After CNN Business’ Brian Stelter went on air Friday to report that CNN had obtained memos in which Fox News instructed its anchors not to refer to Joe Biden as “president-elect” if the presidential race is called in his favor, some Fox News anchors indicated that they would refer to the former vice president that way.
According to Stelter’s report with Oliver Darcy, its anchors were instructed to instead say something such as Biden has “enough electoral votes to win the presidency.”
“These memos at Fox News say that they will stay away from the description,” Stelter said to CNN’s Jake Tapper. “These memos direct Fox stars, anchors, pundits, talk show to avoid language like president elect because of the president’s legal challenges.”
A network spokesperson said that there have been no network-wide memos or editorial guidance from Fox News. CNN’s report was that the instructions were in the form of emails to anchors.
Later this morning, when Bill Hemmer was talking about potential scenarios if Biden wins Pennsylvania, he said to anchor Bret Baier that “if you make a call for Joe Biden at 264, the math is pretty obvious. In Pennsylvania, that would give him 284 electoral votes.”
“And he would become the president elect of the United States,” Baier said.
At another point, Chris Wallace, talking about what may be covered on Fox News Sunday, said, “We may be talking about Biden as the president-elect. We may be talking about major court challenges. My guess is we’ll be talking about all of it.”
Stelter later stood by the report, which noted that the guidance could change. He also noted that there have been staffers at Fox who disagreed with it. He reported that one of the emails told staffers that “we will not be calling Biden the president-elect. Or using any of the whizbang graphics that say so.”
Other networks are likely to refer to Biden as the president-elect, a common practice after a presidential race is called even if votes remain to be counted and the results certified.
But Fox News has been under particular scrutiny over how it has handled coverage of the election results, not just from other networks but by Trump and his team.
The network has taken a lot of criticism from Trump and the campaign for calling the state of Arizona for Biden on Tuesday evening, but the network’s Decision Desk has not backed down from the call. And the latest results from the state suggest that Trump may fall short in overtaking Biden.
In an appearance in the White House briefing room on Thursday, Trump claimed, without offering any evidence, that the election was being stolen from him. MSNBC cut away after just about 30 seconds of coverage of the speech, while the broadcast networks went to fact checking later in his remarks. CNN and Fox News stayed with the remarks through the duration.
Right afterward, Fox News’ chief White House correspondent John Roberts told Baier that “in terms of fraud or abuse or found ballots or whatever, the president talked a lot about that. But we haven’t seen any widespread evidence that that is the case. I did forward around a short time ago a letter from the Trump campaign to the district attorney in Clark County, Nevada, in which it is alleged that thousands of people who were not legal residents of Nevada cast votes in Clark County. I mean, that could be some evidence of fraudulent voting. We don’t know. It’s a claim at this point.”
“We haven’t seen it yet. We have not seen the evidence yet, John,” Baier said.
Later in primetime, Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson said, “It’s entirely possible now that someday soon the news media will decide to shut this election down. Believe it or not, they effectively have the power to do that. Let’s say officials in Philadelphia produce a large number of newly counted votes. The Pennsylvania secretary of state hastily ratifies them, puts a seal of approval on them and then declares Joe Biden the winner.” Sean Hannity questioned the legitimacy of the results out of Philadelphia and broached the idea of a “do over” election as a remedy.
On CNN, Stelter and Tapper criticized Fox News for not pushing back enough on the president’s claims of fraud. “Fox is taking these challenges very seriously, showing deference to the president. After 25,000 false and misleading claims from this president, Fox still assumes he’s telling the truth,” Stelter said.
Tapper said that “the Murdochs and the people at Fox have an obligation to put their country above their profits. It is very important that people make it very clear that this election, there is no credible evidence that we have seen of widespread fraud. By all accounts, Joe Biden is on the precipice of becoming president fair and square.”
But on Friday morning, Baier interviewed Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and told her, “We want to look into everything as well. But we just haven’t seen it. You know, it hasn’t been presented. There’s all kinds of stuff flying on the Internet. But when we look into it, it doesn’t pan out.”