Patterico's Pontifications

1/28/2021

Former Fox News Political Editor Who Was First To Call Arizona For Biden Speaks Out

Filed under: General — Dana @ 11:27 am



[guest post by Dana]

A refresher:

[Chris] Stirewalt, who was laid off…had become a controversial figure among fans of the network after he defended its early projection that Joe Biden would win Arizona based on an analysis by Fox News’ Decision Desk.

President Donald Trump was angered by the Arizona call, and his officials desperately urged Fox to retract it.

Stirewalt refused to reverse his support for the call, despite other Fox hosts’ criticism of it. He has also turned his nose up at Trump’s claims of election fraud.

In the aftermath of Stirewalt’s termination (which the network claimed to have been part of an ongoing restructuring plan but insiders say actual journalists and not just blind followers were laid off), he provides a candid look at today’s media and the consumers that news outlets seek to satisfy:

Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet.

The rebellion on the populist right against the results of the 2020 election was partly a cynical, knowing effort by political operators and their hype men in the media to steal an election or at least get rich trying. But it was also the tragic consequence of the informational malnourishment so badly afflicting the nation.

When I defended the call for Biden in the Arizona election, I became a target of murderous rage from consumers who were furious at not having their views confirmed.

Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally. The lie that Trump won the 2020 election wasn’t nearly as much aimed at the opposing party as it was at the news outlets that stated the obvious, incontrovertible fact.

While there is still a lucrative market for a balanced offering of news and opinion at high-end outlets, much of the mainstream is increasingly bent toward flattery and fluff. Most stories are morally complicated and don’t have white hats and black hats. Defeats have many causes and victories are never complete. Reporting these stories requires skill and dispassion. But hearing them requires something of consumers, too: Enough humility to be open to learning something new.

Read the whole thing.

–Dana

43 Responses to “Former Fox News Political Editor Who Was First To Call Arizona For Biden Speaks Out”

  1. Hello.

    Dana (fd537d)

  2. Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

    I’ve been saying this for a long time.

    Time123 (653992)

  3. Once, in order to beat his competitors with the results of an important state election in the early 1840s, Brooks hired out a stateroom on a Hudson River steamboat and installed a printing press. By the time the competition’s reporters returned to New York City from Albany to file their stories, Brooks already had the finished product in hand.

    NB: The early 1840s. Before the telegraph.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f)

  4. He’s a hack and doubling down on his stupidity. The race was too close to call and wasn’t called for days. He hasn’t learned a thing.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  5. Not condoning threats, but I remember being irritated with the call while bouncing back and forth between CNN and Fox. However, what astounds me is the lack of humility about potentially calling it too early and looking at his process. While ultimately correct in the long-term (as if that is the only measure) and some of the blowback was undeserved, he attributes everything to the malice and ignorance of others. I am getting tired of all the mind readers out there.

    Pwr (157532)

  6. Zero sympathy for any television twits on this. “Calling” these races has been little more than an eyeball-grabbing TeeVee gimmick since the medium was born. Exhibit A, Election night: 1952– take it away, UNIVAC:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/10/31/163951263/the-night-a-computer-predicted-the-next-president

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  7. The early call by Fox News on the make-up of the 2021-22 House of Representatives was the real screw-up. Stirewalt’s Decision Desk called a five-seat gain for the Democrats and the final result was a 12-13 seat pickup for the Republicans. That’s either professional level bumbling oafery or mendacity:

    https://nypost.com/2020/11/03/democrats-retain-control-of-house-gain-at-least-five-seats-fox-news/

    John (b817f5)

  8. He’s a hack and doubling down on his stupidity. The race was too close to call and wasn’t called for days. He hasn’t learned a thing.

    NJRob (eb56c3) — 1/28/2021 @ 12:08 pm

    Except he was right. He called it for Biden and Biden was the official winner. This upset people who overly identify with team trump. It upset Trump because they wanted to be the apparent winner on election night so that Biden would have to slog through a bunch of court battles.

    But the Fox election desk had a process for calling states, they used it, it said Biden won AZ and when all the votes were counted Biden had won AZ.

    Since he was 100% correct on his call what was there for him to learn?

    Time123 (653992)

  9. Not condoning threats, but I remember being irritated with the call while bouncing back and forth between CNN and Fox. However, what astounds me is the lack of humility about potentially calling it too early and looking at his process. While ultimately correct in the long-term (as if that is the only measure) and some of the blowback was undeserved, he attributes everything to the malice and ignorance of others. I am getting tired of all the mind readers out there.

