while remaining small operations, have a growing footprint for those that want a different take.
It’s also possible that some of the network’s headliners like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity may look elsewhere if they encounter too much network interference, perhaps to the rumored news network Trump is considering after he leaves office. There were rumors that Judge Jeanine Pirro was being dropped by the channel, though it now appears like those were premature.
Either way, Fox News has to tread carefully, or it may eventually lose its place as America’s most popular news network. It may have already started, as the network came in third on Saturday against competitors CNN and MSNBC.
Photo from rafapress / Shutterstock.com