Typically, it is a point of pride for a news network to be the first to project election winners. But Fox is no typical news network, and in the days following the 2020 vote, it was besieged with angry protests not only from President Donald J. Trump’s camp but from its own viewers because it had called the battleground state of Arizona for Mr. Biden. Never mind that the call was correct; Fox executives worried that they would lose viewers to hard-right competitors like Newsmax.
And so, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, Suzanne Scott, the chief executive of Fox News Media, and Jay Wallace, the network’s president, convened a Zoom meeting for an extraordinary discussion with an unusual goal, according to a recording of the call reviewed by The New York Times: How to keep from angering the network’s conservative audience again by calling an election for a Democrat before the competition.
Maybe, the Fox executives mused, they should abandon the sophisticated new election-projecting system in which Fox had invested millions of dollars and revert to the slower, less accurate model. Or maybe they should base calls not solely on numbers but on how viewers might react. Or maybe they should delay calls, even if they were right, to keep the audience in suspense and boost viewership.
“Listen, it’s one of the sad realities: If we hadn’t called Arizona, those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger,” Ms. Scott said. “The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”
Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, the two main anchors, suggested it was not enough to call a state based on numerical calculations, the standard by which networks have made such determinations for generations, but that viewer reaction should be considered. “In a Trump environment,” Ms. MacCallum said, “the game is just very, very different.”