Given the uniquely unstable circumstances surrounding the next 36 or so hours in America, the media will play a vital role in shaping perceptions about the integrity of the presidential election. Executives from broadcast and cable networks have made it clear that caution and certainty will be the top priority, as questions loom regarding just how quickly mail-in ballots can be tallied. However, come Tuesday night, all eyes will be on Fox News to see if prominent voices on Donald Trump’s favorite network exercise restraint, particularly in the event that the president preemptively crowns himself or pushes baseless voter-fraud claims to try and stop counting ballots.
On Monday morning, Fox & Friends dishonestly laid the groundwork for Trump and his supporters to jump the gun on election night, whether by prematurely declaring victory or by responding with immediate suspicion and outrage if there is no conclusive winner on Tuesday night and the lawful counting of mail-in ballots continues. Cohost Steve Doocy said how “in normal years, it seems like by the end of election night, we know who the winner is by the next day” and warned of a “purgatory” caused by increased voting by mail. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany stepped in to assert that “Americans deserve to know the victor of the election on election night.” McEnany, running with the Fox host’s ominous and inaccurate framing, and seizing on the long-running myth of widespread voter fraud, then demanded that voters should not “have to wait for days on end, we know that’s subject to fraud, finding new ballots out there.” She added, “America should rise to the occasion and do what has always been the great American tradition of counting ballots on the day of the election.”
Historically speaking, McEnany’s description doesn’t hold water. “We did not know [the] presidential winner for certain before midnight on election nights in 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000, 2004, 2016,” noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “No one should pretend there would be anything historically unusual if that happens again in 2020.” This reality has not impeded the majority of past elections given that the losing presidential candidate typically concedes after media projection models have determined the winner long before the final ballot is tallied. But this election, with an incumbent refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, isn’t normal. And McEnany’s Monday appearance might just be a preview of the kinds of misinformation to air on America’s number one cable-news channel amid the potentially confusing and chaotic tallying process.
Other eleventh hour Fox coverage has portrayed a Trump repeat victory as a near guarantee, setting the stage for viewers to be shocked by any other result, potentially seeing a Joe Biden victory as somehow fraudulent. In one Monday morning segment, network hosts visited battleground state diners to display the near-universal pro-Trump sentiment at such Real America establishments, which the hosts suggested is a more accurate depiction of where the electorate stands than, say, their network’s own polling that shows Biden in the lead. “If we are to believe the polls, President Trump is having some trouble with suburban women. What do you say to that?” questioned Fox News analyst Will Cain while speaking to a Trump supporter at a Midwest diner. “If the media has not been honest with us in so many things, except for Fox, why would we believe this? I think it’s going to be a red tsunami,” the patron said in response. Additionally, Fox News spent the weekend blasting chyrons across the screen that advertised Trump’s “MASSIVE CROWDS” at his final tour of 2020 rallies; the “ENTHUSIASM GAP” that Trump maintains a lead in; the “BATTLEGROUND LEAD EVAPORAT[ING]” for Biden; and the “HUGE ENTHUSIASM FOR TRUMP DESPITE CONFLICTING POLLS.”
It is unclear just how much Fox & Friends–style color commentary will air on the network during the key Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning time slots. Anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are leading the night’s special election coverage, but their opinion colleagues will presumably make appearances throughout, as has been the case in Fox’s previous election coverage. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, MacCallum explained that while she is “prepared for a long haul,” she does hope for “a faster resolution or understanding of what is going on on election night. It would be a relief for the country at this point.” MacCallum also expressed a vote of confidence in Fox’s Decision Desk, which is led by Arnon Mishkin and is in charge of calling races on behalf of the network. “I have a lot of faith in our decision team, they have done an excellent job over the course of all the elections we have covered together, and they are gaming this out in every way that they can,” she said. While the duo are certainly some of Fox’s more widely respected journalists, Baier was criticized just a few days ago for predicting that very niche digital media drama, such as Twitter’s suspension of CBP chief Mark Morgan and Glenn Greenwald’s fallout with The Intercept, will “move some votes,” including pushing “independents” toward pulling the lever for Trump.
Elsewhere in Trumpworld media, the president’s former senior counselor Steve Bannon expressed certainty that Trump will claim victory on Tuesday night, long before there is expected to be a definitive result. “President Trump is going to declare victory on Tuesday night. I’m glad the mainstream media is finally catching up with that,” Bannon said on his podcast on Saturday. “You know why? Because he’s going to be in the lead and then we’re going to get into the counting rooms, right, we’re going to get in the counting rooms.”
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