Fox News faced criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign and its allies on Tuesday for projecting that Arizona's 11 electoral votes would go to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, as other news networks sought more evidence before making a call.
Fox Corp's Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts said the Trump campaign was "livid" that the network projected Arizona for Biden, saying: "Pushback is a very light word to use."
The Associated Press backed Fox's call on Arizona three hours later. The ire of Trumpworld quickly turned to Cindy McCain, the widow of late Arizona Senator John McCain, who was a frequent Trump critic. Cindy McCain endorsed Biden in September, a very high profile endorsement in the crucial swing state.
Conservative pundit Mark Levin tweeted after Trump lost Arizona, "Congratulations Cindy McCain. You helped cost us Arizona." Dan Bongino offered a similar sentiment, "Conservatism would be so much better off without 'principled' conservatives like Cindy McCain."
Historian Michael Beschloss, took a different approach, adding, "And for those who believe that 'revenge is a dish best served cold,' Cindy McCain played a major role in making sure that Trump lost Arizona, home state of her beloved husband, an American hero. What must John McCain be thinking as he looks down and watches this happen tonight?"
Columnist Brittany Pounder joked, "Cindy McCain isn’t a .@tedcruz. Nobody insults her spouse and gets away with it," referring to Trump's insults about Texas Senator Ted Cruz's wife.
- Trump campaign will immediately request recount in Wisconsin
- Twenty-five-year-old Republican denounced by Cory Booker for racism elected to Congress
- Biden wins Wisconsin as race still too close to call in some battleground states
Political pundit Ana Navarro-Cárdenas invoked Trump's attacks on John McCain, saying, "Joe Biden is the first Democrat in 24 years to win Arizona. I’d like to imagine it as John McCain getting the last laugh."
Meghan McCain also responded to Levin with an image blowing him a kiss and later tweeted out McCain's 2008 concession speech with the words, "I miss you."
Election night anger
In an appearance at the White House, Trump falsely claimed he had won re-election. Networks carried his remarks live but quickly corrected him, noting that a handful of key states remained too close to call as of early Wednesday morning.
Some Trump supporters said there were too many outstanding votes for Fox to project Arizona for Biden. Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump's campaign, said Fox's projection came when there were 1 million ballots remaining to be counted.
"It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona," Arizona's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said on Twitter. "Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls."
The director of Fox News' decision desk, Arnon Mishkin, defended the call on-air, saying that the president "is not going to be able to win enough votes to take over that lead".
The Arizona projection could exacerbate tension between the president and the news network, controlled by press baron Rupert Murdoch, whose opinion hosts are usually supportive of Trump.
In recent months Trump has publicly criticized the network, in August tweeting: "The people who are watching @FoxNews, in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!"
According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, Trump allies are exploring opportunities to fund a conservative media venture or Trump-themed media outlet.
Fox anchor Chris Wallace also criticized Trump's victory claim. "This is an extremely flammable situation and the president just threw a match into it," Wallace said.
CNN's Jake Tapper said: "Almost everything President Trump said in his declaration of victory was not true."
On Walt Disney Co's ABC, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who supports Trump, called Trump's move a "bad strategic decision."
"There's just no basis to make that argument tonight," Christie said. "There just isn't." Fox was faster than the other U.S. TV networks in projecting winners in various states, calling states including Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi hours before others.
Shortly after 2:30 A.M. ET, it had projected Biden with 238 electoral votes and Trump with 213. CNN had also projected a Biden lead with 220 votes and Trump with 213.
In this year’s contest, TV networks faced heightened pressure to report results accurately and without unwarranted speculation.
This is the first presidential election in which the major TV networks received data from different providers. Fox News and the Associated Press no longer used in-person exit polls, instead relying on online and telephone surveys that aimed to reach early and Election Day voters. The news organizations combined that survey data with real-time results tabulated by the AP to help make projections.
The three broadcast news networks and CNN were part of the National Election Pool consortium, which is relying on the firm Edison Research for exit polls and results from each precinct. Reuters has a distribution deal with the NEP for 2020 election data.