    Pwr (157532) — 1/28/2021 @ 1:01 pm

    It doesn’t take telepathy to figure out what’s motivating the Stop the Steal conspiracy theorists.

    Time123 (653992)

  10. The race was too close to call and wasn’t called for days. He hasn’t learned a thing.

    Someone hasn’t learned a thing. Stirewalt called it and he was right. Usually, when you do your job correctly, you should get praised for it, not fired, unless Trump is somehow involved, and then it doesn’t matter if you make the right call if it thwarts his personal agenda, and so his minions go out and do his bidding. Trump uber alles!!

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  11. Time123 (653992) — 1/28/2021 @ 1:12 pm

    This upset people who overly identify with team trump. It upset Trump because they wanted to be the apparent winner on election night so that Biden would have to slog through a bunch of court battles.

    This can be true and he’s still a hack that shouldn’t be in the position he was in.

    But the Fox election desk had a process for calling states, they used it

    I was watching this when he did it. He couldn’t justify the call at the time. He attempted to but it was obvious that he was insulted at even being asked. He then made some comments that he said explained it but they didn’t. It was clear he was just waving his hands. It actually sounded like he contradicted himself a few times. If you’re going to be on the Fox decision desk you need to be able to explain beyond “I crunched the numbers trust me”.

    So, it’s correct that his call eventually turned out to be correct and it’s also true that he’s a hack.

    frosty (f27e97)

  12. Paul Montagu (77c694) — 1/28/2021 @ 1:43 pm

    Usually, when you do your job correctly

    This depends a lot on what you think his job is. If he’s on FoxNews and presumably the job of the network is to accurately inform people then the job is a little more than here’s the call and I don’t need to explain it.

    frosty (f27e97)

  13. “I’ve been saying this for a long time.”

    You’ve never used the word “cosseted”….I’ve been watching

    AJ_Liberty (ec7f74)

  14. “It was clear he was just waving his hands”

    Kind of like you are doing in this comment. One would think a professional polster…working with experienced statisticians…using historical data and trends…are in a pretty good position to make an informed decision…versus Joe six-pack scratching his crotch on the couch. 10,000 votes is tight but it’s not exactly 2000 Florida…

    AJ_Liberty (ec7f74)

  15. Yeah I don’t think this guy was a hero.

    Yes he was right about the winner. No he wasn’t right that it should have been called. It became clear by the next day that the race was tighter than it looked.

    That said, I suspect he IS probably right that he was fired not for calling too early but because he called in a way that the viewers didn’t like.

    nate (1f1d55)

  16. AJ_Liberty (ec7f74) — 1/28/2021 @ 2:05 pm

    Kind of like you are doing in this comment.

    Well, no. Do you see me making statistical claims? Do you see me saying he was wrong?

    professional polster … versus Joe six-pack

    Yes, this is about the size of the argument. The professional, employed by a news outlet, couldn’t explain what he was doing beyond shut up I’ve got people back here with fancy computers and the viewers wouldn’t understand it anyway. That was almost exactly his argument at the time.

    It would have actually helped to explain the analysis at the time. That night I was trying to explain to someone the math behind the process. It would have been better if the hack on FoxNews was doing that instead but he couldn’t be bothered. This sort of arrogance is part of why people don’t trust the news anymore.

    frosty (f27e97)

  17. I tend to remember (I was watching FNC) that they did call the guy (lead analyst, not Stirewald) from the back (which I found fascinating)….and he did give an explanation…..and I’m sure it was based on historical voting patterns, the percentage of the vote in, geography, etc. There is a statistical science to it but nothing is perfect….turn-out models are just that….models. But my suspicion is….few listeners are equipped to understand the details of statistical models…..and are looking to experienced people to use and interpret those models correctly. A lot of people just didn’t like the answer…including Trump.

    AJ_Liberty (ec7f74)

  18. Republicans demand audit of Kelli Ward’s narrow win for Arizona GOP chair
    After months of sounding the alarm on what she claimed was a stolen presidential election, Kelli Ward is facing questions about her own reelection Saturday as Arizona Republican Party chair.

    Sergio Arellano, the southern Arizona businessman who narrowly lost to Ward in a runoff, has asked state party officials for an audit of the election results, said Kim Owens, a Republican consultant who is serving as his spokeswoman.

