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Fox News denies report it has told anchors not to call Biden ‘president-elect’

Fox News election night anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.
(Fox News)

Fox News is denying a report that it has instructed its staff not to refer to Joe Biden as “president-elect” once his electoral vote total goes over 270, which would be enough to give him an election victory over President Trump.

CNN reported Friday that it has seen two memos that instruct anchors to not use the description and instead say that Biden has “enough electoral votes to win the presidency.”

Fox News pushed back with a statement saying, “there have been no memos or editorial guidance from Fox News” on the matter, but offered no further details.

If such a communication or policy does exist, it was not enacted in the network’s coverage of the state of the race on Friday morning.

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Fox News anchor Bret Baier used the term “president-elect” on the air when getting an update from his colleague Bill Hemmer, who has been stationed at the network’s electoral map.

“If the president were to get [Pennsylvania], he’d be at 274,” Hemmer said. “But at the moment, it appears that that is getting further and further from his grasp. And 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.

“That is correct,” Hemmer said.

Chris Wallace, appearing earlier to plug his program “Fox News Sunday,” said he would be discussing a president-elect Biden if the race is decided.

TV networks are still haunted by how botched Bush v. Gore election night coverage set in motion the Florida recount crisis. Can it happen again?

CNN Chief Media correspondent Brian Stelter responded Friday on Twitter: “Earlier this morning our story noted that ‘it is possible that Fox could change the guidance either before or after it calls the race.’ And there are clearly some staffers at Fox who disagreed with the guidance, hence, the leaks.”

President Trump’s pushback against the election results has been a test for Fox News, which has attempted to report the story impartially during the day while its opinion hosts — several of whom are known to offer their advice to the White House — work hard at rationalizing his false claims of election fraud at night.

Fox News journalists have been skeptical of the president’s assertions that the election results are rife with fraud despite presenting no evidence. But Trump’s defenders have been getting free rein to spread Trump’s falsehoods during its prime-time opinion shows with virtually no pushback.

Sean Hannity, the network’s leading Trump defender, said on his program Thursday that Fox News should not have called Arizona and its 11 electoral votes for Joe Biden on election night, surprisingly undermining the credibility of the network’s highly respected decision desk.

The White House has pushed back vigorously at the early Arizona call, with the Associated Press — which collaborates with Fox News on a voter survey — the only other major news organization to give the state to Biden. Other networks have designated the state as too close to call.

The early call shifted the narrative of the election story, which after Trump’s strong showing in taking Florida pointed to a possible upset victory by the president, who had trailed Biden in every major poll. It also put Biden closer to victory in the electoral vote count than on any other network.

Trump reportedly called to complain directly to Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News parent Fox Corp., to no avail.

Biden’s margin in Arizona has narrowed as more votes have come in. But members of the Fox News decision desk have appeared on the network numerous times since Tuesday night to say they stand by the call.


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