'Get that result changed': Inside Trump’s frantic efforts to overturn a pivotal Fox News election call

'Get that result changed': Inside Trump’s frantic efforts to overturn a pivotal Fox News election call
President Donald J. Trump participates in a live Fox News Channel town hall event with moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Scranton Cultural Center in Scranton, Pa. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

As much adulation as President Donald Trump has received from Fox News opinion hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Laura Ingraham, there have been times when he lashed out against the right-wing cable news channel. And according to Washington Post reporters Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey, Trump's relationship with Fox News might be permanently damaged because of its decision to call Arizona for former Vice President Joe Biden — now President-Elect Biden — on Election Night.

Hannity had such a close relationship with Fox that, Ellison and Dawsey note in an article published on Monday, the Fox host even "advised him on his reelection strategy, from how to conduct himself in a debate to where he should hold his rallies, according to three people familiar with these exchanges." And Trump "maintained the unswerving support" of Ingraham and Pirro.

But after Fox called Arizona for Biden, Ellison and Dawsey report, Trump hit the roof and felt betrayed.

Ingraham and Pirro attended an Election Night party in the White House, where the mood was cheerful after Florida was called for Trump. And everything changed, according to Ellison and Dawsey, when Fox called Arizona for Biden.

"Fox was on the big-screen TVs as he won the key state of Florida and the room filled with increasing optimism that their candidate had once again defied the polls," the Post reporters explain. "Until 11:20 p.m., when Fox News called Arizona for Biden with 73% of the expected vote counted — a 'screeching of tires' that brought the party to a halt, said one official present. This account is based on interviews with 11 current and former Fox News and Trump officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive dynamics between Fox News and Trumpworld."

In response, according to Ellison and Dawsey, Trump "erupted in anger, telling others in the White House to 'get that result changed,' a senior administration official said. His chief of staff Mark Meadows phoned Fox News' decision desk repeatedly. Top aide Hope Hicks, who had returned to the White House earlier this year after a stint at Fox Corp., messaged Raj Shah, a former Trump White House staffer whom she hired at Fox, about how to get the call reversed. Kellyanne Conway got in touch with Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier to complain. Jared Kushner reached out to Fox Corp.'s billionaire owner Rupert Murdoch."

Howard Kurtz, a Fox News media correspondent, acknowledged that Kushner called Fox's Murdoch to complain. On the "MediaBuzz" program, Kurtz said, "I can confirm that Jared Kushner called Rupert Murdoch to complain about the Arizona call, which seemed crucial at the time."

But Arnon Mishkin, head of Fox News' decision desk, stuck by his reporting. Even when CNN and MSNBC wouldn't call Arizona for Biden, Fox News still projected Biden to be the winner of that state.

It's important to stress that even though Fox News and Fox Business in general have a conservative slant, there is a separation between their hard news divisions and opinion hosts like Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson. The decision desk itself has secured its independence and is widely respected across the news industry.

According to Post sources, Trump is even angrier about Fox News calling Arizona for Biden than he is about losing the election.

"One ally said that when Trump called on Wednesday, he expected him to complain about the results," Ellison and Dawsey report. "Instead, the ally said, Trump 'railed about Fox.' Trump's advisers had long discussed the possibility that when he left office, he would support a news network to compete with Fox or start his own. 'This,' said one of his close advisers, 'only exacerbates that desire.'"

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