As Friday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends began, Donald Trump still held a slim vote lead in Pennsylvania, and the three densest people on morning television were up to their usual tricks. “Well, this [election] definitely was not a referendum on Trump,” said Ainsley Earhardt, suggesting that, actually, it was a referendum on progressive identity politics. “We’re going to talk about, in just a minute, this phone call that the moderate libs are having with the progressives saying tone it down because we almost lost [the House].”
“Phone call or food fight?” asked Steve Doocy, and Earhardt had a good chuckle.
“It’s agonizing for the president. He sees a lead of 700,000 dwindle every single hour. He sees a lead in Pennsylvania, by hundreds of thousands, dwindle every single hour,” said Brian Kilmeade. “Obviously the guy competes. You watched him [do] 15 events in the last 72 hours. And he wants to make sure it’s on the up-and-up. And that’s why there’s so many legal stories out there.”
Well, that’s certainly one explanation of why there are so many “legal stories” out there. The other, more compelling explanation is that the president sees the writing on the wall with respect to his dwindling electoral prospects, and is hellbent on reducing that wall to rubble, and then pretending that there was never a wall in the first place. When the other networks carrying Trump’s divisive, dishonest speech Wednesday night about purported voter fraud in swing states decided to cut away—a decision that Kilmeade characterized as “arrogance” deriving from their thoroughgoing hatred of the president—they did so in order not to amplify misinformation intended to subvert the democratic process. But right-wing misinformation is mother’s milk to Fox News, and the Friends spent most of Friday morning’s program sucking it down.
As I predicted on Thursday night, Fox & Friends spent much of Friday’s program attempting to generate sympathy for Trump by demonizing the left and the media. “Mollie Hemingway said something interesting,” Earhardt observed. (There’s a first time for everything!) “She said that people don’t trust the election process because you have elite institutions, you have big business, you have big tech that are censoring, big media that has spent the last four years trying to destroy Donald Trump. And she said so now, as a result of all of that, the credibility is destroyed.” In this telling—the telling that apparently resonates with almost 70 million Americans—Trump is a reform agent standing up to these entrenched interests, rather than an alleged billionaire who, alongside his family, has spent the last four years aligning himself to profit from the office he has held and soiled. This telling is the only telling that even comes close to justifying the Trumpists’ recent efforts at election interference. If the left and the media are dishonest to the core, then the right gets a free pass to counteract their malign influence.
Over the course of the three-hour Fox & Friends broadcast, though, Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania kept tightening. And at 8:54 a.m., as radio host Larry Elder was in the middle of a diatribe against New York Times columnist Charles Blow, Fox News reported that Trump’s lead was gone. The Friends looked rather glum. “President Trump cannot be reelected if he doesn’t win Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, no matter how many other states he wins,” said Earhardt. But all hope was not lost. Kilmeade noted that Trump was only down 1.5 points in Arizona—a state that Fox News’ decision desk called for Biden on Tuesday night, much to the chagrin of everyone else at Fox News—and that 9,000 overseas military ballots in Georgia, which might well break for Trump, had not yet been counted.
“In the meantime,” said Doocy, “you can see why last night in the 7 o’clock hour, that is why the president of the United States went to the briefing room and essentially said, ‘You’ve got to stop the counting,’ because he, you know, he saw how his lead was dwindling, and so he said, for a variety of reasons, the president said, ‘Stop the counting because of voter fraud and lawsuits.’ Did not provide any information into that.” Wait, what? Was the doofiest Friend tacitly acknowledging what everyone else in the fact-based information sphere already knows: that Trump’s claims of election fraud are bogus?
No. No, he was not. “But what we do know is,” Doocy continued, “in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, where Mr. Biden now has a 5,600-point lead, his monitors were upset that they were kept so far away from the actual vote counting.”
“There was another win for the president in the courts yesterday,” said Earhardt. “The judge said that some of the ballots that were lacking the voter ID information, they must be set aside in the state of Pennsylvania.”
“And some people are saying ‘Republicans want in one state to count the vote and in other states not to.’ And there’s really a difference, and here’s why,” said Kilmeade. “In Nevada in particular, the president is saying, wait a second, you have these mail-in votes. There’s a legitimate reason why we need to examine whether these votes were coming from outside. And also, were they from dead people?”
So, you know. Fox & Friends is gonna do what it’s gonna do. But even if Doocy, Earhardt, and Kilmeade look ready to ride the Trump train straight into the side of Voter Fraud Mountain, others at Fox News are already beginning to disembark. At the beginning of America’s Newsroom, around 9:02 a.m., Fox correspondent Kristin Fisher said that “the reality is, [Trump] has not won the presidency with legal votes cast. In fact, right now, Joe Biden is ahead in both the popular vote and in the Electoral College. Also, right now, neither the president nor his campaign have provided any evidence to back up their claims of electoral fraud.” Reporting from Philadelphia, correspondent Eric Shawn referred to Trump’s “baseless claims of voter fraud.” The news-opinion schism at Fox News is real, but in my experience it is rarely this stark. Which means when the call is finally made, it could get ugly on Fox News.