Calling It: Steve Kornacki and Brian Stelter

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S1: The following program may contain explicit language, the.

S2: It’s Monday, October 19th, 2020, from Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike Pesca. And if you’re listening to this today, October 19, through this week or any day this month, are the first two of the next month. We don’t know.

S3: But it could be quite similar to if you were listening to a radio show about the New Orleans levees right before Katrina or if you were a villager or employee in Chernobyl eyeing the RBM K 1000 reactor in early April 1986. Or maybe if you were a resident of New Jersey in May of 1937, vaguely aware that the Hindenburg had left Frankfurt on the 3rd and was due to land on the 6th right there in your state, because this program in the next few hours about our election night and whether to even call it that, is the American electoral system, a disaster waiting to happen? Maybe that’s too dramatic or maybe that’s too hysterical. But in order to render that judgment on November 4th or 5th, attention must be paid. Now, then we will have the luxury of treating the possibility of a breakdown as something we were all worried about, how quaint as opposed to something we didn’t pay sufficient attention to, how dire this we were doing a series of shows and we’re calling it calling it the media challenges of getting election night. Right. So right. That it’s no longer seen as a night and not a night with the power to declare a winner just positively. We know the election system in America is antiquated and inconsistent. We know it’s rickety and vulnerable. I don’t know if a team of experts were assessing it anew. They didn’t know how we did things. They probably find it inadequate and not just inadequate. But like the Hindenburg afloat on combustible gas, Democratic pollsters funded by Michael Bloomberg have a name for the scenario where more electoral votes ultimately go to Joe Biden. But on the night of election night, television presents us with a short term picture that has Donald Trump in the lead that night.

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S4: The reason we talk about a red mirage is, in fact, because we believe that on election night we are going to see Donald Trump in a stronger position than the reality actually is. We are sounding the alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump. That is likely to be what we see when every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day, which will be some day after Election Day, it will, in fact, show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage. It looks like Donald Trump was in the lead.

S3: He fundamentally was not there talking about the Red Mirage. The Red Mirage rests on the fact that Republicans are apt to vote in person, whereas Democrats are more likely to vote by mail. And this year, an astounding numbers turning the Election Day vote into more of an election week or weeks vote as those mailed in ballots are counted. Now, for a president entirely unbound by fact, the mere impression of a victory, one that superficially looks like what Americans are used to, which is a result on election night, that is an opportunity for disinformation. Also tempting to Donald Trump will be there will also be, for Donald Trump, the temptation to highlight and exaggerate every single instance of any voting irregularity, turning a rumor of mishandled ballots into an hour long block of programming on sympathetic networks or the entirety of the content from complicit websites and Twitter feeds. Indeed, the president is already sowing doubt and laying the groundwork to disenfranchise millions of million voters. Though a red mirage may last only a day or two, it could be enough for Donald Trump to convince the country that what it sees based on the familiar fiction of election night is the full story. So it falls to that fragile and hectored institution, the media, to keep this from happening. And even though trust in the media has declined every few years on election night, Americans turn on the TV, expecting to find out accurate information of who won in close to real time. The networks are aware of the tremendous power they possess, and they know that they will be defining the narrative. For years, they’ve done so by wrongly branding election night as election night, discrete and definitive. This year, however, they seem to understand the stakes. They’re trying to correct a decades long misimpression that they have perpetuated. But it may be hard to break from tradition, no matter how well-intentioned individuals on the different decision desks may be. So this week, during calling it, you will hear from Dan Rather about his pivotal position during the seesawing 2000 Bush versus Gore A. Action and about the criticism that his network and others advantaged one candidate over the other by misstating results. I’ll also provide a citizen’s guide on the misinformation to watch out, for which I will discuss with an expert on right wing media. And then I’ll talk to the Associated Press, whose calls will be relied on by much of the rest of the media. Their bureau chief, Julie Pace, will come on to talk about the thousands of workers her organization is deploying to keep. The evening is free of marriage as possible. But today I talked to two guests, NBC’s Steve Kornacki, a master of election night maps, about how his network is approaching. What we will know and what we won’t by night’s end. And then I’ll be joined by Brian Stelter of CNN about the dynamic in what’s perhaps the most important news room in America, FOX News. If the hard news people at Fox hold sway over the prime time opinion hosts. That alone would do much to, if not imperil the Red Mirage, then improperly. You know the stakes and you know the arguments to come. Donald Trump understands the power of television and he will appeal to that power to determine reality. It’s television that has declared the president for as long as everyone watching can remember. They have the power to do so now. Now, of course, it’s possible there will be no Red Mirage. Maybe there will be a blue wave. I don’t know if one is more likely than the other. It’s a fool’s errand to attach percentages to either outcome. Both are, however, sufficiently plausible that we need to brace and gird for whatever happens. So let us start our series today by talking about TV networks. First, MSNBC and NBC’s Steve Kornacki, then Brian Stelter of CNN. And Brian’s talking about the third big cable network out there, one that might have a lot to say and a lot of sway on election night.

