As ratings tank amid hostile coverage of former President Donald Trump, Fox News is purging its newsroom in an attempt to salvage the network’s fading brand. Political editor Chris Stirewalt, a NeverTrumper, and several digital editors were fired Tuesday; on Election Night, Stirewalt defended the network’s decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden, a move that infuriated the president and Fox News viewers. (The outcome of Arizona’s election wasn’t finalized until late November.)
“Though the network never backed off its Arizona call, and followed other major news outlets in calling the entire election for Biden days later, Stirewalt soon apparently found himself on the outs at Fox News,” the Daily Beast reported Tuesday. Fired staffers attempted to spin the purge as higher-ups ridding the network’s digital arm of “real journalists” who don’t hold a political agenda. Anonymous ex-employees told the Beast it “was part of the network’s larger effort to pivot its website from straight-news reporting to right-wing opinion content in the mold of Fox’s primetime programming.”
Fox News has been bleeding viewers since November, quickly losing its perch in the cable news rankings. Conservatives have long viewed Fox News as the only channel to offer a counterbalance to the biased cable and network news channels that overwhelmingly mimic the Democratic Party’s company line while vilifying conservatives and Republicans. But its tone and coverage dramatically shifted during Trump’s presidency making it almost indistinguishable from left-leaning competitors such as CNN and MSNBC.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace is widely disliked; Martha MacCallum just lost her 7 p.m. show to a rotating cast of hosts. A few days after Election Day, Bret Baier deleted an innocuous tweet promoting his 6 p.m. show after more than 22,000 people responded to the tweet with harsh criticism of Fox News’ election coverage. Anchor Sandra Smith was forced to clarify an off-mic moment when after she mocked one of Trump’s lawyers who correctly pointed out that networks don’t decide presidential elections.
Even the network’s marquee names such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity now trail the evening lineups at CNN and MSNBC for the first time in years. Conservative competitors One America News and Newsmax are vying for Fox’s disgruntled viewers.
Bill Sammon, Fox News’ senior vice president and managing editor, announced his retirement Monday. The Washington Post reported that Rupert Murdoch, Fox News’ co-founder and owner of Fox News’ parent company, “has been taking a more active interest in its programming in the wake of the election.” The early call for Arizona, Murdoch told colleagues according to the Post, “caused reputational damage and cemented the view among some Trump supporters that the network is aligned against him.”
But the network needs a major overhaul to win back lost viewers. Fox still retains a stable of neoconservative NeverTrumpers including Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes who are massively out of touch with the Republican Party’s base of support; news programs and opinion shows are desperately in need of fresh faces and voices to communicate the “America First” legacy of Trump’s presidency. Firing Stirewalt is a start to restoring the network’s conservative cred, but Murdoch has his work cut out for him.