Fired Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt was once a voice at former President Trump’s preferred TV news outlet.
So when Stirewalt told viewers on election night in 2020 that Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden — creating a major obstacle to Trump’s potential to capture 270 electoral votes — it had to hurt.
Stirewalt, who now works for the cable channel NewsNation, appeared Monday as the first witness on the second day of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and Trump’s alleged role in inciting the incident.
His straight-ahead testimony on his network’s reporting on the night of Nov. 3, 2020, that caused major conternation at the White House was part of the committee’s case that Trump continued to spread false claims of election fraud that robbed him of a win, despite staff members telling him he lost and that there was no evidence to the contrary.
Stirewalt was asked by Jan. 6 committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) about Trump’s chances of victory after Nov. 7 — the day the election was called for Biden. “None,” said Stirewalt, who noted that recounts in key states could not have shifted enough votes to reverse any of the states Trump lost.
The former political editor discussed how same-day voting, which Trump touted to supporters, created a “red mirage” that made it appear he was winning before mail-in ballots were tabulated. Democrats are likely to vote by mail, but same-day votes are often counted first.
Trump was angered that Fox’s election decision desk called Arizona for Biden well before other news outlets did. The final count showed Biden winning by roughly 11,000 votes out of nearly 3.4 million ballots cast.
“We were able to make a call early,” Stirewalt told the committee. “We were able to beat the competition.”
Stirewalt told NewsNation colleague Leland Vittert in an interview set to air Monday night that he had no issue with appearing before the committee, even though it’s unusual for working to participate in such a setting.
“I got a letter from Chairman Bennie Thompson, asking me to participate now,” Stirewalt said. “I could have tried to resist and make them send a subpoena. But this was a duly constituted committee of the United States Congress. I have spent a lot of time in my career talking about the importance of institutions, particularly Congress. So I don’t think it would have been suitable for me to try to fight a duly issued request from a duly constituted committee of the United States Congress.”
Stirewalt’s testimony was significant because he worked for the network where the commentators, hosts and guests were reliable defenders of the former president.
Fox News chose not to air the opening night of the hearings on its flagship channel on Thursday, opting to go with its prime-time opinion hosts, who blasted the proceedings as a political witch hunt. The network did show Monday’s session in its entirety, including Stirewalt’s appearance.
In his interview with Vittert, Stirewalt said he was not given a specific reason as to why he was called to the hearing.
“I do not know why they wanted me other than the fact that … the Arizona call that we made, and which beat the competition, was consequential inside the White House,” Stirewalt said. “One of the deep misunderstandings that my experience in 2020 revealed today is that somehow we make these things happen. We’re just telling people what happened.”
Stirewalt was part of the polling unit and election decision desk at Fox News, both of which have stellar reputations for authority and accuracy in political circles, despite the right-leaning bent of the rest of the Rupert Murdoch-owned network.
Fox News also invested heavily in a system to improve its ability to analyze voting data. After the 2016 election, the company created the Fox News Voter Analysis System, a survey developed with the Associated Press and the NORC at the University of Chicago, which queries more than 100,000 people on their candidate preferences. The survey enabled the network to call races more quickly and accurately.
But when the polling unit released numbers that showed Trump behind in the 2020 election, the former president lashed out at Fox News on social media.
Fox News was publicly steadfast in defending its decision, even though competing networks did not give their call for more than a week.
Based on the Nielsen ratings, Fox News viewers were clearly unhappy with the reported outcome. In the months after the election, the network lost its grip on first place, falling behind CNN and MSNBC.
The audience numbers bounced back and Fox News is again No. 1. But Stirewalt was fired Jan. 19 as part of what the company called a restructuring. Stirewalt has said that his dismissal was linked to viewer dissatisfaction over the Arizona call.
“Partisan-oriented news outlets are not a natural home for dispassionate election forecasting,” Stirewalt told The Times in a recent interview. “The problem for me at Fox was the audience did not like what I had to say. It wasn’t good news to them, and it seemed partisan to them.”
Although conservatives have been critical of the hearing for having seven Democrats and only two Republicans, Stirewalt said based on his experience, he saw no evidence of the committee slanting the information he was willing to present.
“I can tell you the people who I worked with, who I talked to and who did the pre-interview with me were courteous, professional, patriotic looking, good to work with,” Stirewalt said. “I did not have any problem with them, nor did I feel like they wanted me to change what I had to say, or that the truth would somehow be unsuitable.”