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NY Times Deep Dive Concludes Fox News’ Fateful Arizona Call For Biden Was a Mistake

By Alex Griffing,

2023-03-14

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The New York Times’s chief political analyst Nate Cohn published Monday an in-depth look at Fox News’s early – and accurate – 2020 election night call for the state of Arizona, which has since become a major focus for both critics and defenders of the network in the wake of the Dominion Voting Systems legal filings.

Cohn’s article titled, “Why Fox’s Call on Arizona, Which Was Right, Was Still Wrong,” is the culmination of weeks of discussion about the call and was welcomed by many of his well-known colleagues like Dave Wasserman and Nate Silver.

Internal emails, text messages, Zoom meetings, and other documents collected by Dominion in its $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News have been made public in recent months, detailing some of the panic and concern inside the network following the early Arizona call for Joe Biden.

“If we hadn’t called Arizona,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in a post-election meeting, “our ratings would have been bigger.” Fox News’s Decision Desk called Arizona for Biden at 11:20 p.m. on election night – the only network to do so. The Associated Press called Arizona a few hours after that, while the rest of the media waited for more votes to come in – Biden eventually won Arizona by less than three-tenths of a point.

“I’ve never seen a reaction like this, to any media company,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson messaged Scott on Nov. 9th – referencing the pro-Trump backlash against the network, which resulted in a drop in ratings and a surge for competitors like Newsmax and OAN. The documents revealed that Scott became so concerned by the Arizona call on election night, she suggested Fox not call any more states until they were officially certified – something she was talked out of. The emails also show Scott ripping Decision Desk managed Bill Sammon for not understanding “the impact to the brand and the arrogance in calling AZ” – adding it was his job “to protect the brand.”

Many Fox News critics have pointed to these exchanges as evidence that Fox News is led by its audience as opposed to the news, but new deep dives into the Arizona call reveal a more complicated situation, in which Fox executives may have had more reason than previously believed in questioning the call.

Other major Fox News anchors like Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum also questioned the Arizona call and raised concerns about its impact on the viewers. Now more than two years later, many in the media are offering their definitive take on whether or not it was the right call – starting with Cohn.

“The Fox team believed Mr. Biden would win Arizona by a comfortable margin at the time the call was made, based on erroneous assumptions and flawed polling,” Cohn wrote Monday, adding, “While it worked out for Fox in the end, similarly risky decisions could have easily led to a missed call, with potentially dire consequences for trust in American elections.”

Fox News decision desk director Arnon Mishkin conceded during a Zoom meeting two weeks after the election that the Arizona call was possibly “premature” but that “it did land correctly.”

Cohn lays out the various factors he believed were wrongly assessed by Mishkin, including the AP/NORC voting trends data which showed Biden with a 6-point lead in Arizona ahead of the election. The same data, which was used as a kind of baseline in Fox News’s forecasting model showed Biden ahead by even bigger margins in states he went on to lose, like North Carolina.

Cohn also notes that Mishkin greatly underestimated how the late vote would break for Trump. Cohn quotes Mishkin on election night to illustrate this point:

“We’ve heard from the White House that they need to get just 61 percent of the expected vote and they’ll be getting that.” He added: “But the reality is that’s just not true. They’re likely to only get 44 percent of the outstanding vote.”

In the final tally Trump won 59 percent of the late mail-in vote, which accounted for the incredibly close final margin. Baier made headlines for an email he wrote citing the trends in late mail-in voting in the state to suggest the network consider rescinding the Arizona call

“Whether it was inaccurate AP/NORC data, misunderstanding the ‘late’ mail vote, technical issues or overconfident modeling, there’s not much reason to believe that there was a factual basis for a projection in Arizona,” Cohn concludes.

Cohn ends with a word of warning about the damage the early call could have caused to faith in U.S. elections had the final count been any closer or swung to Trump:

The public’s confidence in elections would have taken another big hit if Mr. Trump had ultimately taken the lead after a call in Mr. Biden’s favor. It would have fueled the Trump campaign’s argument that he could and would eventually overturn the overall result. After all, he would have already done so in Arizona.

Many of Cohn’s well-known colleagues agreed with his take on the Arizona call.

Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman replied to Cohn’s article on Twitter, “The conclusion here is critical: this was the Election Night equivalent of an air disaster near-miss, with potentially disastrous consequences for the public’s faith in media reporting of election results.”

Fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver responded with his own take on the Arizona call, writing, “My best analogy is to a gambler who bets 100% of his bankroll on red while the roulette wheel is still spinning and then claims it was the result of his highly proprietary model when the ball takes a last-second bounce into red.”

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NY Times Deep Dive Concludes Fox News’ Fateful Arizona Call For Biden Was a Mistake first appeared on Mediaite .
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