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S1: Well, a man who will be in the middle of all of this is Steve Kornacki is national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. You always see him at the big board, touching buttons and knowing exactly how every county in the United States voted last time. Steve, welcome back to a show you once hosted so ably. The gist.

S5: Well, Mike, thank you for having me back in spite of my guest hosting it.

S1: OK, first question is election night is huge for ratings for the networks, but that is when it’s election night. Is there any reconsideration or even literal rebranding of what your network is going to do to communicate that maybe this is not just a night that will determine the election?

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S5: Yeah, I mean, the the branding part is is above my pay grade, so I don’t know what’s going on on that front. But I do know that there’s a very keen awareness of how unique the vote reporting is going to be in this election. It’s not going to be uniform. I think that’s the thing. There’s a lot of attention being paid right now to the states where it has the most obvious potential to be messy and protracted. There’s a mix, though. In truth, it looks like there are states where there’s also the potential to get a speedy sort of traditional election night result. So I think the challenge from my standpoint, just being on the air election night is knowing going in which states we’re going to be getting most, if not all, in which states we’re going to be getting only a very, very skeletal share, having a sense of what buckets we’re looking at your hey, we’ve got 60 percent of Georgia. Is this in-person early vote? Is this mail in vote? Is are these votes that were cast today being able to communicate that and being able to communicate, as you say, to the uncertainty of if it’s looking close, if it’s looking like a lot of states are not callable on election night and just being able to say that, we don’t know. And this is going to continue and bring people along in that process and not trying to rush it and not try to force it.

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S3: So what we as the viewers see and we see it through you and maybe your equivalent guys like John King on CNN, you are crunching the numbers more than anyone else. And I suppose this also means that you have a connection to the people backstage who are actually literally making the call. But maybe this is I don’t know, maybe this is just an artifice and you are no more involved in saying that. I think this state we can put in the Trump column or we could put in the Biden column. But if you could just kind of take me through it, how much does your insight that you communicate to the viewer, how much does that influence what the network is factoring in in order to make the call? And when they do make the call, how is that communicated through you and to you?

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S5: Right. So we have a set up that I think is basically the same as every other network where we have what’s called a decision desk and has a very unique relationship with the network as a whole and with the news operation in that it’s kind of its own walled off department. There’s sort of recognition, I think, in the news media that the independence of a decision desk, whether it’s here or ABC or CBS or anywhere, the independence of the decision desk in the ability to make calls and to be seen as making calls without any kind of interference, a perception of interference or anything like that is just paramount on election night. And I think this is something the modern history of this is it goes back 20 years. It goes back to the 2000 election in Florida, was initially called for Gore. Then they pulled it back and they called it for Bush and they pulled it back. And I think that was the modern construction of the decision desk here again and elsewhere really dates back to that to two thousand just to the sort of the sanctity of that independence. So they are ultimately they are making every call you see every NBC News call. Every time a state is projected, a district is projected, a Senate race is projected that is coming from them. Nobody is telling them what to do in any way, but they’re also a resource for us is how I usually describe it to people. They are people we are in contact with, with run things by them. What are you seeing here? We think we’re seeing this. Are you seeing this to the district? So checking trends, checking numbers. But but the decision is the decision desk. That’s theirs.

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S3: And there’s a long but beforehand you’re you’re probably plowing with them and talking about how they will make their decision. So you could communicate that to viewers. So what are you hearing in terms of a threshold for making a call, especially with all these with the possibility of many ballots that might have an important role not counted actually on Election Day?

