Late on November 3, 2020, Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden. At that time, the American flagship of Rupert Murdoch overturned Donald Trump’s bid for re-election. Chris Stirewalt, a Fox News editor for a decade, was part of the team that put the state in the Democrats’ column. One uprising and two months later the network fired him.
Fox called it a “restructure”. Others, including Stirewalt, took a different view: He and more than a dozen others had been sacrificed to appease Trump, Republican and Fox fans.
“I was canned after very vocal, very online viewers – including the then President of the United States – became furious,” Stirewalt writes.
According to Stirewalt, viewers’ anger rippled through Fox’s results: “The high ratings born out of an attempted presidential coup in the midst of a global pandemic were never going to be sustainable, but the drop was steeper than expected by industry experts.”
Fox C-Suite suits and elected Republicans demanded scalps. But Stirewalt would have the last word.
Last June, he appeared before the January 6 committee. Under oath, he testified that Biden won and Trump lost. He also accused the ex-president and his henchmen of seeking to “exploit” a systemic “anomaly”.
Specifically, in the 2020 election, in states like Arizona where same-day votes were counted before mail-in ballots, Republicans appeared to lead early on election night.
Typically, Democrats tended to vote by mail or before Election Day, while Republicans showed up at the polls on Election Day. Overnight, as the hours pass, an apparent Republican advantage can evaporate, leaving only a red mirage – and enraged viewers.
Stirewalt’s book is both a criticism of the media and a rebuke of his former employer and Trump. He spares no one. The Washington Post, New York Times, MSNBC and Joe Scarborough also fare poorly.
On substance, he argues that much of the news is about chasing ratings. In part, the media stoke passions to monetize everything that passes through their domain. No story is insignificant if it can serve as a clickbait.
Stirewalt says Fox News hasn’t prepared Trump supporters for the possibility of him losing to Biden, a failure far beyond negligence. Fox News, he writes, stoked “paranoia and hate to the black helicopter level” in order to trick viewers into buying a $65 “Patriot” streaming service. These days, Fox faces rather higher costs, battling libel lawsuits stemming from the repeated airing of Trump’s “big lie.”
As for the Times, Stirewalt attacks the official newspaper for using its 1619 project, which casts American history in light of racism and slavery, as a means of “upselling book subscription superusers.” at $35”. He also characterizes the 1619 Project as a “frontal assault on the idea of America’s founding as a new birth of freedom which it very clearly, though imperfectly, was”.
Stirewalt’s devotion to journalism spills over onto the page. He places great importance on individual freedom and the classical liberal tradition. He is sympathetic to the intellectual underpinnings of liberalism and conservatism, but casts a wary eye toward progressivism and nationalism. He accuses them of both fetishizing the collective will and distorting history.
“Progressivism seeks to ameliorate the problems of humanity,” he writes, “…but not necessarily within the framework of the American system or the humanistic concept of human rights.”
In contrast, “nationalists believe that the proper goal of the federal government should always be the betterment of the lives of the greatest number of Americans, even if this comes at a cost to individual rights greater than a strict reading of the constitution would allow”.
Steve Bannon, Sohrab Amari and JD Vance might disagree. Or not.
Stirewalt also addresses the issue of media and politicians being intimidated by their bases. According to Stirewalt, the threat of crowds – real and virtual – is causing people to look away from our national train wreck.
He hits out at “liberals who believe in free speech” but “watch their shoes when people are yelled at or fired for their beliefs”. Likewise, he takes to task those “seemingly normal members of Congress” who “accompanied Trump’s efforts to steal a second term.”
Unsurprisingly, Stirewalt has little patience for performative politicians. It features Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and pairs Marjorie Taylor Greene with Rashida Tlaib. He suggests such figures excel at sparking partisan outrage, but lack Trump’s entertainment chops.
“They’re Showtime after 10 p.m.,” cracks Stirewalt. “Trump was unconditional.”
Stirewalt is ruthless in his withdrawal from Cruz. Broken News recalls the Texas senator’s complaint for Tucker Carlson, for calling the Jan. 6 uprising a “violent terrorist attack on the Capitol.” Cruz was a “trembling mass of regret and humiliation” on Carlson’s show, writes Stirewalt.
When it comes to Carlson, Stirewalt lets us know that frozen heir Swanson is loaded, while railing against “big legacy media.” There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in prime time. For good measure, Stirewalt reminds the reader that Carlson’s employer is a “multinational corporation run by an Australian billionaire who owns arguably the most powerful media outlet in America.”
Stirewalt offers no easy way out. It “urges us to question our own assumptions when consuming information”, but does not assure us that it will actually reduce volume and temperature. He hopes we can see the other side of the political divide, but seems uncertain. It gives food for thought.