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Has Fox News Learned a Thing or Two Since Its 2020 Disaster?

Once bitten, twice shy.

Super Tuesday 2024 was a most unusual night for American television newsrooms to cover. With very little competition on either side of the political aisle, the biggest night in the primaries became little more than an anointing of the same presidential nominees as last time. Thus, for a place like Fox News, the challenge was how to keep its viewers tuned in throughout a lackluster evening and not screw up. Harkening back to 2020 should have given Fox executives the shakes, but it appeared they got at least part of the message, and a close look showed subtle but critical changes in their election coverage.

Last time, Fox News was excoriated for its decision to call the battleground state of Arizona for Joe Biden early. Viewers were incensed by the announcement, which was ultimately made by Fox News Decision Desk Director Arnon Mishkin and former political director of Fox, Chris Stirewalt. The latter has since moved on to NewsNation, but the former — a Fox contractor, not an employee — remains at the network Rupert Murdoch built.

In a way, Mishkin is an unusual choice for Fox, not so much for his Ivy League pedigree (graduate of both Yale and Harvard), but for his longtime bona fides working for Democratic candidates. A registered Democrat – according to his Wikipedia page – Mishkin cut his political teeth working as a consultant for high-profile Dems such as Jay Rockefeller and Tom Bradley, among others. So, it was Mishkin who pulled the trigger when Fox rushed to call Arizona for Biden – something many former Fox News watchers have not forgotten.

This year’s Super Tuesday, March 5, did not present any issues for Mishkin since the sitting president’s only competition was the long shot, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN). Marianne Williamson was on the ballot as well, but she had already pulled out of the race. In the GOP contest, there were two candidates: the big Kahuna, Donald Trump, and the woman-who-would-not-bow-out-gracefully, Nikki Haley. It was hardly a contest, save the question of whether the former South Carolina governor could prevail in Vermont. But how they handled Haley’s win in the Green Mountain state spoke volumes.

Fox News Embraces the Word ‘Soon’

Most viewers are used to hearing the phrase “too close to call” on election night. On Super Tuesday, Fox purposely abandoned that phrase and substituted “too soon to call.” It is a difference with a distinction. Fox number crunchers were signaling that they were being cautious with their decision to call a race and made getting it right a priority over getting it first.

Also gone from the Times Square studio headquarters was the annoying and incessant need to overproduce election coverage. This time, there were no flying drone cameras focused on embossed floor-lit lettering telling us something we already knew – that it was election night. Such distractions made Fox look insecure for its need to herald production capabilities. In other words, content seemed to take precedence over glitz and glam.

Sadly, there wasn’t much in the way of content, either, but that wasn’t Fox’ fault. Its panelists largely acquitted themselves well, and a true insider like Kellyanne Conway went to the network’s credit as she was able to shine a light on the friendship of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Nikki Haley and her family. It’s always pleasant when a political analyst tells you something you don’t know.

These were bright spots for Fox coverage on Super Tuesday. They may be subtle, but — as anyone who has watched or worked in television knows – the little things matter. In the end, these changes won’t bring back all the viewers who dumped the network after 2020, but they will go a long way in reassuring the current audience that Fox has been chastened and that it is there to report on the election, not make itself the center of attention.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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