It’s never been a secret that every show on Fox News carries a right-wing bent. But the network’s chief political anchor Bret Baier has long enjoyed a strong reputation in Washington circles and among viewers and his program he’s widely been considered a respected figure who adheres to traditional journalistic ethics and standards… until now.
As reported by The Daily Beast, Baier and now-former host Tucker Carlson engaged in a conversation on November 4, 2020, about potentially delaying Fox News’ call of the election. Both men complained that they were receiving blowback from their Trump-supporting viewers over the network’s controversial early projection that then-candidate Joe Biden would win the state of Arizona, putting him on the brink of capturing the White House.
“We need to do something to reassure our core audience,” Carlson wrote Baier in the wake of the Arizona call, according to The Beast. “They’re our whole business model.”
Baier replied that he had been “pushing for answers.” He then added, according to The Beast, “I have pressed them to slow. And I think they will slow walk Nevada.”
Days later, the network was, in fact, last to call the presidency for Biden.
While much attention has been paid in recent months to the shocking comments Carlson made about Trump and his colleagues inside the right-wing network, Baier has managed to escape much of the scrutiny in the press. But Baier has now been exposed as a money-driven political hack after the release of leaked messages, casting the “Special Report” anchor in a dramatically different light.
The report in The Beast exposed that Baier, like others at the outlet, feared its Trump-supporting audience and seemingly went as far as to urge that editorial decisions be made to placate its viewers, a brazen breach of journalistic norms.
The leak followed an explosive March story from The New York Times that quoted Baier pushing Fox News President Jay Wallace to pull the channel’s Arizona call and “put it back in [Trump’s] column,” even though it was never in Trump’s column.
Typically, anchors are not involved in discussions related to making election calls. That process is left up to a network’s decision desk. And normally, decision desks base their calls off of data and voting statistics, without taking into consideration politics or potentially alienating a channel’s audience.
The revelations about Baier are especially noteworthy given that he is the face of Fox News’ so-called “straight news” division. The channel has long argued that its right-wing talk show hosts, which make up the bulk of the outlet’s programming, operate in a separate world fire-walled from its journalists. This argument makes it easier for Fox News to pitch itself to advertisers who might otherwise be wary about marketing their products.
“I am one of those people who does observe some distinction between Bret Baier and Sean Hannity … but the text messages show they are all panicking about the same thing. And the news operation sees its existence as hinging on the crazy,” said Erik Wemple, a media critic at The Washington Post. “They see their future as imperiled if the fringe isn’t happy.”