Former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt recounted the “terrible feeling of humiliation” over getting fired by the network after he defended the Fox News decision desk’s early but accurate election night call for President Joe Biden to win Arizona, adding that it was “very challenging” to tell his kids he was suddenly kicked to the curb.
Stirewalt was among several former Fox News employees to speak with Australia’s ABC TV for a multi-episode documentary about Fox’s evolution into a propaganda outlet for former President Donald Trump. In part one, which first aired Monday, a number of Fox insiders, including Stirewalt, linked the fall of disgraced Fox News CEO Roger Ailes to the rise of Trump on Fox.
Suggesting that Ailes was the only one who could rein in the network’s top stars and enforce a consistent code of on-air conduct, Stirewalt said that once Ailes was fired over multiple sexual misconduct allegations in the summer of 2016, the network quickly went full-tilt for Trump.
“Trump was a dangerous entity, and no one could control him,” he said. “The company went through a rebranding several months later. And we were stunned to see that the phrase ‘Fair and Balanced,’ which had been our core, had been removed.”
While the network has turned to a new tagline, Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier still signs off his nightly broadcast with the phrase “fair, balanced and unafraid.” A Fox News spokesperson also pointed the Daily Beast to the work of Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who has repeatedly challenged Trump in interviews and debates, and other reporters to push back on Stirewalt’s characterization of the network’s drop in editorial standards and fealty to Trump.
The former longtime Fox News political analyst went on to say that once Ailes was canned, the “conduct for the opinion hosts went way down,” specifically highlighting the time in 2018 when Fox News stars Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro joined Trump up on a rally stage.
“We would have never been in a place where Sean Hannity could appear onstage at a rally with Donald Trump,” he bemoaned. “It's bad for business, it’s bad for the country, it’s bad for everything when you become an arm of a political party.”
(Following Hannity’s rally-stage appearance, the network publicly reprimanded its star, saying in a statement that Fox “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events” and the “unfortunate distraction” had been addressed.)
Discussing his fateful election night coverage, Stirewalt noted that Fox had gone into the evening hyping up its decision desk as “best-in-class,” and how it made it “doubly important” that they were clear and transparent about their voter projections. Specifically, as Stirewalt pointed out, Trump had explicitly laid “down a predicate” to steal the election if it didn’t turn out his way.
The early Arizona call, naturally, tossed a wrench in Team Trump’s attempt to declare victory that evening. It also led to confusion on-air for Fox News and extreme anger from the Trump camp that night, who reportedly tried to get the network to reverse the call. At the same time, Stirewalt took to the air to defend the decision desk’s correct projection, prompting backlash from MAGA viewers and Trump himself who directly blamed Fox News for the election loss.
Asked by ABC TV host Sarah Ferguson if any superior asked him to change the projection after the fact, Stirewalt said the decision desk “received no instruction to reverse the call” but did say “there was a lot of questions” over whether they were sure they made an accurate call.
“Wasn't there an executive who said that you should stop making calls?” Ferguson followed up.
“I'm not gonna talk about that stuff,” Stirewalt curtly replied.
With Trump immediately kicking off his “Big Lie” that the election was “stolen” from him after Election Night, Stirewalt said that Trump claiming the election was fraudulent was the “worst thing that a president has done in my lifetime” and that he was personally the target of online abuse and a “river of hate” over the Arizona call.
Following the election, Fox News briefly went through a massive ratings slump, seemingly due to enraged Trump supporters abandoning the network in favor of far-right alternatives willing to push Trump’s election lies. Eventually, with the Murdochs in need of scapegoats, Stirewalt was among those “purged” by the network.
“Well, it was, it was, um, as a father, it was—as a father it was very challenging because I did not know how I was going to tell my sons that I was unemployed,” a somewhat emotional Stirewalt recounted. “Because, you know, you're just making me think about um, how I felt thinking about having to tell my kids and it was a terrible feeling of humiliation that you have to tell your kids that you lost your job.”
The former Fox personality also said “the amount of ignorance and the amount of willful ignorance was concerning and disappointing,” adding that it was a “foretaste of what was to come” from Trump and right-wing media.
The ABC TV documentary, titled Fox and the Big Lie, featured commentary from Stirewalt along with other key former Fox News stars like Gretchen Carlson, whose allegations brought down Ailes’ career, and Carl Cameron, the network’s first chief political correspondent.
In response to the program, Fox News issued a predictably dismissive statement, which aired during the broadcast: “The use of former disgruntled employees, some of whom were not part of the company during our coverage of the U.S. presidential election and its aftermath, completely discredits any credibility of this program. We stand by our coverage with our millions of viewers who make us the most-watched cable television network.”