Fox News Gets Ready to Dump Trump
Fox staffers believe the network will pivot to a focus on bashing a President Biden. Rival outlet Newsmax sees an opening with the loyal Trumpkin viewers potentially left behind.
Their sometimes stormy (not Daniels) marriage began nine years ago, when the right-leaning cable channel’s founding chairman, the late Roger Ailes, gave Trump a weekly segment on the popular morning show Fox & Friends, thus launching the reality television star’s improbable trip to the White House.
However, since Tuesday night—when the top-rated outlet’s Decision Desk, all alone among the nation’s major cable and broadcast networks, enraged Trump and millions of viewers by calling Arizona’s 11 electoral votes for Joe Biden—Fox News has been embarked on the thorny, painful and public process of separating from the 45th president of the United States.
Which is not to mistake this tricky transition as the loving embrace of Biden.
“Hosts will scream ‘socialism,’ tell its minority viewers that Biden's policies are bad for them, and they will further push the narrative that it's Kamala Harris viewers should be scared of, since she’s the actual president behind the scenes, according to their narrative,” said a longtime Fox News staffer, one of four who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity in order to protect their jobs. “I believe it will be a resistance network if Biden wins, because being in the opposition is good for business.”
A second staffer predicted that in the event of a Biden presidency, Fox News’ programming “will be a black hole where news dies and conspiracy theories and opinions reign supreme.” (Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo has already plunged into these dark and turbid waters.) The Fox employee continued: “They will highlight any issue that the economy has and blame it on Biden. Every news item that can be ‘spun’ to make Biden look bad will be magnified. Trump and his cabinet will likely have ‘contributor’ titles by the time Biden is sworn in.”
A third Fox News staffer said: “Many of Fox’s viewers have been Trump supporters, and particularly in the first months of a potential Biden administration, I believe they will be pushing the same narrative they have pushed throughout the entire election period. For years, programming hammered on Clinton’s emails, and I think the Hunter Biden debacle will be the same way.”
While Fox’s ratings have hardly suffered since the notorious Arizona call—quite the opposite: Fox News’ Election Night programming drew more than 14 million viewers, beating every other broadcast and cable network by a wide margin—the network’s executives can’t be happy with the spectacle of hundreds of Trump supporters (in other words, the channel’s target viewership) chanting “Fox News sucks!” on live television, as they did Wednesday night during a protest in the parking lot of Arizona’s Maricopa County Elections Department, where the votes were being tallied.
“Fox is sort of like a suicide of a network,” Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive and majority owner of Newsmax, told The Daily Beast. “A Fox News viewer looks at the continuous negative coverage about the president, the concern about the supposed ‘suckers and losers’ comment, the abominable way Chris Wallace handled that debate, and all of the Fox News polls—which were on the high end of being wrong against Trump. When you add it all up, it paints a really bad picture.”
Ruddy, a friend of the president’s and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, added: “Fox didn’t like Trump, they wanted to get him. I spoke to the president yesterday, and that’s his opinion. He thinks they were definitely out to get him and he’s very upset… He certainly has Irish Alzheimer’s. He forgets everything except the grudges. He definitely remembers all the grudges. It’s not going to be good for Fox either way because Trump, even if he loses, is going to be a force in the media.”
Ruddy said Newsmax is in a position to capitalize on Trump’s and his acolytes’ anger at Fox News.
“Newsmax is the only television network able to compete with Fox,” Ruddy said, claiming nearly 70 million U.S. households on cable and streaming systems such as YouTube and Roku. He said Election Night Nielsens showed that Newsmax reached around 3 million viewers—admittedly a tiny fraction of Fox News’ estimated 40-million reach. “Newsmax is generally supportive of the president. I don’t agree with everything, but we’ve been very fair.”
Fox News execs, meanwhile, could not have welcomed the Trump campaign’s smear Thursday of the channel’s longtime Decision Desk director, Arnon Mishkin—who has appeared frequently on the network to defend his team’s controversial early projection of a Biden victory in Arizona (giving Barack Obama’s vice president, by Fox News’s calculation, 264 electoral college votes—6 short of the presidency—to Trump’s 214).
“A Democrat operative put his finger on the scale and declared Joe Biden the winner before the votes were counted,” Trump campaign officials complained in a lengthy attack on Mishkin and his motives. “Even left-leaning election analysts like Nate Silver have criticized the decision, but Mishkin is standing by his terrible decision despite [sic] and refusing to retract his unjustified call. Why would Mishkin put his finger on the scale for Joe Biden before so many votes are counted? Mishkin is a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, worked as a Democrat political consultant, and has a long record of donating to Democrats, including the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign.”
Fox News declined to comment on the Trumpian broadside, although Mishkin addressed it Thursday night on the air. “Essentially, everyone on our team is very interested politically, and so they all vote. I don’t ask them specifically how they vote. I do know that many of them have professional experience that’s Republican, others of them have professional experience that's Democratic,” he told anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. “The Trump campaign is correct in that my professional experience includes political consulting for Democrats when I worked in political consulting. I have over the past 12 years given a total… 800 dollars. Five hundred of that went to a classmate of mine who is a congressman, a Republican congressman, and another 300 dollars went to a friend of a classmate who is a Democrat. So 500 dollars to the Republicans 300 dollars from the Democrats. Some more money back before I was the head of the decision team here.”
Mishkin has been transparent that he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016—a fact that didn’t prevent him from calling the election for Trump that year. Since he joined Fox News in 2008 as a consultant, a non-staff status he maintains, his political donations (according to Opensecrets.org) amounted to $500 to a Republican House candidate and $250 to a Democratic House candidate.
“Some elements of the coverage have been good, such as having members of the Decision Desk on air to explain their Arizona race call,” said a longtime Fox News staffer. “Others, not so much. Opinion hosts such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, who have a role to play in America’s divisiveness, shouldn’t be a part of the coverage to further promote division in an already divisive election. The Trump administration has been harping on voter fraud, and sometimes Fox will parrot what the administration says. It isn’t helpful to anyone.”
Sometimes, however, Fox News’ on-air personalities have challenged the Trump campaign’s claims of voter fraud, as with Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy’s skeptical grilling Thursday of former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi—yet another harbinger of the network’s possibly impending breakup with Trump.
What’s more, another duchy in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the New York Post, also seemed ready to file for divorce from Trump with a Thursday night story mocking a “panic-stricken Donald Trump Jr.” for his “clueless” tweet calling for dad to wage “total war over the election.” And the newspaper’s write-up of the president’s rambling, conspiratorial speech on Thursday night was headlined: “Downcast Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address.”
Meanwhile, if Trump fails to win a second term, he and his supporters—Rudy Giuliani, Corey Lewandowksi, Don Jr., and the rest—are likely in the end to swallow their rage, said a different staffer.
“Trump people will continue to come—unless the president starts his own network.”
—Justin Baragona contributed reporting. Diana Falzone was an on-camera reporter for Fox News from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.