    So far, that hasn’t happened, adding to a growing sense of angst among GOP activists that the election had problems.
    ……
    Doubts about the results of the chair’s race started to swirl after the announced winner in another race, for the at-large committee member from the 8th Congressional District, was informed she had lost.

    Arellano said that error “created an environment where a number of state committeemen are raising concerns and asking me to ask for an audit because only a candidate for party office can do so. So I’ve done that and we’re waiting for a response that lays out the when, where, and how of that process. I anticipate the State GOP will do a solid job here and provide election officials around the state with an example of how to conduct a timely audit and how important ballot security and paper backups are.”
    ……
    Ward, a controversial figure who gained national attention for claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, won her reelection bid by 42 votes after the election went to a runoff against Arellano. Trump endorsed her reelection.

    Owens said of the challenge: “This is not about one person or one race, it’s about the integrity of our elections. With the absence of the tapes from the machines or any documentation of where votes came from, and in most races, a lack of numbers, of tallies, we need to see evidence that everything is as it should be.”

    Rip Murdock (80e6b4)

  19. Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

    Is it that or are there other variables at play? How about the leftwing media and rightwing media always denigrating the other side? Hard not to get mad when the other side wins – an argument, an election – when you think the other side is an actual Other.

    Both parties are starting to lurch toward their flanks. Doing so makes them less centrist and further from each other. The flanks get eyeballs so of course the media loves to cover them. And the more they cover the minority, the more people think the flanks are actually the majority. It’s almost a self-perpetuating cycle at this point.

    Hoi Polloi (139bf6)

  20. R.I.P. Cicely Tyson

    Icy (6abb50)

  21. I thought his on-air defense was astonishing, particularly when he basically called his audience idiots. It should be noted that no other network agreed with Fox that day.

    I thought he’d be fired, not for the call but for the intolerance of those who questioned the decision. In the end, he was correct, by 0.29% of the vote. Whether the decision was courageous, or foolhardy given the narrow margin and the votes left to be counted, is still a matter of debate. At a guesw, from his performance Nov 3, I’d believe that he was looking for some way to blunt the notion that Trump was headed for re-election. At the time it looked like he was.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  22. I thought his on-air defense was astonishing, particularly when he basically called his audience idiots.

    So he was right again.

    Boom, got ’em.

    Colonel Klink (Ret) (1367c0)

  23. @21. It’s not the responsibility of television networks to prognosticate, calculate nor speculate on the election outcomes. It’s showmanship; a gimmick: much overused and now expected fodder for lazy viewers used by media outlets to spoon-feed tidbits of data, read tea leaves to fill air time for hours and sell advertising around to make a buck.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  24. What I think happened, comrades, and we know for sure it’s what the Trump menagerie tried to make happen, is that Fox got marching orders from the Trump tribe to show Trump the winner all Tuesday night, facts to the contrary be damned, with the intent to entrench early that Trump was winning by a landslide until mail-in ballots stole the election, and Stirewalt refused to be a part of it. That’s what I think happened. Some people just don’t like being ordered to kiss Trump’s butt. What’re you gonna do?

    nk (1d9030)

  25. But the Fox election desk had a process for calling states, they used it

    Fox/News Corp., had [has] a process for managing sexual harassment, too… that worked well, didn’t it. 😉

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  26. DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 1/28/2021 @ 5:40 pm

    that depends a lot on who you think it was supposed to work for?

    frosty (f27e97)

  27. @26.

    [ ] bleached blondes

    [ ] natural blondes

    [ ] brunettes

    [ ] redheads

    [ x ] all of the above 😉

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  28. If he’s on FoxNews and presumably the job of the network is to accurately inform people then the job is a little more than here’s the call and I don’t need to explain it.

    That would be up to the producers, frosty. His job was to call elections. If the talking heads and execs wanted to hear “why”, if they wanted to inform their audience, they could have easily done so by putting him on the air and asking him.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  29. I just question…with all the 9s and 10s…and Ailes lost it over Gretchen Carlson? Brings to mind this SNL Sinatea Group skit (Go to about 3:00 to 3:40, Sinatra responding to Luther Campbell)
    https://youtu.be/7SdIJimk-w8

    urbanleftbehind (8b2c63)

  30. Paul Montagu (77c694) — 1/28/2021 @ 5:54 pm

    if they wanted to inform their audience, they could have easily done so by putting him on the air and asking him.