S5: Right in the threshold is the same as it’s always been. It doesn’t change. They’re not you know, NBC will not. And again, I’m guessing this is this will be true everywhere. But I. I know NBC. This is true. We’re not going to try to make calls faster because we want to get it done on election night or something like that. The standard remains the same. So the variable is how long it takes the stay. Or the counties or the individual towns or precincts or whatever it is in any given jurisdiction, how long it takes them to get their vote counted, so the standard remains the same and won’t be rushed. And I think my job, one of the key things I think I need to be doing on election night is being transparent as possible in terms of letting viewers see what we’re seeing now, what we know and see what we’re thinking. I’m just imagining a scenario here where you’re going to have some states that are doing this at what seems like a very normal pace where you’re watching an election. And I think it’s very likely you’re going to have some states that it’s just, well, this is a normal election night. They’re getting just about all the vote reported. It’s it’s still relatively early on the East Coast. And we have a good sense where these states are going. At the same time, I think it’s very likely you’re going to have some states that are like Heinz ketchup slow and where it becomes clear by probably pretty clear going into it that it’ll be absolutely clear by 11 o’clock at night or so that we’re not getting this tonight. We’re not getting this tomorrow. We may not get this for a couple of days. We can and we will, I believe, go into election night with a pretty good sense. What states are likely to fall into, which category? Some of it will reveal itself. Just nobody predicted that that Florida was going to be Florida in 2000 until Florida happened. So you’ve got to be ready for a contingency like that. And I think it’s just being able to narrate our for the viewer kind of our sense of the picture. We think this state is going to be fast. We think the state is going to be slow. This state’s going faster than we thought. The state’s going slower than we thought. Here’s why. Here’s how many votes are still to come. We think they’re from the mail and bucket. We think they’re from the early vote bucket. Just trying to communicate all of that to viewers, make clear the timing is going to be different. And I think the other thing, as I say, these buckets of votes, I think just given that the polls are indicating Democrats are going to be so much more likely to use mail in voting and Republicans are going to be so much more likely to do same day in person voting, I think being aware of what buckets we’re talking about, whether it’s counted or uncounted votes, I think is going to be very important.

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S3: Right. Let’s go through a couple of the perceived swing states and what you know about them now in terms of when they’ll be reporting. So from what I hear, Florida actually will have because they count all their ballots and they’re ready to go on Election Day. So it’s likely will get good, solid results from Florida unless it’s within one hundred fairly early.

S5: That’s the irony, right? I mean, the biggest modern election disaster for a special election was Florida and the biggest single hope, I think, for clarity on election night. Twenty 20 is Florida, the procedure in Florida and a lot of ways they were kind of doing covid elections before there was covid all registered voters in Florida can get a mail in ballot that precedes the pandemic. So that’s something that was already established. That’s something that’s already common. Voters are accustomed to it. I think in a lot of ways, election officials are accustomed to processing it. Florida has a procedure that not every state has. A lot of these states that are new to the mail and game this year don’t have the procedure that Florida has, that election officials can process the mail in ballots before Election Day. That’s a cumbersome process for some people to say you rip it out of the envelope and throw it in the machine. No, you take it out of the envelope, match up signatures, verify that it’s a valid ballot that takes time, that strains resources. And in a state where you can’t do that until polls close, that can add a tremendous amount of time, especially with the scale of mail in ballots we’re talking about here. So Florida already has a process in place for this, already has been getting these things at scale and they know how to do it. So that’s a big part of it. They have extensive in-person early voting. Again, that’s Florida takes place weeks ahead of time, Election Day. And then they’ve got in-person voting on Election Day itself, which is a significant but it’s a lot smaller piece of the pie in Florida than it is in other states. And the other thing, by the way, in Florida is this is not true in every state. But if you’re doing the mail in ballot, it has to be in by the close of polls on Election Day. A lot of states there’s a lag. If it’s postmarked by Election Day, it can count. If it comes in three days later. I think six days later is the subject of litigation in Wisconsin right now. So Florida, at least potentially in these are famous last words. And I know Florida’s Florida and there’s always two thousand. So why should there be a huge problem here anyway? But on paper, Florida has the potential to be a very efficient and thorough reporter of its votes on election night and potentially, I think, a very significant bellwether about where the country is going as a whole.

