News organizations were preparing Friday for a possibly decisive call in the 2020 presidential race, even as President Donald Trump and his allies continued to lie about the integrity of the election and make baseless claims about voter fraud.
Cable news networks had their A-list anchors at the ready in anticipation of a historic call, but the urgency of the morning gave way to a hurry-up-and-wait mood as ballot counters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania continued their work.
The anchors made plenty of references to Trump’s narrowing path to victory as on-screen graphics showed Joe Biden closing in on the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House, but the network decision desks were in charge. With no decisive call and hours to fill, the solution was to vamp.
“We have not gotten to the point where he has gotten the actual 270, but those trend lines have been affirmed, so he appears to be heading in that direction,” John Dickerson said on CBS.
The networks reported that Biden planned to address the nation in prime time Friday while continuing to note false claims about voting irregularities made by Trump and some of his aides and supporters. Some of the president’s usual allies were not convinced of the fraud claims.
“There is no evidence yet,” Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and a campaign adviser to Trump, said on ABC. “If there’s evidence, we need to see it. If there isn’t, we need to stop indicting the system.”
Fox News and The Associated Press, the only two major news organizations to have projected Biden the winner of Arizona, had Biden at 264 electoral votes Friday. Other media outlets — including a network consortium that includes ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — have declined to call the Arizona race. The number of electoral votes they have given Biden is 253.
Still, preparations were under way across the news media.
Shortly before noon, Washington reporters at The Wall Street Journal received a memo, which was obtained by The New York Times, telling them that the paper’s standards department had endorsed the use of the term “president-elect” to describe Joe Biden, if the AP called the overall race in his favor.
The Times will refer to the victor as “president-elect” on first reference, after the newspaper calls a winner of the entire election, according to a spokesperson.
On Fox News, anchor Bret Baier told viewers that Biden “would become the president-elect of the United States” if the network’s decision desk projected a Biden win in Nevada or Pennsylvania.
Baier’s use of the term “president-elect” was noted throughout the media industry because of a report earlier in the day from CNN, which quoted internal messages at Fox News that instructed on-air talent to “stay away” from referring to Biden as the president-elect. According to CNN, Fox News anchors had been urged instead to say that Biden had “enough electoral votes to win the presidency.”
Fox News said Friday that no directive about the use of “president-elect” had been issued by its newsroom leadership. Two people with direct knowledge of the network’s internal communications said that key Fox News political anchors did not receive guidance on how to refer to Biden, should the network’s decision desk project a Democratic victory in the presidential race.
Fox News’ coverage of the election has been under intense scrutiny. Liberals are suspicious of the network’s owners, Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan. At the same time, Trump and his allies are angry that the network made an early call for Biden in Arizona on election night, and they have publicly castigated Fox News in recent days.
Several Trump allies appeared on Fox News on Friday and made baseless claims about election irregularities; Newt Gingrich, for instance, raised the prospect of “dead people” voting in Michigan without offering evidence to back up the allegation.
Baier, the co-anchor of Fox News’ breaking coverage with Martha MacCallum, pushed back on several false claims. When Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, suggested there were problems with poll observers in Michigan, Baier replied, “The transparency on watching the ballots is different than finding fraud that narrows the gap.”
Addressing claims of voter fraud more broadly, Baier added: “There’s all kinds of stuff flying on the internet. But when you look into it, it doesn’t pan out.”
© 2020 The New York Times Company
Read more at nytimes.com
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.