Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, the two “journalists” Fox likes to hold up as the best in the business, proved they were willing to sabotage the 2020 presidential election reporting, like the rest of the network.
In a March 4, 2023 article, The New York Times reported on a recorded Zoom meeting from November 16, 2020 in which top Fox executives discussed how to avoid angering its viewers by not calling an election for a Democrat before the competition. “Typically, it is a point of pride for a news network to be the first to project election winners,” The Times noted. “But Fox is no typical news network.”
The rest of the article proves that the word “typical” should have been left out altogether. Especially since Fox’s top “news anchors,” Baier and MacCallum, wanted to include “viewer reaction” when considering the time to call a state’s election results:
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. Or maybe they should base calls not solely on numbers but on how viewers might react. Or maybe they should delay calls, even if they were right, to keep the audience in suspense and boost viewership.
“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,” [Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News Media] said. “The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”
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.”
Even worse, Baier suggested the network reverse its early call of Arizona for Joe Biden because it had been bad for its brand and business:
[Two days after Election 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 [FNC president Jay] 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.”
The Times goes on to report that Bill Sammon, then the managing editor for the Washington bureau, resisted. But by Friday of that week, when Sammon’s team was ready to call Nevada for Biden and declare him the overall winner, Fox would not allow it. The network was the last to declare Biden the winner, 14 hours after its own team had reached its conclusion. Media Matters notes, “That Sammon, who slanted Fox’s reporting to the right and bragged about falsely portraying Barack Obama as a socialist during the 2008 election, was the voice of reason here shows how far the network had gone.”
Baier and MacCallum sided with propaganda over journalism and facts during that November 16 meeting:
“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.
You may recall that in March, 2019, the Democratic National Committee refused to host any of its presidential primary debates on Fox News. DNC chair Tom Perez cited recent reporting in The New Yorker of “the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News” as having “led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.” That article pales in comparison to the bias and duplicity that has come out about Fox since then.
At the time, Fox issued a statement all but begging the DNC to reconsider:
In a statement, Fox News Senior Vice President Bill Sammon said: “We hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate. They’re the best debate team in the business and they offer candidates an important opportunity to make their case to the largest TV news audience in America, which includes many persuadable voters.”
Some 2020 Democratic candidates, such as Bernie Sanders, took part in Baier/MacCallum-moderated town halls on Fox News anyway. I doubt there will be any such events in the 2024 campaign.
I suspect Sammon would have a different perspective now. He and politics editor Chris Stirewalt were forced out after the 2020 election for having told the truth about the election results. Chris Wallace left the network last year, saying he no longer felt comfortable with its programming.
(MacCallum/Baier image via YouTube screen grab)