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S3: So what are the states that are the opposite of Florida? What are the states important swing states where there might be a big delay in actually knowing how the vote went?

S5: Yeah, so a good example of this, I think, is Pennsylvania, right? We say Florida has been doing this for a long time. Pennsylvania is new to it in Pennsylvania already. And its primary was a state that it took a long time to get results. I think a big part of it is they are. Doing extensive mail in voting for the first time so that not every state is even taking that step. The problem is they don’t have the procedure for counting the votes as they receive them. There’s a potential there for like a tremendous backlog. They can come in a few days after the election. So you’ve got you’ve got some ingredients there. And we already saw it in the primary where you had big parts of the state that it took days to get votes counted and reported from. You had some parts of the state where you got pretty thorough counts. It really did kind of vary. Smaller counties, for example, in Pennsylvania, you might actually get some results from on election night. But I think Pennsylvania has that potential. Michigan has that potential. Wisconsin and I say Wisconsin, there’s some litigation right now, too. So it’s a little unclear what exactly is going to happen there. But Wisconsin is that potential. Iowa has that potential Midwest states that Trump did well in in twenty sixteen or put it that way. Yeah. What about Georgia and Texas? Yeah. So Georgia, again, there’s there’s a lawsuit in Georgia too right now. We got to see how it shakes out about when votes are going to be, how long the ballots are going to be allowed after Election Day. In theory, Georgia could be smooth, but they had trouble in their primary because they do allow like the signature verification process is that the cumbersome ballot processing that’s allowed before the election in Georgia. So they do have a piece of this that Pennsylvania doesn’t. But we didn’t see problems in the primary there. I think there’s some potential, if you want to be optimistic, that Georgia could figure some things out.

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S3: Right. In other words, Georgia will at least know this is a real ballot with a signature that we’re going to count when it comes time to count. Pennsylvania won’t even be.

S5: I mean, so Georgia can’t tabulate these things before Election Day, but they can process them. And my understanding is, if you’re able to process a ballot, that’s 90 percent of it right there, if you can process it and get it put in the machine, in some cases, that could be just as good as having a real sort of Election Day vote cast. It’s done. It’s verified. It’s in the machine. And then when the polls close, you run the machine and you count Arizona. Arizona is a lot like Florida. I mean, they’ve been doing covid elections before. It was covid. There’s just widespread mail and voting in Arizona, very extensive. They’ve got a weird rule in Arizona where polls will close, I believe it is 9:00 pm Eastern officially. And then the state law says no vote can be announced for one hour. So I’m not entirely clear why this is, but I just knows from having done a few Arizona elections. Now, the poll closing time will be nine Eastern and then at 10:00 Eastern. And I may be getting this wrong. I have to go. I don’t know my notes from maybe ten and eleven. I got to remember the time zone here. But an hour after the polls closed in Arizona, all of a sudden you’ll get half the vote for the state. It’s just basically all all comes out at once because they’ve been able to process, get all these ballots ready and they’re just waiting for that clock to hit one hour. And then suddenly it just all comes in. I should say, though, in a very close race. And we saw the Senate race there in twenty eighteen. There is still a lag there on getting some of these ballots counted in Arizona. So in a very close race in Arizona, it still may take two or three days to get it all processed. But you’ll get a lot you will get a lot on election night.

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S3: But, Steve, can you tell me what you expect to be the difference in Coconino County versus Yuma County? I actually don’t mean that.

S5: I actually don’t mean just the only person who might actually know the best. The Arizona is the easiest state when it comes to counties because two thirds of the voters in the entire state basically are in one county, Maricopa County. So you just got to know Maricopa County.

S3: Yeah. And there are very few counties, unlike that’s why I mentioned Georgia and Texas, the number one and number two, most counties of any state. So is it the case that with some of those potential problem states in the upper Midwest that it won’t even be that we don’t know the vote, we don’t know how many people voted, we don’t know how many people mailed in votes. So it’ll be really hard to even know what to do with the actual in-person vote that might be counted on Election Day.

