June 14, 2022

There are many things that set off Donald Trump about the 2020 presidential election.

But this one was especially notable: Fox News calling the state of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. Not only was Fox News way ahead of everybody on that call, but it was … well, Fox News. In Trump’s mind, this was his network calling Arizona for his opponent. How dare they? How could they?

So angry was Trump that he even called the person highest on the Fox News organizational chart — Rupert Murdoch — to get the network to retract the call.

But it was never retracted and, as it turns out, Fox News was right.

A man who had a big part in making the decision testified Monday before the House selection committee hearing into the Jan. 6 insurrection. Chris Stirewalt, who was Fox News’ political editor at the time, told the committee that the Fox News decision desk did its due diligence, looked carefully at the numbers and then made the controversial call. Although, he suggested, it wasn’t controversial to him or his team.

“It was really controversial to our competitors, who we beat so badly by making the correct call first,” Stirewalt told the committee. “Our decision desk was the best in the business and I was very proud to be a part of it.”

Stirewalt said, “So we were able to make the call early. We were able to beat the competition. We looked around the room. Everybody says yay, and on we go. And by the time we found out how much everybody was freaking out and losing their minds over this call, we were already trying to call the next state. We had already moved on. We were into Georgia. We were into North Carolina. We were looking at these other states. So we thought it was — we were pleased but not surprised.”

Stirewalt said by the end of election week, he saw Trump’s chances of winning the election as “none.”

But it started with the Arizona call. Those close to Trump who were with him that night said the mood in the room definitely shifted after that.

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote, “That the Arizona call freaked out Trump World was obvious; having such a verdict, especially coming from his usually dependable cheerleading squad at Fox, was devastating. The call made it immeasurably harder to put forth the idea that Trump ultimately would prevail, and harder to even pretend that he would. Of course, as we know all too well, that didn’t stop him.”

It didn’t, which is part of the reason why Jan. 6 happened, and why a House select committee is looking into it right now.

Just a couple of months after the election, Stirewalt said he was fired. Murdoch himself told The Washington Post that the election had nothing to do with it.

But it was election week, perhaps even starting with Fox News’ call of Arizona, that sent Trump further down the path of the Big Lie.

In videotaped testimony, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Trump was “growing increasingly unhappy” as election results came in. The Red Wave was, it turned out, a Red Mirage. Stirewalt explained how mail-in ballots and how they are tabulated — after same-day ballots in many states — led to vote tallies shifting in Biden’s direction.

That only set off Trump more. Stepien described those close to Trump as being in two camps: “Team Normal” and a team headed up by Rudy Giuliani, who was pushing for Trump to declare victory on election night.

In taped testimony aired Monday, former Attorney General William Barr said Trump was “becoming detached from reality.” Barr ultimately resigned, saying claims of voting fraud were “bull (expletive),” “bogus” and “idiotic.” He said, “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

But give credit to Stirewalt and the Fox News team on the night they called Arizona for Biden.

Sullivan wrote that Stirewalt “spoke confidently, colorfully and, yes, decisively, about what happened in November of 2020 when an erstwhile news organization that has morphed into President Trump’s propaganda arm went temporarily off script.”

By the way, after much criticism for not airing the opening night of the hearings during prime time last Thursday, Fox News did air Monday’s hearing.

Stirewalt’s explanation

Stirewalt wrote a piece for The Dispatch: “The January 6 Committee and Me,” explaining why he testified.

He wrote, “As a journalist, I feel very uncomfortable even playing this small role in these events. The first rule for my vocation is to tell the truth as best as you can, and the second is to stay the hell out of the story. I will fail in the latter today, but aim for the former.”

Tweet of the day

This, from David Axelrod, the CNN senior political commentator and former senior adviser to Barack Obama:

“The question is, and will be raised throughout these hearings, does it matter? In deeply polarized times, when 70 percent of Republicans accept a blatant lie that the election was stolen, will minds be changed by evidence? Right now, Trump remains ’24 @GOP frontrunner.”

