A former Fox News reporter spills the beans

Today’s newsletter is a guest contribution by Jeremy W. Peters, who writes for The Times’ media desk. He got his hands on an upcoming book by Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News senior reporter, and is sharing it here.

After a decade at Fox News, Chris Stirewalt was suddenly shown the door in January 2021, becoming a casualty of restructuring — or at least that’s how Fox described his layoffs and others that followed. sweeping out longtime reporters who were part of network news. division

Stirewalt, who was part of the Fox News team projecting the election results and testified before a House committee on Jan. 6 this summer, suspects there was a bigger reason behind his firing, which he explains in his new book: “Breaking News: Why the Media Rage Machine Is Dividing America and How to Fight Back”, which will be published next week.

“I was canned after very vocal and very online viewers, including the then-President of the United States, were outraged when our Decision Desk was the first to project that Joe Biden would win the former Republican stronghold of Arizona in 2020,” Stirewalt writes. .

Coming in at 11:20 p.m., long before the other networks declared Biden would win the state, Fox’s call was extremely controversial and consequential. It infuriated Donald Trump and threw a wrench into his attempt to falsely declare himself the winner of the 2020 election. He ordered his campaign aides to demand Fox retract the call, to no avail.

Despite pressure to reverse its decision and the ratings slump Fox suffered in the coming weeks after Trump urged people to look to other networks, the network did not budge as Decision Desk analysts insisted that the data backed up their projections. And they were right.

A Fox News spokeswoman said, “Chris Stirewalt’s pursuit of relevance knows no bounds” and disputed the idea that his departure from the network had anything to do with the Arizona call. He added that Arnon Mishkin, the head of the Decision Bureau, would return for the midterm elections in November.

Stirewalt’s book is an often candid reflection on the state of political journalism and its transition to Fox News, where such post-mortem assessments are not common, either because of the strict confidentiality agreements in place for employees or the loyalty they maintain. some network experts. feel even after you’re gone.

According to Stirewalt, the network has played a leading role in the fattening of American democracy and the radicalization of the right. At one point in the book, he accuses Fox of inciting “black helicopter-level paranoia and hatred.”

He describes how, during his 11 years at the network, he witnessed Fox feeding its viewers more and more of what they wanted to hear, and little else. That kind of affirmative action coverage got worse during the years Trump was president, he says, and fueled a backlash from Trump supporters once Fox called Arizona for Biden.

“Even in the four years since the previous presidential election, Fox viewers had become even more accustomed to sycophants and less willing to listen to news that challenged their expectations,” he writes. “Serving green beans to viewers who had been spoon-fed ice cream for years was a terrible shock to their systems.”

He describes the “rage” directed at him and the rest of the Decision Desk team, writing: “Amidst the geyser of anger following the Arizona call, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, called for the my dismissal and accused me of a ‘cover-up'”.

He continues: “Covering up what, exactly? We had no ballots to count and no electoral votes to award.”

Stirewalt also writes, “Had viewers had a more accurate understanding of the race over time, Trump’s loss would have been seen as a likely outcome. Instead of understanding his narrow 2016 victory as the shocking upset that was, viewers were told to assume that the polls don’t apply (unless they’re good for Trump) and that prognosticators like me would be wrong again.”

Stirewalt names names, taking particular aim at Tucker Carlson, the host of Fox’s prime-time show and a frequent fan of the flames in the nation’s culture battles. It paints Carlson and Fox management as hypocrites who claim to oppose big corporate media despite being part of a gigantic corporate media company.

“Carlson is rich and famous,” Stirewalt writes. “However, he often talks about ‘big legacy media.’ Guests denounce the ‘corporate media’ on his show, and Fox CEO calls Carlson ‘brave’ for discussing controversial issues. Yet somehow , no one laughs.”

He adds, “It doesn’t take any kind of journalistic courage to put out night after night exactly what your audience wants to hear.”

Stirewalt also offers a counterintuitive view of what Fox News ultimately wants to achieve by offering content that leans heavily to the right. It’s not to elect Republicans or even help them at all, he says.

Rather, it’s about making money.

Hosts like Sean Hannity and pundits like Dick Morris, the former Clinton aide turned regular on Fox, have for years peddled falsehoods to their audiences about how Republicans are well positioned to win their races, ostensibly with the ‘aimed at leveraging network ratings, writes Stirewalt.

“They wanted it to be true because they wanted the Republicans to win,” he says, “but keeping viewers in the loop about the historic victory was an attractive incentive to overstate the GOP’s chances. It was good that they raised expectations, but it wasn’t good for the party they were rooting for.”

He adds: “Despite everything Fox’s detractors said about the network as the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, the two organizations had fundamentally different goals.”

Stirewalt briefly reflects on what his role might have been in all of this, now that he’s been gone for a year and a half. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for The Bulwark, a publication that has become a hotbed of anti-Trump energy among disgruntled Republicans.

“I do not pretend that I have always been on the side of the angels,” he writes. “But I’ve definitely paid my dues.”

After initially keeping their distance, mainstream Republicans are rallying around Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, writes Trip Gabriel. Mastriano, a hard-right Trump loyalist who marched on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, has raised fears that, if elected, he would not certify a Democratic victory in the state’s 2024 presidential race.

More democracies are declining, and even sliding into autocracy, today than at any time in the past century, according to data from V-Dem, a tracking institute based in Sweden. Max Fisher, an international journalist and columnist for The Times, takes a country-by-country look.

In The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes about how American democracy was never designed to be fully democratic.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.


Do you think there is something we are missing? Anything you want to see more of? We would love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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