S5: Yeah, and again, this is where we’re where I hope that between now and Election Day, we’re going to get some more clarity from secretaries of state and from election officials where we’ll be able to have those numbers or pretty good estimates of those numbers before Election Day. Some states are really good with I mean, North Carolina, again, North Carolina, and it’s not in the region you’re talking about. But North Carolina is a good example of a state that’s just great with the data on early voting, on mail and voting. Again, they’ve been doing it for a while. It’s very easy to go find that data for for North Carolina. So our hope certainly is we’ll get numbers that put us in the ballpark, at least for these Midwest states. But there’s the potential to be pleasantly surprised here. But there’s the potential in a number of states that are obviously critical to the Electoral College for very slow counts.

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S3: There’s this theory, Red Meraj. And, you know, it’s a it’s not a neutral term because Meraj means it’s not real. But the idea is just what you’re saying, that since Democrats have a propensity to vote by. And that the vote that we’ll know on Election Day might be skewing towards Republicans. People have been worried that the initial impression will give the mirage that the red side, the Republicans, do well. Do you have any thoughts on the idea and the concern about Red Mirage?

S5: We’re in uncharted waters here. So part of me feels like I don’t want to be dismissive of anything. I’m hopeful we’ll get some full state reports, some full state results. I’m not guaranteeing it because, I mean, it could be election 2000 again. But I’m hopeful we’re going to get states where we get full or pretty full results on election night and likely they’ll be pointing in one direction or the other. Maybe they’ll be pointing to a very close race. The scenario you’re describing where there’s very, very partial results from a few states and that becomes the basis for the claim of a clear result from any side. I mean, let me divorce this from one side or the other. But just where that becomes the basis for the claim of a very clear result? It’s hard for me just imagining how I’m going to be handling election night and how I imagine people going to be watching it. It’s hard for me to see that in the face of. If we have a number of states where we’ve got pretty full results and they’re telling another story, I feel like certainly just the emphasis I’ll be giving it on the air. We’ll be emphasizing places where we have pretty complete results because they’re potentially at least pointing in a direction. They’re also, I would say, within states when you’re talking about states that have very partial results, then the emphasis, I think, becomes much more on where within the state is there anywhere but where within the state do we have something that’s complete? Do we have a bellwether county in, let’s say, Pennsylvania, a bellwether county in Michigan, or a collection of bellwether counties where we’ve got full results were just for whatever reason they’ve been able to get complete results out, even though it’s going to take forever in Detroit or it’s going to take forever in Philadelphia. And again, I just think the emphasis, my emphasis editorially and telling the story of election night in a situation like that, I think is going to be on places where you have a complete picture, even within a very incomplete picture.

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S3: Do you think it’s likely or unlikely that in the daylight hours of November 4th, we will know who is to be president?

S5: I don’t want to I’m going to punt. I put it this way. I think it’s possible.

S3: I think it’s very possible it’s right, I understand that answer, that it’s possible enough that it doesn’t matter if your guess is 20 percent or 60 percent, you do the same thing.

S5: You know, I mean, I just I see a truly see a range of possibilities here. When people talk about having a number of states unsettled and unclear for days, I do see it. I see the possibility of that. I also see the possibility of more clarity earlier than the general consensus. Right.

S6: You know, no one actually officially makes the call on election night. It’s just been ceded to the networks and the AP. That’s how it’s been working for the last during the electronic age of American history. Do you think that if you and your colleagues in TV news and the AP do their job really, really well, that that will be enough to avoid any lingering question about who really is the next president?

S5: I think if we do our job well, my network, my colleagues, my peers at other networks, I think there will be confidence. There should be confidence, I think, in the results of the election if we do our job well, even if it takes days or a week or two weeks to get to a final result, if we do our job well, we will have taken the viewers one step at a time through that process. As you sort of complicated and winding as it is, it will make sense why is taking so long and it won’t seem nefarious and the result, wherever it lands, will be a result.

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S7: Steve Kolonaki is national political correspondent for MSNBC and NBC. He is also author of the book The Red and the Blue, which will be the two colors he’ll be fiddling with on that screen on election night or election week. Thanks a lot, Steve. Thanks, Mike. Appreciate it. So you heard Steve there mention that he and his colleagues are going to be mindful, careful, patient, all of his colleagues.

