NEW YORK – The steady counting of votes that has moved Democrat Joe Biden closer to the presidency is exposing rifts at Fox News Channel, the influential media outlet that is the favorite for many supporters of President Donald Trump.
Despite intense pressure from Trump's team, Fox's decision team has stood fast with its election night call of Arizona for Biden. Fox has Biden with 264 electoral votes, and if Fox calls either Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada or North Carolina for the Democrat, that would give him enough to win the presidency.
Fox anchor Bret Baier fact-checked Trump after the president took to a White House podium Thursday evening to claim the election was fraudulent and that he was being cheated.
“We have not seen the hard evidence,” Baier told viewers.
Fox carried Trump's entire speech, as did CNN, whose anchors denounced Trump sharply when it was done. CBS, ABC, NBC and MSNBC all cut away from the president to say he was spreading falsehoods, a decision that “Fox & Friends” anchor Brian Kilmeade said on Friday was arrogant.
The New York Post, like Fox a news organization owned by Rupert Murdoch and a Trump ally during the campaign, raised eyebrows Thursday by headlining a story on Trump’s speech, “Donald Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address.”
Post headlines Friday took a more neutral approach. On the front page of the print edition, the Post headlined “POTUS Interruptus: Still No Winner.” The top campaign story on the website early Friday was about the Trump campaign saying the election is not over.
Fox's news and opinion sides often contribute to a split personality at the top-rated cable network. The stress of the closely-contested presidential election has brought that to the surface.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on Friday, when CNN and MSNBC were reporting that Biden had taken a lead in the Pennsylvania vote count for the first time, “Fox & Friends” was airing a segment about Trump increasing his support among some minority voters during the election.
The Fox anchors then reported the Pennsylvania news, but softened the blow by noting that the president's team has claimed it has not been able to monitor the vote count as closely as it wants. Host Ainsley Earhardt noted that in Georgia, where Biden had similarly taken a lead overnight, there were apparently many ballots from military stationed overseas that had not been counted.
“Look, this is still too close to call in this state,” host Steve Doocy said. “We just wanted to break in and let you know.”
Moments later, Fox aired a news report from the White House, where reporter Kristin Fisher noted that Trump and his campaign had not provided evidence of any illegal voting in the presidential election.
“The reality is, he has not won the presidency with the legal votes,” Fisher said.
Fox's most-watched personalities work in prime time, however, and on Thursday they were expressing anger at how the election was turning out. Sean Hannity suggested Pennsylvania should have a do-over of its election after he showed film of a Trump supporter being turned away as an observer at a facility where votes were being counted.
Trump’s campaign has legal observers watching the vote count in Philadelphia and several key Pennsylvania counties.
Tucker Carlson called for more transparency and time.
“It is entirely possible now that, someday soon, the news media will decide to shut this election down,” Carlson said. “Believe it or not, effectively they have the power to do that.”
All votes should be counted, and the Trump team's allegations should be thoroughly checked out, he said.
“Slow down,” he said. “No hasty calls. Our nation works. It has worked before. If people air concerns, resolve the concerns. Don't call them names, don't sweep those concerns under the rug, don't shut them down artificially with unelected news anchors. Let our system work.”
Carlson didn't mention his employer, but the call of Arizona was hugely controversial. Rival MSNBC aired a report Wednesday night with Trump supporters gathering outside of a facility where votes were being counted in Arizona, when some of them began chanting, “Fox News sucks.”
The Associated Press called Arizona for Biden a few hours after Fox and has similarly stuck to its guns. Other news organizations have left Arizona undecided.
In a report Thursday afternoon, Fox's Harris Faulkner listed Arizona among states “too close to call,” even though Fox had called it. Bill Hemmer, who has been closely monitoring the vote count on Fox, told viewers that “we'll see” if that call needed to be adjusted.
But Fox's decision desk leaders have made several appearances on the air to explain the Arizona call and say it was standing by it.
“Arizona is doing just what we expected it to do and we remain serene and pristine,” said Fox politics editor Chris Stirewalt.
Prominent conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted Friday that “all of those impatient to declare the election over aren't helping anything here. The votes are all in, and the election is already over. We have a legal process. Let the process work.”
Pugnacious commentator Dan Bongino acknowledged in a Thursday podcast that things weren't looking good for Trump, but he wasn't giving up.
“It's time to fight,” he said.