Chris Stirewalt has lost his job at Fox News. But he knows he was right.
Stirewalt and his colleagues in the Policy Office made a incredibly early call this challenger Joe Biden had won Arizona. It was only 11:20 p.m. Eastern Time with 73% of the votes counted.
They needed both certainty and unanimity to make that call, he told the Jan. 6 select committee. His team relied on the data they had collected, their knowledge and their experience. They “looked around the room and everyone said ‘yeah,'” he recalls, so they went ahead and moved the all-important state into Biden’s column — well before any other press organization.
Clear and punchy, Stirewalt’s brief testimony seemed driven by the same quality he touted on the decision desk: certainty of the factual truth of what he said.
“We knew it would be a big call,” he said. If Trump did lose Arizona, he would have a better chance of being re-elected: “Better to play Powerball.” Stirewalt was equally outspoken in questioning, describing Trump’s chances of winning in a recount or challenge: “None.”
That the Arizona call freaked out Trump World was obvious; to have such a verdict, especially coming from his usually reliable cheerleading team at Fox News, was devastating. The call made it infinitely harder to push the idea that Trump would eventually win, and harder even to to pretend that he would. Of course, as we know all too well, that didn’t stop him.
The January 6 hearing was horrible. It also gave me hope.
Trump’s anger reportedly prompted his team’s efforts to pressure Fox chief Rupert Murdoch to withdraw the appeal. And there were even plenty of nonpartisan pundits who guessed Fox News’ decision was made too soon.
But as the votes continued to pour in, other news outlets rallied around Stirewalt’s view: Trump would lose Arizona. And he lost the state, by just over 10,000 votes, according to the final tally. Stirewalt is right. Nevertheless, two months later he was out.
Fox described Stirewalt’s hasty and involuntary departure as part of a post-election realignment of their business and reporting structure. Stirewalt called it a shot.
Murdoch had told his colleagues that while the Arizona call was fine, he thought it was premature and mishandled — and had hurt the network’s standing with Trump’s most ardent fans by convincing them that Fox was there to get it.
But Stirewalt made it clear Monday that what he did was driven by competitive journalistic instinct rather than a desire to throw the election at Biden.
Any reporter watching his testimony recognized the editor’s expression as he described how his team crunched the data on that election night long ago to arrive at the jaw-dropping conclusion that beat the competition. Stirewalt practically glowed in the middle of this memory, still delighted with the conclusion.
“I get it,” historian Heather Cox Richardson tweeted Monday. “When your research works, you are delighted.”
It was never about helping to achieve a political end, writes Stirewalt in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece in January 2021. “Being right and beating the competition is not an act of heroism; it’s just meeting the job description of the job I love,” he wrote. And yet, “I became the target of a murderous rage on the part of consumers furious at not having their point of view confirmed”.
Despite the obvious fondness for his craft he displayed on Monday, Stirewalt said testifying goes against his grain in one respect. “The first rule of my calling is to tell the truth as best you can, and the second is to stay out of the story,” he wrote. in an article published in La Dépêche.
He didn’t do very well on Monday with the second element. But on the former, he seems to have delivered quite memorably.