S3: The Fox News Channel over the last four years has been, in some part, state sponsored media, in some part media that actually sets the agenda of the state. They’ve also been a kind of human resources department with countless Trump administration officials gaining renown first as voices on Fox. But to be fair to the network, there is a news division within Fox, which plays it roughly down the line. The New York Times ran an article on art in Michigan who runs Fox’s decision desk. The headline of that piece was Trump Wants to Discredit the Election. This nerd could stop him. Now I listen to Myshkin in a panel discussion sponsored by Penn, and I have to say his sentiments entirely indistinguishable from his colleagues at CNN and the AP. For instance, this is Sally Buzbee of the Associated Press.

S8: And I just think that that transparency is enormously important to make sure that the audience also knows that’s happening.

S3: And this is Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief of CNN. We all have, I think, an obligation to remind people of the processes to be transparent about how we do what we do and educate our audiences about how votes are counted. And this is FOX is on in Michigan. That’s how we differentiate and how we tried to tell the story with as much transparency as possible. If you didn’t know who the Fox decision desk head was among those clips and who was the CNN decision desk head and who ran the same unit for the AP, you wouldn’t be able to tell from what you just heard or any of their sentiments or even their plans, which is heartening. But that doesn’t mean there are no legitimate worries because their executives at FOX ranking above Michigan who make the decisions about who they will feature in their election night coverage. So a journalist who understands the tensions weighing upon Fox News’s Brian Stelter. He hosts Reliable Sources on CNN and he is the author of Hoax Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. I asked her about Fox’s coverage, and I started as a basis of comparison by asking what CNN is doing to communicate that while it’s election night, it might not be the definitive story of who won. So there is a lot of concern that assumptions will be made and results will seemingly be set when they are not set on election night. So I’d like to ask you a few questions about this one. What is your network doing to convey and make sure that their election night coverage doesn’t come off as the definitive story of who won?

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S9: I think this process has already started. You know, it’s a process of explaining to the audience why this year is different and what will be different about election night turned election week. So I think the news reports, the articles, the videos that are being produced now and especially in October, they are a part of this process educating viewers and voters about what to expect. And then as we. You remember third, I think we will just see more and more of this on television and online.

S6: Is there a way that networks can or should back off the usual way they frame election night like decision 20, 20, or finally we get an answer?

S9: I bet we’re going to see a variety of these approaches and there’s going to be news sources that are going to be more admirable, that are going to be more responsible than are going to be more careful about this than you’re going to have others, especially pro Trump outlets that are going to be pretty irresponsible and are going to reflect the president’s call for an instant result and instant answers. What I believe is that the major networks, the ones that matter most, will air on the side of caution and will be responsible. And those conversations are already underway.

S6: Do you think if the three broadcast networks and the two major cable news networks that aren’t FOX, if they are all essentially sending the proper message that it might be too early to tell? Will that counteract whatever messaging Trump and Trump does have either via Fox or online sources?

S9: All I can say is I hope so. But I think we live in a world of polarized information environment where most people are not consuming hyper partisan news all the time. But they do see it some places sometimes. And then there are certainly a really intense political junkie audience that is glued to Fox that does believe the deep state is out to get Trump or that opts into that into that storyline for various reasons. Right. That there are certain people who choose to believe that the elections are rigged because it’s part of a storyline that they are familiar with that they accept. I guess my point is I’m trying to say is that’s not the majority of the population. In fact, it’s not even close to the majority. It is a it is a sliver of the country. But that sliver is still vocal and can still be impactful. And that sliver, of course, includes the president of the United States. But most people. Right, they consume the news like a sponge. They see it from NBC or the AP or see it on. And I think those outlets clearly were going to be responsible. I think a lot of pressures on Fox about how Fox handles this election process. The network has a strong decision desk. They have veterans who know how to project races, who know how to make calls. They have strong news anchors who understand what’s at stake here. But Fox also has really, really loud propagandists who are more popular than the newsman. So the pressure will be on the Murdochs to let the news outweigh and outshine the propaganda.

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S6: What are some election night signs that we should be concerned about if we see certain things happening on Fox that aren’t happening elsewhere?

