“Et tu, Fox News?” the president might have reflected as he watched the support of his favourite news network ebb away.
In reality, Donald Trump probably directed something less Shakespearean at the television screen. Perhaps a shoe.
The split between the White House and Fox has been one of the most unexpected dramas of the 2020 election. Loyal in 2016, and throughout Trump’s presidency, the network tempered its support this time.
And on election night, in a move that stunned not just the president, it called Arizona for Joe Biden when only 86 per cent of the vote had been counted and Trump was only just behind. Four days later no other US television network had called the state.
Trump was reportedly apoplectic. His campaign attacked Fox News “decision desk” director Arnon Mishkin as a “Clinton-voting, Biden-donating Democrat” who made a “terrible decision” and “refused to retract an unjustified call”.
The president and his son-in law Jared Kushner reportedly called Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News, But Murdoch, in an email to the Washington Post, said the president himself had not complained.
Murdoch wrote: “If he had, I would not have interfered or changed our call.”
In the ensuing days, Mishkin was repeatedly brought on air by Fox News anchors and defended the decision. He said: “Arithmetic is more important than politics.”
For years supporters of Trump had chanted “CNN Sucks” at his rallies.
But in Phoenix, Arizona, they began chanting “Fox News Sucks”. The network proceeded to step very carefully around the president’s allegations of massive vote fraud.
In a Friday night broadcast Fox News anchor Bret Baier said; “We just haven’t seen it. It hasn’t been presented to us.”
Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University, said: “These people have their own journalistic standards that they want to uphold. My guess is that the Murdoch family is not calling into the newsroom to tell Bret Baier how to cover certain kinds of stories.”
Reece Peck, author of a book called Fox Populism, said: “Murdoch at times, you can sense him understanding where the political winds are going. Biden is not very threatening to the business community in the US.”
As Americans remained glued to their television screens, the chaotic news coverage of the election saw several networks cutting away from the president as he claimed he was being “cheated”, and a CNN anchor described Trump as “pathetic”.
CNN and Fox News sniped, playing clips of each other and dissecting the coverage, calling into question their rivals’ integrity.
Meanwhile, Trump has claimed that both networks, and MSNBC, will collapse if he is no longer in office.
During his presidency, ratings for Fox News soared and it set a cable news record of 14 million on election night.
However, overall 56.9 million Americans watched election night television coverage. That was a large drop from 71 million in 2016.
As Saturday dawned, networks were left scrambling to explain why they had not yet called the election.Perhaps it was trepidation at the backlash from Trump and his supporters, or uncertainty over how the surge in postal voting would affect prediction models.
Quizzed by his own anchor, CNN political director David Chalian said: “All they do is, every single time a vote comes in from one of these states, they plug it into their models and their formulas, trying to ascertain a very high level of confidence.”
He suggested it was necessary to be 99.7 per cent sure that “whoever is the number two person in these contests doesn’t have a real possibility to overtake the number one person.”
Meanwhile, on Fox News, even one of Trump’s favourite opinion hosts was suggesting he should leave “gracefully” if it came to it.
Laura Ingraham, who the president watches avidly, said: “If and when it’s time to accept an unfavourable outcome in this election – and we hope it never comes – but, if and when that does happen, president Trump needs to do it with the same grace and composure he demonstrated at that town hall [on NBC News last month].
“So many people remarked about his tone and presence. Exactly what he needs. And I’m not conceding anything tonight, by the way, but losing, if that’s what happens, it’s awful. But President Trump’s legacy will only become more significant if he focuses on moving the country forward.
“The presenter called the president a “political hero” to tens of millions of Americans who would be the “kingmaker” in 2024.Mr Trump’s reaction is unknown. But it is possible he may have switched over to One America News, a smaller network which is still offering full support.
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