Post’s visual report on journalist’s death

On May 11, a Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera named Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while reporting Israeli military activity in the city of Jenin in the West Bank.​​ Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Health Ministry blamed Israeli forces for intentionally targeting Abu Akleh, who was wearing a protective vest that said, “PRESS.” The Israel Defense Forces said it’s possible that Abu Akleh was shot by one of its soldiers but that the target was a Palestinian gunman and that Abu Akleh was shot accidentally.

Now comes this outstanding piece from The Washington Post’s Visual Forensics team. The Post’s Sarah Cahlan, Meg Kelly and Steve Hendrix have “How Shireen Abu Akleh was killed.”

The Post writes that it “examined more than five dozen videos, social media posts and photos of the event, conducted two physical inspections of the area and commissioned two independent acoustic analyses of the gunshots. That review suggests an Israeli soldier in the convoy likely shot and killed Abu Akleh.”

The story adds, “The audio analyses of the gunfire that likely killed Abu Akleh point to one person shooting from an estimated distance that nearly matches the span between the journalists and the IDF convoy. Based on video The Post filmed in Jenin, Abu Akleh and other journalists identified as press would likely have been visible from the IDF convoy’s position, which was roughly 182 meters (597 feet) away. At least one soldier in the convoy was using a telescopic scope, the IDF said later in a news release.”

The Post’s visual forensics work is always fascinating and important, and here’s another example of why.

Your move

The logo for New York Times Games’ Chess Replay. (Courtesy: The New York Times)

New York Times Games has added another puzzle series: Chess Replay. The interactive chess puzzles are crafted by Daniel Naroditsky, a 26-year-old chess grandmaster who plays, teaches and writes books about chess.

In a statement, Times Games says, “Daniel built each puzzle based on historic chess matches, and solvers will play as famous chess players during critical matches in their careers. As you solve, you’ll be guided toward the solution with colorful commentary from Daniel.”

For the next week, you can get free access to the daily chess puzzles, as well as guides on how to play chess, how to read algebraic notation, the various terms you need to know and a column from Naroditsky about the puzzles. Then after this week, there will be a new puzzle every Thursday for Games and All Access subscribers.

In a statement, Naroditsky said, “​​I have designed each puzzle with one clear goal in mind: ensuring that chess enthusiasts of all levels and ages will enjoy their experience. Whether you are solving to become a better chess player, or simply to appreciate the multifaceted beauty of the royal game, I hope that you will find what you’re looking for.”

Sounds cool, so check it out. Check – get it?

By the way, the initial game puzzle includes a real-life match involving Josh Waitzkin, the protagonist in the superb 1993 movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

Following Brady’s lead?

When Fox Sports recently signed NFL star Tom Brady to become a game analyst and network schmoozer (for a reported $375 million over 10 years) when he’s done playing, surely plenty of athletes took notice and thought, “Sign me up.”

Problem for them is none of them have anywhere near the star power of the greatest quarterback of all time.

Wait, actually, there is another athlete with that kind of juice: basketball star LeBron James. But would LeBron ever be interested in being a broadcaster? He still has a few years left of playing, he already has a hand in a lot of different businesses and just the other day talked about wanting to own an NBA team someday.

During the HBO talk show “The Shop,” James said, “I wanna own a team. Yeah, I wanna buy a team, for sure. I want a team in Vegas.”

But he also said something else on “The Shop.” His business partner and close friend Maverick Carter asked him, “Would you go on TV? Would you be on a desk? Like when Tom Brady signed up for TV, were you like, ‘Hmm, maybe I should?’”

James said, “Yeah, when I seen how much he signed for, you’re g—— right I did.”

He could have been joking, but when asked if he would really do it, James said, “I’d do it for sure. … I mean, one, my knowledge of the sport and being able to have my insight on the sport and still be around the game. I want to stay around the game for sure, forever.”

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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