S9: Historically, Fox’s coverage on election night has been produced by the news side, not the opinions. Now, I understand those two sides have blurred a lot, but the anchors are very Martha MacCallum. The commentators are people like Chris Wallace and Brit Hume on in twenty eighteen during the midterms, Sean Hannity never even made a single appearance on election night coverage. I think if we see Hannity and we see Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, if they’re calling in, if they’re appearing on the on the on the air and they’re shouting about fraud and they’re shouting about a rigged election, that is deeply troubling, that it will be deeply troubling. We need more reporting and less opining in general, and especially on election night or election week. This is too sensitive and too serious to have a bunch of people screaming into the microphone. And so that’s why I say it’s a big responsibility for the Murdochs.

S6: So even beforehand, we could get a sense of where Fox is going with this if they announce, you know, our huge election night lineup and you see Tucker, Laura and Hannity is part of that. That’s right.

S9: But I think the plan is already in place that it will be news anchors that definitely be the plan. You know, at the end of the day, that’s election night, one of the only nights of the year when the news anchors win and the kind of people take the night off. And so that’s fully my prediction again this year. But let’s play out a scenario where two days into this vote counting, when Biden clearly has an edge, but the networks are trying to be very careful and are trying to make sure that more ballots arrive by mail and are counted by the states. Let’s imagine a scenario where Sean Hannity show is back on and he’s in touch with Trump and he has Trump calling in, ranting and raving about a rigged election, ranting and raving about the election being stolen to let that out on the air, unchecked and unbalanced, we’ll do serious damage. So election night is one thing. And I think Fox has a certain plan for election night. But let’s game it out a few days. If the Fox propagandists who are more popular among the audience are given that unchecked power to spread lies and smears, then that’s going to be a real problem.

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S1: Your book, Hoax Donald Trump Fox News in the Dangerous Distortion of Truth has I don’t know. It seems like a. Hundred or so off the record, sources from inside a fox is your worry about this when you say I’m worried, is it informed by what people inside of Fox are telling you?

S9: Certainly, I had a lot of staffers at the network expressed concerns about a lack of strong leadership on Fox News. I had staffer named Sean Graff, who was a researcher there, who spoke to me on the record when he still worked at Fox, which I thought was quite brave. And he said Fox’s allegiance with President Trump is putting our democracy at risk. So there are folks there who have those concerns, but they don’t have the power, the opinion people, the propagandists do. And that’s certainly the dynamic that is in effect. But I think, you know, let’s put it this way in a more of a hopeful note, Bret Baier, this newscaster who leads election night coverage on Fox, who’s been with the network for decades, is the ultimate D.C. insider. He’s at the fancy dinner parties. He values his identity as a journalist and a news anchor, not as a pro Trump yapper, you know. He doesn’t want his legacy to be that his network misinformed the country about the election. So I made my point is there are good people in important positions there who don’t want it to be written down for history, that that they just let Trump try to steal the election with their net with with the help of their network.

S6: So your book really does convince is very convincing that there’s weakness at the top of Fox, that the leader is not Roger Ailes, that some of them, Suzanne Scott, who just in one anecdote, Sean Hannity was the hype man for Trump at a rally. And you have you have a scene where Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, some of the straight news anchors at Fox, said this can’t happen again. And afterwards, you know, in an example of asking for forgiveness rather than permission, afterwards, they were assured that it wouldn’t happen again. But I do you know, when when I asked you who’s going to stop this, you name the anchorman. You didn’t need management.

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S9: I would like to name management. That’s why I call it the Murdochs instead, because ultimately it’s their network and it’s and Scott and other executives run it for the Murdochs. But but when it comes down to election week, yes, it will be. Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace is the president of the network and it will be their deputies who have their fingers on the proverbial trigger is what I mean by that is there in the control room, pressing the buttons, running the network, running the show. And a lot will depend on on what choices they make.

S1: Brian Stelter is the host of Reliable Sources and author of Hoax Donald Trump Fox News in the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Thank you, Brian. Thank you.

S2: And that’s it for today’s show, calling it a just special report was produced by Daniel Shrader and Margaret Kelly, the executive producer of Slate podcasts is Alicia Montgomery. And we had a prodigious amount of help from Slate’s director of media relations, Katie Raeford, and deputy editor of Slate Lo and Luke The Gist and RBM. One thousand worth of output, but with a quite low, positive void coefficient of temperance and caution. Peruggia And thanks for listening.