Nov 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump’s relationship with Fox grows icy amid election

Donald Trump on Election Night 2020
Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

President Trump's rocky relationship with Fox News was on full display Election Day, starting with his morning call into the cable news network during which he complained that things are "much different now" than in 2016.

Driving the news: Fox called Arizona for Joe Biden around 11:30pm ET Tuesday, ahead of almost all other major news networks. Around 3am on Wednesday, AP put Arizona in Biden's column.

Why it matters: Trump's relationship with Fox has grown more contentious since his impeachment process, but the channel's reliably nonpartisan election decision desk will undoubtedly cause an even greater rift between Fox and the president.

The state of play: Fox's decision to call Arizona early for Biden drew ire from Trump and his campaign. In response to a request for comment, Fox News pointed Axios to decision-desk director Arnon Mishkin's explanation on the network.

  • Network anchor Bret Baier asked Mishkin to explain his process on air, because “we’re getting a lot of incoming here.”
  • “I’m sorry,” Mishkin said, “the president is not going to be able to take over and win enough votes to eliminate that 7-point lead that the former vice president has.”
  • Jason Miller, Trump senior campaign adviser, wrote on Twitter that over 1 million votes were outstanding in the state, and he falsely accused Fox of “trying to invalidate their votes.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump told hosts on "Fox & Friends" that the network puts former President Obama on "more than anybody else," and he alleged that "Fox has changed a lot."

  • “What’s the biggest difference between this and four years ago?” Trump asked rhetorically. “I say Fox. It’s much different now.”

The big picture: Fox's internal differences between its news division and opinionated prime-time programs have contributed to the network's on-again, off-again affection from the president.

  • While Trump continues to engage its news division — calling in and granting more interviews to the network than any other news channel — he continues to express disappointment when Fox doesn't outwardly favor him.

Be smart: For Fox, Trump has been generally good for business. The network continues to see record ratings, especially in prime time.

  • Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corp., said in a Tuesday earnings call that Fox News finished September as the first cable network to lead all broadcast networks in weekday ratings with total viewers for the full quarter.
  • "In fact, Fox News has been the most-watched network in all of television, from Memorial Day through Election Day," Murdoch added.

What's next: There's a question of whether Fox could see such strong ratings under a Biden administration. There's also a question of whether Trump's boosting of conservative networks like OANN and Sinclair will impact Fox's ability to attract a pro-Trump conservative in the future.

  • Trump has floated the idea of launching a network on multiple occasions, framing it as a response to CNN’s “fake news” coverage.
  • Asked whether a possible Trump news network would impact Fox's businesses in the future, Murdoch said, "We love competition."
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