In November 2020, after the US presidential election, top executives and anchors at Fox News held a meeting to discuss how they had called Arizona for Joe Biden before any other news network. They were besieged with angry protests from both Donald Trump’s camp and Fox’s own viewers, worried that they would lose viewers to hard-right competitors like Newsmax. They wanted to avoid angering their conservative audience again by calling an election for a Democrat before the competition. The Fox executives mused on abandoning the sophisticated new election-projecting system in which Fox had invested millions of dollars and revert to the slower, less accurate model, or base calls not solely on numbers but on how viewers might react, or delay calls to keep the audience in suspense and boost viewership.
The conversation captured the sense of crisis enveloping Fox after the election and underscored its unique role in the conservative political ecosystem. In the aftermath of the election, the network’s conduct came under intense scrutiny in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems. Court filings revealed that Fox executives and hosts considered fraud claims by the Trump camp to be “really crazy stuff,” yet pushed them on air anyway.
The recording of the Nov. 16 meeting adds further context to the atmosphere inside the network at that time, when executives were on the defensive because of their Arizona call and feared alienating Mr. Trump and his supporters. In a statement on Saturday, the network said that it stood by the Arizona call despite intense scrutiny.
Ms. Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, was among the executives who grew alarmed after the network’s Decision Desk called Arizona for Mr. Biden at 11:20 p.m. on election night on Nov. 3, 2020, a projection that infuriated Mr. Trump and his aides because it was a swing state that could foreshadow the overall result. No other network called Arizona that night, although The Associated Press did several hours later, and the Fox journalists who made the call stood by their judgment.
At 8:30 the next morning, Ms. Scott suggested Fox not call any more states until certified by authorities, a formal process that could take days or weeks. She was talked out of that. But the next day, with Mr. Biden’s lead in Arizona narrowing, Mr. Baier noted that Mr. Trump’s campaign was angry and suggested reversing the call. “It’s hurting us,” he wrote Mr. Wallace and others in a previously reported email. “The sooner we pull it even if it gives us major egg. And put it back in his column. The better we are. In my opinion.
Arizona had never been in Mr. Trump’s column, and the Decision Desk overseen by Bill Sammon, the managing editor for Washington, resisted giving it “back” to a candidate who was losing just to satisfy critics. But on Friday night, Nov. 6, when Mr. Sammon’s team was ready to call Nevada for Mr. Biden, sealing his victory, Mr. Wallace refused to air it.
Rather than be the first to call the election winner, Fox became the last. CNN declared Mr. Biden the victor the next day at 11:24 a.m., followed by the other networks. Fox did not concur until 11:40 a.m., some nine minutes after The Associated Press made the call.