Fox News anchors argued for viewers’ feelings to override “statistics and the numbers” on the network’s 2020 presidential election calls
Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are not “straight news” anchors
Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum argued in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election that the network should consider a “layer” beyond “statistics and numbers” when projecting the election results, and instead take into account how its conservative audience would react to the network’s calls.
The New York Times reviewed a recording of a Zoom meeting held on November 16, 2020, over a week after the network’s decision desk had projected Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. The article details discussions between Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and the two purported straight news anchors on the continued political fallout over the network’s correct projection on election night that Joe Biden had won the swing state of Arizona. (Fox News later fired two key news executives who had presided over the call, which was factually correct and never reversed by any real-life developments.)
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.”
Ms. Scott invited Mr. Baier and Ms. MacCallum, “the face” of the network, as she called them, to describe the heat they were taking, according to the recording reviewed by The Times.
“We are still getting bombarded,” Mr. Baier said. “It became really hurtful.” He said projections were not enough to call a state when it would be so sensitive. “I know the statistics and the numbers, but there has to be, like, this other layer” so they could “think beyond, about the implications.”
Ms. MacCallum agreed: “There’s just obviously been a tremendous amount of backlash, which is, I think, more than any of us anticipated. And so there’s that layer between statistics and news judgment about timing that I think is a factor.” For “a loud faction of our viewership,” she said, the call was a blow.
Neither she nor Mr. Baier explained exactly what they meant by another “layer.” A person who was in the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions said on Saturday that Mr. Baier had been talking about process because he was upset the Decision Desk had made the Arizona call without letting the anchors know first.
New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker and The New Yorker staff writer Susan Glasser reported last year in their book The Divider that Baier had attempted to convince the network to retract its call of Arizona for Biden and to “put it back” as Trump winning, even though Trump trailed at the time by more than 10,000 votes.
“The Trump campaign was really pissed,” he wrote in an email to Jay Wallace, the president and executive editor at Fox. “This situation is getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. I keep having to defend this on air.” He accused the Decision Desk of “holding on for pride” and added: “It’s hurting us. The sooner we pull it—even if it gives us major egg [on our faces]—and we put it back in his column the better we are in my opinion.
By the time of the Zoom meeting on November 16, there could not have been any remaining doubt over the fundamental accuracy of the Arizona call. Baier and MacCallum, however, were still arguing that it had been a political mistake for the network to be first on the air with this truthful story.
This newest reporting further reveals the extent to which Fox does not have a “straight news” side, but instead is just another cog in a right-wing propaganda machine. This story must also be considered in the context of revelations from Dominion Voting Systems’ ongoing defamation lawsuit against Fox, which reveals that Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and other key executives knew that the Trump campaign’s conspiracy theories about massive electoral fraud were indeed false, but that the network continued to push them in the pursuit of profit.
In the two-week period after the Fox News decision desk had declared Joe Biden the president-elect, the network’s coverage undermined that projection by questioning the results of the election or pushing conspiracy theories at least 774 times.