Fox’s ‘Best Journalistic Instincts’ Are Nothing to Write Home About

New York Times media reporter David Carr (11/12/12) had some kind words for Fox News Channel‘s Election Night coverage:

Photo of David Carr by Debbie Galant

NYT’s David Carr (photo: Debbie Galant)

On Tuesday night, the people in charge of Fox News were confronted with a stark choice after it became clear that Mr. Romney had fallen short: was Fox, first and foremost, a place for advocacy or a place for news?

In this moment, at least, Fox chose news.

After relating the story of Karl Rove’s contrarian insistence that Obama had not won Ohio and thus the election–including the oddest part of the story, which is that one of Fox News‘ featured commentators on the election was someone who had just spent $300 million to try to affect its outcome–Carr continued:

While Fox News allowed him to say his piece, it didn’t cave–and, more important, it didn’t question the legitimacy of the election over all, a move that could have led to all manner of unhealthy speculation.

The best journalistic instincts of Fox‘s news people kicked in and the hard reality of Mr. Obama’s triumph was allowed to land as it occurred. In doing so, the network avoided marginalizing itself and ended, at least for a night, its war on the president.

Well, maybe that’s how it looked on David Carr’s TV. On my set, Fox News was reacting to the news that Obama had won by speculating deliriously about a popular vote victory for Romney:

Fox News' Brit Hume

Fox News’ Brit Hume

BRET BAIER: It looks now that this president will be reelected with fewer electoral votes than he won the first time. First president ever to be reelected with fewer electoral votes than the first time, and probably a popular vote total that is very, very close. The split being very narrow.

BRIT HUME: Which will add to the feeling among a lot of people this is a winnable election.

BAIER: Now, it stands at 114,000. Separating the two candidates in the popular vote.

HUME: That is smaller than the margin by which George W. Bush won Ohio in 2004.

BAIER: With Romney leading in the popular vote.

JUAN WILLIAMS: My prediction was that President Obama, again, would win battleground states, win electoral college votes, but I thought would lose the popular vote. That tells you something about who we are. You said we’re polarized. You look at the map behind you. That is a very small population. You look where big populations are, where college educated and where the economy is growing, that is where blue is.

HUME: Now, if Mitt Romney were to win the popular vote, it will be fun to see whether there is an outbreak of shoe-on-the-other-foot disease, Republicans deciding, the way Democrats did in 2000, this Electoral College has got to go. Remember California had a measure passed which meant whoever won the popular vote nationally would get all of California’s electoral votes?

WILLIAMS: Remember that the electoral college is never going to be given up by Republicans because small states–

MEGYN KELLY: It would be quite a reversal.

Later, Baier gave his viewers an update: “We have called this race for President Barack Obama, reelected, yes, he’s trailing now in popular vote. As you can see, take a look at that. It’s closing, but he’s still trailing Mitt Romney at this hour by 21,000 votes.”

Now, it was perfectly obvious to anyone who had watched an election before that if the popular vote was basically tied before the West Coast states were counted, then Barack Obama was going to end up winning the popular vote–as he did, by some 3.5 million votes. This was not exactly a squeaker; it was bigger in percentages than 11 other popular vote margins since 1824, including George W. Bush’ s 2004 win over John Kerry, Jimmy Carter’s 1976 defeat of Gerald Ford or James K. Polk’s 1844 triumph over Henry Clay.

So why didn’t the Fox News team explain this to their audience? One possibility is that they were doing what Megyn Kelly described as “math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better”–in which case they were not, in fact, choosing news over advocacy, even for one night.

Or maybe none of them actually knew that the West Coast states are heavily Democratic and would inevitably run up the popular vote total for Obama. Maybe it’s just that the “the best journalistic instincts of Fox‘s news people”–are not very good.




About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.