Andrew Prokop in Vox:
The way Dominion’s attorneys tell the story, the problem really started when, late on election night, Fox News’s decision desk called the state of Arizona for Joe Biden — and no other networks joined them. The Fox call was consequential, seriously undercutting Trump’s hope of portraying the election outcome as genuinely in question. It also was, probably, premature. The consensus among other decision desks and election wonks was that Fox called the state too quickly, considering how much of the vote remained uncounted and where and whom those uncounted votes were coming from. Other outlets left Arizona uncalled for more than a week as counting continued, and Biden’s lead shrank there. Biden eventually won the state by a mere 0.3 percent margin.
But the Fox personalities’ real concern was not so much with the facts or technical details of election wonkery as with the optics. In getting out on a limb and calling Arizona for Biden when no one else was doing so, it appeared to Fox’s pro-Trump viewers like the network was shivving Trump. “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those fuckers [at the decision desk] are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson wrote to his producer on November 5. He went on to say that what Trump is good at is “destroying things,” adding, “He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
On November 7, Carlson again wrote to his producer when Fox called Biden as the winner nationally (this time, alongside the other major networks). “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real,” he wrote.
The fear of alienating the audience was particularly acute because another conservative cable network with a more conspiratorial bent, Newsmax, was covering Trump’s stolen election claims far more uncritically. “An alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us,” Carlson continued.
Fox News anchor Dana Perino wrote to a Republican strategist about “this RAGING issue about fox losing tons of viewers and many watching — get this — newsmax! Our viewers are so mad about the election calls…” And Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told another executive that the political team did not understand “the impact to the brand and the arrogance in calling AZ.”