So, imagine this.
FOX SPORTS COMMENTATOR #1: ……Brady drops back. He escapes a sack and is running right. He has a receiver down field. He launches a long pass that could win the game….it’s going to be close….
FOX SPORTS COMMENTATOR #2: Stay with us, and we’ll be back to share what happens right after a short break.
ASSOCIATED PRESS SPORTS HEADLINE: Brady’s pass in the last 3 seconds wins the game!
FOX SPORTS COMMENTATOR #1: We want to pick up with an analysis of just how this critical game has gone up to the last 3 seconds. And, we will share the Associated Press report on the game’s outcome, when we come back from this commercial break….
OK, so this is something that would never happen, right? Who would tolerate a sports reporting network holding off showing the final pass of the game to hold its audience through commercial breaks and to extend its ratings?
Well, FOX SPORTS would never do this, but what about FOX NEWS?
Last week, Dave Wheelan at the Spy spoke with Al From and me in our weekly commentary segment about the impact on the Dominion suit against FOX NEWS for defaming the company and saying on air things the anchors and commentators knew not to be true based on recovered emails from the post 2020 election time-period.
My quip at the outset suggested that there might be two key questions about the FOX NEWS revelations: 1) was anyone surprised; and, 2) did anyone really care?
While it was bad enough that Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that the news organization he owns had misled viewers, it seemed this story was destined to get worse. This past weekend, it did get worse when Peter Baker in the NEW YORK TIMES gained access to a Zoom conference held after the 2020 election with the FOX NEWS CEO and the leading anchors and commentators.
The Zoom meeting was recorded and thus provides a revealing look into the words and thinking of FOX NEWS leaders. And, the focus was how it was wrong in the 2020 election to call Arizona for then candidate Joe Biden first, even though it was the correct call from FOX’s own election desk that had invested millions of dollars to get election calls correct.
And, the reason for the angst by the “faces of FOX NEWS” was that three things had happened: 1) the election desk got the Arizona call right; 2) FOX was first to make the public announcement; 3) the FOX personalities were surprised and not given time to slow down the release of this news to keep their audience locked into the coverage and happy with FOX reporting.
Are not the key metrics of getting it “right” and getting it “first” important for all news organizations?
It turns out, not at FOX NEWS. There, getting it right and getting it first brought outrage from partisans who favored a different outcome. Discussion focused on backing off the Arizona election call, which the election desk refused to do. It focused on the cost of ending the suspense early and how it would have been better to wait until other news organizations made the call.
Time was (admittedly long ago, I guess) when covering presidential elections carried great responsibility. Networks brought their best to election nights, taking care to report on the play by play that occurs across the nation on a national election day. Reporting on exit polls to share what is on the minds of voters was backed by million-dollar investments in research. And, actually calling election outcomes was not left to the “talent” sitting in the anchor booth, it was the work of trained statisticians and researchers to get it right and get it early.
If you doubt how much has changed, the sad outcome at FOX NEWS was that the leaders of the FOX NEWS election desk that had been calling election results correctly for over a decade were removed from those jobs and from the network in a strange case where getting it right was getting it wrong from a career standpoint!
While I remain doubtful that too many people care, we should!
The broadcast organization is not branded “FOX CHAT.” It calls itself a news organization. However, the Zoom meeting, the emails and Rupert Murdoch’s own under oath testimony suggest that the coin of the realm is, well, just that: coin! They want ratings. They want people watching. They want to see the company’s stock price rise – a comment from a Tucker Carlson email.
Polling shows the growing mistrust of news organizations. This is something about which we should be concerned. Journalists work to sort through all the claims and competing points of view to share a balanced story for most of us who cannot or will not take the time to do the research on an issue ourselves. So, when people cannot trust journalists, how do we stay informed?
The Dominion vs. FOX NEWS story is bound to grow larger (unless you watch FOX NEWS). Hopefully, there will be lessons for other news organizations and we, the consumer of news reporting, will be more discerning. Perhaps in time news organizations will bring the same rigor to telling us important election stories as their sister sports organizations bring to showing us great sporting events. I guess we can hope!
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.