The new era of competition between Fox News and its would-be rivals, Newsmax and One America News Network, appears to be fueling an unwillingness by commentators at all three networks to accurately describe Joe Biden as the president-elect, even after the Electoral College met this week.
Since losing the election, President Donald Trump has increasingly trained his criticism on Fox News. He has ranted that his personal propaganda outlet has proven insufficiently supportive of his illegitimate effort to overturn the results based on phony voter fraud claims, urging his supporters to instead watch Newsmax or OAN. Fox has aggressively course-corrected in hopes of maintaining its audience, while the smaller networks have lashed out at the dominant player in hopes of ripping away more of its viewers.
Overnight, for instance, OAN's Pearson Sharp highlighted that his network "will officially not be calling Joe Biden the president-elect." He went on to say that OAN is "the only broadcast news network out there with the integrity to report that this election isn't over," criticizing Fox, Breitbart.com, and Newsmax for having "caved."
Sharp's comment about Newsmax was a reference to the network's Tuesday statement that "as a result of the Electoral College vote Joe Biden is the president-elect and will be referred to as such on Newsmax."
But Newsmax doesn't appear to be entirely honoring that statement. On Wednesday, Greg Kelly, the network's highest-rated host, said that "Joe Biden is pretending that he is the president-elect" and that "at least on this opinion show" he "is not the president-elect."
This refusal of Newsmax and OAN to come to terms with reality puts pressure on Fox hosts to hedge on their broadcasts, which reach larger audiences.
On Thursday morning, we saw this behavior from two Fox & Friends co-hosts. Brian Kilmeade described Biden as "the former vice president who is, according to some, president-elect," while Ainsley Earhart referenced "what they're calling the President-elect Biden."
Several of Fox's biggest Trump shills are doing something similar. Lou Dobbs mentioned the "so-called president-elect" on Wednesday, while Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson both avoided the issue by simply calling him "Joe Biden" without any title at all. Their prime-time colleague Laura Ingraham did refer to Biden as the "president-elect," as did "news- side" personalities on shows like Special Report, The Story, and Your World.
But some Fox "news-side" personalities are refusing to be definitive. On Wednesday, America's Newsroom anchor Trace Gallagher cited "documented incidents around the country where there has been some fraud" before saying that "incoming President Joe Biden appears to be the incoming president January 20, that appears to be the way the schedule will happen" (emphasis added).
Some of the Fox holdouts may simply be kicking the can to January 6, when the House and Senate ceremonially review the results of the Electoral College vote. Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo's audience on Wednesday heard a right-wing guest explain that "technically, Joe Biden is not the president-elect because seven states are sending competing slates of electors to the Congress," and thus "there's still time on the clock to really push this through."
But Fox's fear of crossing its competitors and its viewers over something this patently ridiculous bodes ill for how it will react when Newsmax and OAN push deranged conspiracy theories during the Biden presidency.