Former Fox News politics editor says network stoked ‘paranoia and hatred’
Chris Stirewalter, who was forced out after Donald Trump’s electoral defeat, says Fox failed its viewers with 2020 election coverage
A former Fox News politics editor who was forced out of the conservative television network shortly after its opinions hosts’ preferred candidate Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential race has said that the channel failed its viewers with its election coverage.
In his upcoming memoir, Chris Stirewalt says Fox News resigned its duty to prepare Trump followers for the possibility that he would lose, instead stoking the “black-helicopter-level paranoia and hatred” which fuels white supremacist groups but translates into big ratings.
Stirewalt’s Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machines Divides America and How to Fight Back also reiterates the belief held by many that Fox fired him because he always defended – even on-air – his team’s decision to declare Joe Biden the winner of Arizona’s 2020 electoral college votes on the same night that polls closed.
The call enraged Trump, prompting the incumbent president and his allies to mount a pressure campaign aimed at getting Fox to retract the decision while that camp pushed forth lies that electoral fraudsters in other battleground states were stealing the election for Biden.
The New York Times obtained and reported on an advance copy of the book.
Fox officials have previously said that Stirewalt’s departure from the network in early 2021 was simply a layoff amid a broader company restructuring, and they have noted that the employee who was actually in charge of the desk that made the Arizona call during that fateful hour remains at the company.
A statement from the network Monday also dismissed its former editor’s other recollections about his time at Fox News by saying, “Chris Stirewalt’s endless attempts at regaining relevance know no bounds.”
Nonetheless, in his memoir, Stirewalt maintains that Fox News’s alliance with Trump and other Republican political candidates has nothing to do with ideology. Instead it has everything to do with delivering ratings and fattening profits, without caring that its top-rated host, Tucker Carlson, endorses conspiracy theories that radicalize violent, far-right white supremacists, including ones who staged the deadly January 6 Capitol attack.
“Even in the four years since the previous presidential election, Fox viewers had become even more accustomed to flattery and less willing to hear news that challenged their expectation,” Stirewalt’s memoir adds.
That was even the case when viewers’ expectations amounted to “black-helicopter-level paranoia and hatred”, according to the memoir.
Stirewalt says his team’s decision to accurately project on election night that Trump had lost Arizona to Biden in front of an audience who had been thirsting for the Republican incumbent to cruise to victory over his Democratic challenger “came as a terrible shock to their system”. The memoir likens that call to “serving up green beans to viewers who had been spoon-fed ice-cream sundaes for years”.
Stirewalt also expresses disbelief that Carlson’s viewers portray him as bravely discussing topics that are taboo to the mainstream when – according to the ousted editor – he is simply regurgitating the things his audience already believes.
“Carlson is rich and famous, yet he regularly rails about the ‘big, legacy media outlets’,” the memoir argues. “Somehow, nobody even giggles.
“It does not take any kind of journalistic courage to pump out night after night exactly what your audience wants to hear.”
Among the conspiracy theories that Carlson has espoused is the racist notion that white Americans, faced with declining birthrates, are being deliberately replaced through immigration. He suddenly went quiet on that idea after a white man who shot 10 Black people to death at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, cited it as his motivation.
Stirewalt’s departure from Fox News – where he spent about 11 years – happened less than two weeks after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a desperate attempt to prevent the congressional certification of his defeat to Biden. A bipartisan Senate report linked at least seven deaths to that attack.
Since then, Stirewalt has been vocally critical of Fox News and testified before the congressional committee investigating the Capitol attack, telling that panel he knew the Arizona call would be consequential because it involved a true battleground state on which Trump’s chances for victory depended.