Should Fox News Call Elections Based On Numbers Or Feelings? Journalism Is Tough!

TRIGGER WARNING for delivering the news

Here's another one for the "Let's pretend we didn't know THE WHOLE TIME that Fox News was actively lying to its viewers" file. It's the "surprise" we've all been "grappling with" ever since we started reading Dominion filings. That said, it's a bit wild to see just how craven these people really are behind the scenes, and how much apparent contempt they have for their viewers. We've learned just how much bullshit Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch believed Donald Trump's fever dreams about a "rigged and stollen [sic] election"] election" to be. "Really crazy stuff," he said.

This weekend's batch of news isn't a court filing, but rather reporting from the New York Times on how nuts it was off camera at Fox just after the 2020 election, how much "panic" there was. You'll remember that one major event from Fox's election coverage was that it correctlycalled Arizona for Joe Biden, far earlier than anyone else did, and Trumpworld was seething over it.

Fox anchors and execs were so mad their network had called it correctly. We imagine things do feel weird and icky over at Fox News HQ on the rare occasion their network is the most accurate of them all. They were worried all their idiot viewers were going to leave them for Newsmax, who would blow BS up their butts even harder than Fox was willing to.

And so Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott put together a Zoom call to figure out how to make sure this never happened again:

[O]n Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, and Jay Wallace, the network’s president, convened a Zoom meeting for an extraordinary discussion with an unusual goal, according to a recording of the call reviewed by The New York Times: How to keep from angering the network’s conservative audience again by calling an election for a Democrat before the competition.

We were not exaggerating. They were trying to make sure they were never that correct again, at least not when a Democrat was going to win. Obviously Fox News has been in this position before. Who can forget Karl Rove's seething anger on air when Fox News (correctly) called Ohio for Barack Obama in 2012, which led then-anchor Megyn Kelly to dramatically walk down to the network's Nerd Room to confront the election math nerds over the call? That was funny.

And here was Fox News eight years later, being right again!

How could they avoid problems like this in the future?

Maybe, the Fox executives mused, they should abandon the sophisticated new election-projecting system in which Fox had invested millions of dollars and revert to the slower, less accurate model.

Maybe they could do that!


Or maybe they should base calls not solely on numbers but on how viewers might react.

Yes, we have to weigh accurate reality against the delicate snowflake feelings of Fox News viewers. Maybe they should issue trigger warnings before election calls. Maybe they could remind them that they will always love them no matter what and this isn't their fault.


Or maybe they should delay calls, even if they were right, to keep the audience in suspense and boost viewership.

Maybe they shouldn't tell them at all!

Let them figure it out in a few years, when they realize Santa has the same handwriting as mommy and Joe Biden has the same handwriting as the president.

“Listen, it’s one of the sad realities: If we hadn’t called Arizona, those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger,” Ms. Scott said. “The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”

Or maybe it wouldn't have. Maybe somebody more credible would have gone ahead and made the call that all the Seen Enough-ers on Twitter were ready to make a few days after the election. It certainly felt to this news-watching blogger that at least part of the reason everybody else was so reticent to call Arizona was the weapons-grade freakout Fox News was having over its own (correct) call. (The Times reminds us that the Associated Press -- the true gold standard in election forecasting -- went ahead and called Arizona just a few hours after Fox did. They also quote one Fox exec who is pretty sure the other networks waited because they were having fun watching Fox's fans go feral because they had made that correct call.)

Obviously nobody would ever want to be in the position of having to retract a call. And despite its millions of faults, Fox News actually is known to be pretty spot-on when it comes to calling elections. And they had this fancy new election projector doohickey!

But not for long!

Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, the two main anchors, suggested it was not enough to call a state based on numerical calculations, the standard by which networks have made such determinations for generations, but that viewer reaction should be considered. “In a Trump environment,” Ms. MacCallum said, “the game is just very, very different.”

Christ, what fucking clowns. These are the "news side" anchors, too, by the way, in case you are having a hard time remembering.

At 8:30 the [morning after the election], Ms. Scott suggested Fox not call any more states until certified by authorities, a formal process that could take days or weeks. She was talked out of that. But the next day, with Mr. Biden’s lead in Arizona narrowing, Mr. Baier noted that Mr. Trump’s campaign was angry and suggested reversing the call. “It’s hurting us,” he wrote Mr. Wallace and others in a previously reported email. “The sooner we pull it even if it gives us major egg. And put it back in his column. The better we are. In my opinion.”

Yes, why not just put it in Donald Trump's column to get Trump and his fans to stop sobbing, even if that's not ultimately correct? The numbers nerds were fully aware that was what was going on, and they were super-confident in their call.

Arizona had never been in Mr. Trump’s column, and the Decision Desk overseen by Bill Sammon, the managing editor for Washington, resisted giving it “back” to a candidate who was losing just to satisfy critics.

The Times notes that because of all this, Fox News, which could have been the first to call the whole election (correctly), was the last one to do so. Even though their numbers nerds knew. And their idiot viewers just started having meltdowns and angrily shitting on their kitchen floors while watching Newsmax, to punish Fox News for its betrayal.

Anyway, Bill Sammon got fired for being good at his job, and Chris Stirewalt, the numbers nerd who the Times notes actually went on Fox to explain and defend the Arizona call, got fired for being good at his job.

Mr. Sammon, who had called every election correctly over 12 years at Fox and had just been offered a new three-year contract, was told that same day that his contract would not be renewed after all. He heard not from Fox but from his lawyer, Robert Barnett. Mr. Stirewalt was out too.

Fox would, in the end, wait until after Georgia to announce the purge, without attributing it to the Arizona call. Mr. Sammon, who negotiated a severance package, would call his departure a “retirement,” while Stirewalt’s dismissal was characterized as a “restructuring.”

Sorry about your livelihoods, guys. Donald Trump and some white people who live in East Bugfuck, Alabama, are having full-on toddler meltdowns because you told them the truth about the election results and now you need to leave the building.

This has been an article about a news network. What will we learn about it next?

[New York Times]

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Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the managing editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

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