One of the most glaring peculiarities about the Fox News Channel's campaign coverage in the run-up to the November 4 election was the channel's frequent insistence, in the waning days of the campaign, that the election was remarkably close, with Republican John McCain surging.
In reality, few polls suggested this was happening (see PollingReport.com; Pollster.com), but Fox chose to give a handful of outlying, unrepresentative surveys considerable attention. It was as if the channel were less interested in accurately reporting the state of the campaign than in presenting an alternate reality that would be pleasing to partisan viewers.
Here's a sampling of that coverage, day by day:
FOX NEWS HOST SEAN HANNITY: Well, I -- and I agree. But let me move the ball a little bit here.... This is, obviously, a very sensitive issue for the Obama campaign. They feel like they've been exposed. It started with Joe the Plumber.
MORRIS: And they're hemorrhaging votes.... Zogby, Rasmussen, and Gallup, all have this race five points apart.... Zogby down from 12, Rasmussen down from eight, and Gallup down from six. And Investors Business Daily has it to 2.8, and Zogby had a one-night finding of three. The averages that over three nights.
HANNITY: Well, we're going to go over some of these polls. The likely voter poll, Gallup, now has a two-point race.
FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT CARL CAMERON: Well, for the last several weeks, Senator McCain has been focusing on economic issues. And if anything sort of to be credited with his apparent surge and the tightening in the national polls, it would be presumably be his emphasis on Barack Obama's economic policies, which McCain has sort of tattooed as tax-and-spend liberalism.
HANNITY: Let me jump on that, Mark.... Look, it's Scott Rasmussen. It's Gallup, likely voters. It's Investor's Business Daily and that poll that's out. It's AP. It's Battleground. This is a two- or three-point race.
A series of Obama issues regarding spreading the wealth around have hurt him. Joe the Plumber and other expositions have caused some fear among undecided voters that an Obama administration will harm the economy more than help it. The USA remains a strong capitalist country, much to the chagrin of the far left. And deviation from capitalism isn't going to play well here, especially among older voters. And it is here where the swings are taking place, especially in places like Florida and Ohio."
--Fox News host Bill O'Reilly
-- Fox News host Greta van Susteren
-- Fox News analyst Karl Rove
* * *
HANNITY: Well, if that happens, he wins the race.
MORRIS: Right now it's tied.
HANNITY: If that.
MORRIS: No, right now it's about tied.
--Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly
"The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll of likely voters nationwide, which Major Garrett was just mentioning, shows that the race is tightening considerably from last week, with Barack Obama's overall lead over John McCain is shrinking from nine points to three; that's within the margin of error."
--Fox News correspondent James Rosen
--Greta van Susteren
HANNITY: One of the more amazing things is the numbers of undecided, anywhere between eight and 14. You know Dick Morris interprets that that is -- that means Obama can't close the deal and that people have doubts about him and it appears by the tightening that's going on that those voters are moving toward Senator McCain. Do you share that analysis?
ROVE: I think Dick is largely right. There has been a persistent nagging concern on the part of the American people about whether or not Barack Obama is qualified to be president.
HANNITY: Are you looking at the polls? There's a real tightening going on. Very interesting to me, as it's happening. Seems Barack Obama cannot close. Why?
FOX NEWS ANALYST MIKE HUCKABEE: I think there is the lingering doubt as to what he's going to do to people's personal income. This is not about -- you know, right now it's not about even terrorism or international affairs. Joe the Plumber hit the reset button on this entire election.
"Apparently, for our audience's sake, apparently, big move in the polls. McCain up by one, Drudge is reporting, in the latest Zogby poll. It's going to come out tomorrow."
"In a surprise turnaround, get this, a brand new Fox News poll find that John McCain is surging among younger voters, those under 30 years old. He is catching up to Barack Obama's 48 percent, McCain has 43 percent. I think those numbers are wrong - 48 to 58 percent among voters under the age of 30."
--Fox News host Heather Nauert
NAUERT: ... McCain has gained 10 points with the youth vote within the last week?
MORRIS: Yes. In the last week, among voters 18 to 30, McCain has vis-a- vis Obama has closed the gap by 20 points.
--Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think, first of all, that the mistake of Senator Obama telling Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth has clearly slowed down all the momentum for the Obama campaign, because it turns out most Americans are not very interested in having politicians decide to take their money out of their wallet and spread to it the politicians' friends. That may turn out, in retrospect, to have been the biggest single mistake of the campaign by Senator Obama.
"I think that -- I don't believe these polls. I do not believe any, but I agree with Dick Morris. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow night."
For more information on the obvious and rather dramatic differences in the way Fox News Channel and MSNBC were covering the presidential race, see the FAIR Blog (11/2/02).
ACTION: Ask Fox News Channel why it failed to provide its viewers with an accurate picture of presidential election polls in the lead-up to the November 4 election.
FOX News Channel
John Moody, senior vice president