    You mean like how they called him out at least twice on air and asked him to explain the prediction? Like I mentioned in a previous comment.

    frosty (f27e97)

  31. You mean like how they called him out at least twice on air and asked him to explain the prediction? Like I mentioned in a previous comment.

    I didn’t see your previous comment. If his bosses wanted him to explain further, he could have done so, but it was never about that. It was about Trump and his rampage about Arizona. This has always been about Trump trying to get his way.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  32. But the Fox election desk had a process for calling states, they used it

    I am going to bet that the process they had was not intended to call close elections days before anyone else. This was a abuse of that process, likely blowing past all the circuit-breakers they normally use, to announce something that was by no means assured.

    At that point in the night, Trump was running the table and someone wanted to throw water onto the fire.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  33. Arnon Mishkin was the decision desk chief…and he went on TV to explain the decision. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t an FNC employee, though he might not get invited back. The call didn’t change the election….and Biden won by 10,000 votes in Arizona. How many Fox watchers demanded explanations for close states that went Trump’s way? Yes, that skepticism and passion for accuracy follows a familiar pattern called motivated reasoning.

    DCSCA, if calling elections is like reading tea leaves, what do you imagine the rate of success is….and is building statistical models of voting really a “gimmick”?

    AJ_Liberty (a4ff25)

  34. @33. It is a “gimmick” for a television network, AJ, to draw eyeballs and sell ad time around, AJ:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/10/31/163951263/the-night-a-computer-predicted-the-next-president

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  35. I was interested in the numbers behind the Fox Arizona call, so I dug them up.

    This article has video of the moment Fox’s “map guy” was surprised to see Arizona turn blue as they made the call. This allows us to see exactly where the numbers were at that moment:

    Biden: 1,289,302 (53.6%)
    Trump: 1,083,762 (45.1%)

    So Biden held an 8.5% lead, corresponding to a difference of just over 205,000 votes. This was at 11:20 pm Eastern.

    About an hour later, at 12:30, during which time the margin had narrowed by a point, Stirewalt’s colleague Mishkin came to defend the call, and said:

    Yes, there are outstanding votes in Arizona. Most of them are from Maricopa, where Biden is currently in a very strong position, and many of them are mail-in votes, where we know from our Fox News voter analysis Biden has an advantage. We don’t know how exactly many mail-in votes there are, but what I think we’ve heard from the White House is that they are expecting, that they need just to get 61 percent of the outstanding vote and there are 870,000 outstanding votes, and they’ll be getting that. That’s not true. The reality is that they’re likely to get only about 44 percent of the outstanding votes that are there. We’re right now sitting on a race that is Biden at 53 percent, Trump at 46 percent. I’m sorry, the president is not going to be able to take over and win enough votes to eliminate that seven-point lead that the former vice president has.

    The linked article has a video clip of his on-air comments, and shows the vote tally at that moment:

    Biden: 1,316,185 (53.2%)
    Trump: 1,128,103 (45.6%)

    Biden’s lead was 188K votes, down about 17.5K from 70 minutes earlier. The two candidates combined had 2,444,288 votes at this moment. Trump had received 62.3% of the 71,224 votes tallied since the call.

    The final, certified numbers for AZ were:

    Biden: 1,672,143 (49.36%)
    Trump: 1,661,686 (49.06%)

    In the final tally, the two candidates combined had 3,333,829 votes. Thus, at the time Mishkin made his on-air remarks, there were 889,541 votes outstanding. Out of those votes, Trump received 533,583, or 60.0%.

    So it looks like their model did, in fact, seriously underestimate both the number of outstanding votes, and the fraction of them Trump would receive.

    Dave (1bb933)

  36. I think also Fox was alone in calling Arizona for Biden – and that’s part of it.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f)

  37. I think also Fox was alone in calling Arizona for Biden – and that’s part of it.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f) — 1/29/2021 @ 3:45 am

    Yup, Fox correctly called the election ahead of any of their competitors. This hurt Trump’s and his fan’s feelings. It was even worse because Fox was supposed to be a safe space for them. Just because they were right doesn’t justify letting facts hurt feelings.

    But don’t worry. Fox has publicly fired the people who said the mean thing. Trump and his fans have some revenge and can be sure going forward that Fox won’t let people’s feelings be hurt just because something happens to be correct.

