On Chris Hayes’s show Thursday night, the MSNBC host spoke with Chris Stirewalt, a recently fired Fox News political editor who played a key role in the fateful decision to rightfully call Arizona for Joe Biden before any other network. It was an appearance that would’ve seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago. But after being let go by Fox News last week, as part of what network insiders described to the Daily Beast as an “ideological purge” and a “blood bath,” Stirewalt penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times published Thursday morning, writing that after he “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.” The ire directed at Stirewalt came when Donald Trump and his supporters refused to accept defeat and instead lashed out at Fox, which then kicked off a domino effect that led to the ardently pro-Trump network Newsmax exploding in popularity among the MAGA base.
Appearing on the Fox News rival Thursday night, Stirewalt seemingly tried to avoid discussing his former network, speaking more in generalities about the media world. He did emphasize that he was personally “not responsible” for calling Arizona, crediting “an awesome team of fabulous nerds” at the Fox’s Decision Desk HQ and the recently retired Fox News editor Bill Sammon. On election night, Stirewalt assumed nothing was out of the ordinary when they made the Arizona announcement, as he explained that he would not “understand the magnitude of the anger on the right about this for some time.” But with the help of hindsight, Stirewalt came to realize the impact of that one call, which he described as “effective in defeating Trump’s attempt to disrupt the election––to steal an election, because yes, the narrative was broken.”
“We were kind of out there by ourselves, and through that process, we became a focus of all of this rage, all of this anger,” Stirewalt said of the Decision Desk team and the significance of their early call. “But the credulity of which the consumers were saying the election was stolen woke me up to unhappy facts about the way that the industry works.” In a brief moment of naivete for a journalist with experience at an outlet that is simultaneously one of the most dishonest and most popular in the country, he explained that he was shocked by the sheer number of Americans who bought into Trump’s lies about the election being stolen. “A lot of people have grown accustomed to being flattered by their news outlets,” he added, before suggesting that the 24-hour news cycle is not a healthy way for the nation to collectively stay informed.
Hayes then directly questioned Stirewalt about Fox’s culpability in popularizing and helping to amplify Trump’s “big lie” about nonexistent mass voter fraud, which had enraged the ex-president’s supporters and led to the deadly storming of the Capitol to disrupt the certification of the election. “The deeper problem is that your network, the president, was feeding people substantive lies,” the host pressed. He then emphasized the “incredibly” consequential nature of these lies––describing them as “mistruths about the state of the world”––before firing back at Stirewalt’s vague media criticism: “That’s a substantive problem with what was being pumped out, not a formal question of the 24-hour news cycle,” said Hayes. Stirewalt quickly denied playing a role in how Fox pumped out “mistruths,” a response that triggered some raised eyebrows from the progressive host. Hayes’s guest did not appreciate his change in body language. “You raise whatever eyebrow you wanna raise,” Stirewalt exclaimed, leading Hayes to say that his brows were only raised “at the network where you worked.”
Stirewalt then doubled down to defend the work he produced at the network, insisting that he “did and said what I wanted to do and say.” Rather than takes shots at Fox News in particular, Stirewalt pivoted the segment’s media criticism away from specifics—yet Hayes was not having it. “There are people on the network you worked for that are lying to people, and it’s really bad for the country,” he said matter-of-factly. “I don’t know any other way to say it but that’s just where we are.” While Stirewalt agreed that “lying to people is a bad thing to do,” he stressed that he “didn’t lie” during his time at Fox. “Like you, I patrolled those boundaries and that’s not what I participated in.”
With the network’s ratings down, Fox appears to be in the midst of a major post-election shakeup, refocusing its priorities and resources toward opinion programming. Stirewalt’s dismissal, one staffer told The Washington Post, was “a major overreaction to Trump and the audience freakout.” The network recently moved Martha MacCallum’s news show, The Story, from 7 p.m. to the 3 p.m. slot. In its stead, Fox News is airing an additional hour of opinion programming in the evening, titled Fox News Primetime. The show features a rotating cast of hosts, including Fox Business personality Maria Bartiromo, who gave Trump a platform to spread unfounded, conspiratorial claims about the 2020 election weeks after Stirewalt and his team accurately called the race for Biden.
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