When Donald Trump supporters gathered outside a vote-counting centre in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday night, they had a simple and perhaps unexpected chant: “Fox News Sucks!”
Although the channel has become synonymous with Trump’s rise to power, in the last two days Fox News has become the focus of the Trump campaign’s anger after it made an early call on Tuesday night that the state of Arizona was going to Joe Biden.
In the process, the channel switched the media’s attention away from Trump’s substantial success in Florida and undermined the president’s attempts to focus attention on the vote counting in Pennsylvania.
Such was the level of fury within the Trump campaign at the call that his team reportedly attempted to have the decision overturned. According to the New York Times, this involved Jared Kushner contacting Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, while in Vanity Fair’s reporting it was the president himself who called the media mogul. Regardless of who was placing the calls, Fox has stuck by its decision – much to the anger of many of its viewers who have bombarded the channel with complaints.
The decision to call the ultra-close Arizona race for Biden – a call that was later copied by the Associated Press, which provides results data to the Guardian – was made by Fox’s Arnon Mishkin, who runs the broadcaster’s decision desk. Before the election, Mishkin, a registered Democrat who has worked for Fox News for decades, had made clear that he would not be swayed by internal pressure in making calls for states.
As a result, Mishkin has been portrayed as a defender of the truth, representing the uneasy balance that exists between Fox’s straight news division and the highly opinionated rightwing hosts who shape the external perception of the channel.
On Thursday, Mishkin, who has become a target for angry Trump supporters, told the channel’s viewers that he would not be changing his mind on the basis that “we strongly believe that our call will stand, and that’s why we’re not pulling back the call”.
Dismissing claims from Trump’s team that they could still edge ahead in the ultra-close race as more votes were counted, a visibly exasperated Mishkin pushed back and said the objections were like talking about what would happen “if a frog had wings”.
“We’re confident that the data will basically look like the data we’ve noticed throughout the count in Arizona,” he said.
Trump and his team have an increasingly complicated relationship with Fox News. Throughout his presidency he has been an obsessive watcher of the channel, often providing commentary on his Twitter feed about its audience ratings when he objects to its coverage and phoning in to dispute specific issues.
On the day of the election he complained on air about the channel’s coverage not being sufficiently supportive: “Somebody said what’s the difference between this and four years ago, and I say Fox … In the old days you wouldn’t put ‘Sleepy Joe’ on every time he opens his mouth. You had Democrats on more than you had Republicans. I’m not complaining. I’m just telling people.”
One of the bigger questions in US rightwing media is what happens if Trump loses the election, with longstanding speculation that he could be tempted to start his own media outlet in a bid to communicate directly with his supporters.