Two top executives of Fox News who were involved in accurately calling Arizona for Joe Biden would be leaving the organisation by the end of the month, a move that is being seen as part of the discontent from the organisation leadership under Rupert Murdoch over the alleged mishandling of the election projection.
Chris Stirewalt, 45, who had been with the network for more than a decade, was the onscreen face of the channel when it projected 11 electoral votes for the then-Democratic candidate Mr Biden, ahead of the other networks, thereby drawing ire from the supporters of president Donald Trump. He has reportedly been asked to go, though the channel has not issued any statement, citing employee confidentiality.
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Bill Sammon, 62, Washington DC’s managing editor and senior vice president, also announced his retirement on Monday. Sammon was heading the ‘decision desk’ of the network, which drew criticism for its Arizona call, despite an accurate prediction.
The network had projected Arizona for Mr Biden at 11:20 pm on election night of 3 November when only 73 per cent of the votes were reported, while other news networks sought more evidence before making the call. “It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona,” Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, had said on Twitter.
“Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls,” Mr Ducey said.
It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona. Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls. In AZ, we protected Election Day. Let’s count the votes — all the votes — before making declarations.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) November 4, 2020
Though the network’s call was backed by the Associated Press three hours later, the early projection had infuriated Mr Trump’s campaign, with his advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner contacting Fox’s owner, Mr Murdoch.
Explaining the significance of Fox’s early call on the election night, the New York Times wrote," The Trump campaign knew Arizona could be up for grabs, but the Fox News call putting it in Mr Biden’s column was symbolic, making it the first state that appeared to have flipped from the president’s 2016 batch of winning states."
The damage was caused not just to Mr Trump but also to the reputation of the channel, it said. Mr Murdoch reportedly told his colleagues that the way the network handled the Arizona news cemented the image of the channel as working against the outgoing president.
The Trump campaign was “livid,” said John Roberts, the chief White House correspondent of Fox News. "Pushback is a very light word to use."
Two days after the call, Stirewalt defended the projection and said, “Arizona is doing just what we expected it to do, and we remain serene and pristine.” Though Stirewalt continued to co-host a Fox News politics podcast with another anchor Dana Perino, he hasn’t been on air since 16 November, reported the New York Times.
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But Stirewalt and Sammon are not the only ones exiting the channel. Fox is also firing 20 other staffers, as a part of “post-election restructuring” of the channel.
“We are confident these changes will ensure the platform continues to deliver breakthrough reporting and insightful analysis surrounding major issues, both stateside and abroad," the network told the Washington Post.
Earlier, it was reported that Newsmax TV had beaten Fox News on ratings for the first time, out-ranking its 7pm show on Monday, 7 December, after Mr Trump actively encouraged his supporters to ditch Fox in favour of the conservative channel.
Newsmax overtook Fox by 26,000 viewers in the key 25-to-54 age demographic, coveted by advertisers in the TV industry, during the 7 pm programme slot on that day. Fox has since rebounded and, according to Nielsen’s ratings, ended 2021 with its highest ever figures.