Chris Stirewalt’s testimony implicitly condemned his former Fox colleagues


Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Chris Stirewalt, who as Fox News’ politics editor helped lead the network’s decision desk during the 2020 election cycle, told the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection on Monday that it was evident almost immediately that President Donald Trump had lost his reelection bid. 

Stirewalt’s testimony implicitly made the case that his former Fox colleagues spent months either lying to their viewers or revealing their own ignorance by trumpeting the former president’s election fraud conspiracy theories. But Fox is a GOP propaganda outlet that has little interest in informing its viewers, so the network ultimately sided with the fraudsters and fired Stirewalt for being correct about the election.

Monday’s hearing focused on how Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election had been rigged against him ended up fueling rioters, who sought to subvert the results by attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The committee aired video clips of several former Trump administration and campaign officials who said that they had told Trump his “rigged election” claims were false.

Stirewalt explained that the collapse of Trump’s early lead in several states, which he seized upon as evidence of election fraud, is actually a well-known process known as the “red mirage” that “happens every time” because absentee ballots are usually counted later in the tabulation process, and more Democrats vote by mail than Republicans. He added that he and some of his colleagues had “gone to pains” before the election to stress to Fox viewers that this would happen “because the Trump campaign and the president had made it clear that they were going to try to exploit this anomaly.”

He further explained that as of November 7, 2020, when Fox and other networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden, Trump’s chances of winning were “none” and the odds of winning the Powerball were greater than the election being reversed.

Stirewalt did not directly address the role his network played after the election. But his remarks amounted to a condemnation of a wide swath of his former colleagues, including hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Maria Bartiromo, for their roles in bolstering Trump’s election fraud lies.

Fox questioned the election results or pushed conspiracy theories about it at least 774 times in the two weeks after Stirewalt’s decision desk called the race for Biden. In subsequent weeks, as Trump lashed out at Fox for being insufficiently supportive of his lies, and urged his followers to switch to its fringe-right competitors, the network’s claims became wilder, with hosts describing increasingly baroque methods by which some shadowy cabal had rigged the election.

Trump was watching Fox and its competitors during this period, and he tweeted in response to their election fraud reports dozens of times. He and his supporters also promoted those lies on the same networks, a fact the committee underlined by airing clips of Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, doing so on Fox.

The Fox hosts’ refusal to clearly state that Trump had lost and that the “red mirage” had inevitably faded — as Stirewalt did in his testimony — helped bolster the feverish state of the Trumpist right in the days following the election, which culminated in the January 6 coup attempt.

While those who touted Trump’s election lies almost universally still have their jobs at the network, Stirewalt does not. He took the blame for Fox correctly calling the state of Arizona for Biden and was dismissed during a purge of Fox’s so-called “real journalists.” Their replacements, in many cases, were Republican political operatives and Trump administration apparatchiks; that’s what Fox executives want from their “news” personnel these days. 

“No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true,” a network staffer bemoaned in 2017. As Stirewalt discovered, Fox staffers who tell the truth about Republicans risk their jobs.