    Time123 (f5cf77)

  38. I think the objective issue is whether the Fox decision desk was predicting a very narrow 10,000 win or were predicting a 100,000 vote win for Biden. I think they were doing the latter, so their model was off. Still, I agree that it seems neurotic for so many to think this was some horrible act of betrayal. I strayed over to RedState to see how this was perceived. I could not believe the number of comments where people had now sworn off FNC and moved over to OANN or Newsmax because of the Arizona call….as if not doing a call would have changed anything. If FNC is perceived as being too moderate (or liberal even), then the media problem we have is infinitely more disturbing. We have people giving up any pretense of that we need to figure out a way to get along with our fellow country men. We are completely out of whack….

    AJ_Liberty (ec7f74)

  39. I think also Fox was alone in calling Arizona for Biden – and that’s part of it.

    And the process they had was not too much different from everyone else’s. The call they made likely out-of-policy because of that. The same Decision Desk could not call a NC election for days that Trump won with a percentage margin 4 times greater.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  40. I think also Fox was alone in calling Arizona for Biden – and that’s part of it.

    Kevin M (ab1c11) — 1/29/2021 @ 8:00 am

    And the process they had was not too much different from everyone else’s.

    But the others didn’t do it, although perhaps the reason is they were slower, and they caught themselves in time.

    I’m thinking maybe perhaps the flaw in Fox’s model is that maybe they didn’t look at results below the county level – and Maricopa County was a large percentage of the vote in Arizona. It might be that results from Trump heavy precincts were reported later because the vote went slower because of the Sharpie controversy, but the model assumed it was random.

    I can;t find proof that Trump heavy places (where they had voters rejecting the pens provided) finished and reported later, but I did find this:

    First, some places had lines:

    https://www.12news.com/article/news/politics/arizona-2020-election-live-updates-biden-trump-kelly-mcsally/75-84468831-ac54-45b7-8b4e-a4c24c62e86b

    Brahm Resnik
    @brahmresnik

    A: If you’re in line at a Maricopa County vote center at 7pm closing time, stay in line to cast a ballot. And if you still need to vote, check http://Maricopa.Vote for nearest vote center & wait time. #BattlegroundAZ #12News

    7:03 PM · Nov 3, 2020

    Second, something about the Sharpie controversy, which affected pro-Trump precincts:

    https://apnews.com/article/claim-sharpie-pens-ruin-arizona-ballots-f5287df8fdb2be101b2cdf9edd007746

    “If a voter’s ballot is listed as canceled, it usually means the voter made an additional ballot request if they needed to have their original ballot replaced,” Solis said. “Depending on when they returned their replacement ballot, that ballot is most likely still being processed by the county.”

    [probably talking here about replacements for mail in ballots. Delivered in person?]

    Clint Hickman, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and Steve Gallardo, the board’s only Democrat, published a letter to voters expressing concern about misinformation. They said officials tested a wide variety of pens with their vote-tabulation equipment and “Sharpies are recommended by the manufacturer because they provide the fastest-drying ink.”

    According to the state’s election procedures manual, a ballot review board duplicates ballots that cannot be read by the machine in cases where they are damaged or smudged with ink. [meaning the ink from some pens that weren’t Sharpies?]

    Videos making the false claim about Sharpies were also widely shared on TikTok. TikTok said the claims on invalidated ballots violated its policy against misleading information around the elections and would be removed. Facebook said it has blocked the Sharpiegate hashtag on its platform and pointed to fact checks on the matter by its outside fact-checkers, including The Associated Press.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f)

  41. The call they made likely out-of-policy because of that. The same Decision Desk could not call a NC election for days that Trump won with a percentage margin 4 times greater.

    Nrth Carolina had mail-in and early votes (presumably relatively higher for Biden) counted first. (Virginia was the opposite)

    But postmarked ballots could arrive later – up till November 12. They might have made a policy decision not to assume too much about the number of mail-in ballots outstanding.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f)

  42. If Chris Stirewalt was laid off because of his work, it was because his work was wrong. He wildly overestimated the probable percentage of the vote Biden would get in Arizona and maybe in North Carolina (Fox may have become more cautious after its Arizona call, which turned out to be barely right.

    Sammy Finkelman (7bb55f)

  43. The AP called AZ for Biden about three hours after Fox.

    Dave (1bb933)


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