Inside the Panic at Fox News After the 2020 Election


Rather than be the first to call the election winner, Fox became the last. CNN declared Mr. Biden the victor the next day at 11:24 a.m., followed by the other networks. Fox did not concur until 11:40 a.m., some 14 hours after Mr. Sammon’s election team internally concluded the race was over.

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While Mr. Biden held onto Arizona by 10,000 votes, the explosive fallout from the Fox call panicked the network. Viewers erupted. Ratings fell. “I’ve never seen a reaction like this, to any media company,” Tucker Carlson told Ms. Scott in a Nov. 9 message released in a court filing. Ms. Scott complained to a colleague that Mr. Sammon did not understand “the impact to the brand and the arrogance in calling AZ” and it was his job “to protect the brand.”

On Nov. 16, Ms. Scott and Mr. Wallace convened the Zoom meeting to discuss the Arizona decision. Mr. Sammon and Arnon Mishkin, the director of the Decision Desk, were included. Chris Stirewalt, the political editor who had gone on air to defend the call, was not.

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.