One of the most glaring peculiarities about the Fox News Channel’s campaign coverage in the run-up to the November 4 election was the channel’s frequent insistence, in the waning days of the campaign, that the election was remarkably close, with Republican John McCain surging.
In reality, few polls suggested this was happening (see PollingReport.com Pollster.com), but Fox chose to give a handful of outlying, unrepresentative surveys considerable attention. It was as if the channel were less interested in accurately reporting the state of the campaign than in presenting an alternate reality that would be pleasing to partisan viewers.
Here’s a sampling of that coverage, day by day:
FOX NEWS ANALYST DICK MORRIS: I think that we have to understand that redistribution of income is liberal euphemism for socialism. And you know.
FOX NEWS HOST SEAN HANNITY: Well, I — and I agree. But let me move the ball a little bit here… This is, obviously, a very sensitive issue for the Obama campaign. They feel like they’ve been exposed. It started with Joe the Plumber.
MORRIS: And they’re hemorrhaging votes… Zogby, Rasmussen, and Gallup, all have this race five points apart… Zogby down from 12, Rasmussen down from eight, and Gallup down from six. And Investors Business Daily has it to 2.8, and Zogby had a one-night finding of three. The averages that over three nights.
“Let me put up on the screen the latest polls, because we’ve had a tightening in many of them. Likely voters, Gallup, it’s a two-point race. Zogby, now four-point. AP, it’s dead even. IDP, another close race. Obviously spread the wealth, socialism, Obama’s welfare plan is not going over well with the American people.”
FOX NEWS ANALYST NEWT GINGRICH: “I got a report earlier this evening that in the very, very close states that, in fact, McCain has closed the gap substantially, and that internal polling now shows him within pretty good striking distance in every single close state.
HANNITY: Well, we’re going to go over some of these polls. The likely voter poll, Gallup, now has a two-point race.
FOX NEWS ANCHOR MARTHA MacCALLUM: McCain is blasting Obama, saying his rival doesn’t have what it takes to protect America from terrorists. And that kind of tough talk may be helping him a bit. Here’s a look at new Rasmussen Poll showing McCain gaining ground with Obama at 50 to McCain’s 47. That’s the first time in this particular poll that McCain has been within three points of Barack Obama in more than a month. Fox’s Carl Cameron is with the McCain camp live in Riviera Beach, Florida tonight…
FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT CARL CAMERON: Well, for the last several weeks, Senator McCain has been focusing on economic issues. And if anything sort of to be credited with his apparent surge and the tightening in the national polls, it would be presumably be his emphasis on Barack Obama’s economic policies, which McCain has sort of tattooed as tax-and-spend liberalism.
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NATIONAL REVIEW CONTRIBUTOR MARK STEYN: Clearly, something is working. Because I think whatever one makes of these polls, there is a general tightening direction. So, clearly, people are taking a second look at Obama and taking a second look at McCain.
HANNITY: Let me jump on that, Mark.… Look, it’s Scott Rasmussen. It’s Gallup, likely voters. It’s Investor’s Business Daily and that poll that’s out. It’s AP. It’s Battleground. This is a two- or three-point race.
“Fear is in the air. And while it initially helped Barack Obama, fear is now beginning to hurt him. Both the Rasmussen and Gallup daily tracking polls have the race getting tighter. And in a remarkable turnabout, Rasmussen will release a poll tomorrow that says Americans now trust McCain more on the economy than Obama. So NBC News will have to tone down the victory dance.
“A series of Obama issues regarding spreading the wealth around have hurt him. Joe the Plumber and other expositions have caused some fear among undecided voters that an Obama administration will harm the economy more than help it. The USA remains a strong capitalist country, much to the chagrin of the far left. And deviation from capitalism isn’t going to play well here, especially among older voters. And it is here where the swings are taking place, especially in places like Florida and Ohio.”
—Fox News host Bill O’Reilly
“But first—it is close, even closer than it was last night. It is now a three-point race for the White House. A new Fox News poll shows the race tightening, with Senator Obama at 47 percent and Senator McCain at 44 percent.”
— Fox News host Greta van Susteren
“Well, he [Obama] ought to be nervous because of the margin of error, and he also ought to be nervous because, clearly, the national race is tightening… He’s not a good closer. I mean, there is a resistance to him, a doubt about whether or not he’s experienced and qualified enough to be president that causes people at the tail end of the race not to end up in his column, and I suspect we’re seeing that again… It’s because of this persistent doubt that people have about Senator Obama.”
— Fox News analyst Karl Rove
“Now the polling, the Fox News poll, which shows Obama closing the gap from — McCain closing it from 9 to 3 shows two completely different trends at work. Young people are turning away from Obama and toward McCain, driven by the tax issue.”
MORRIS: My bet is McCain wins all of the undecided in this race.
HANNITY: Well, if that happens, he wins the race.
MORRIS: Right now it’s tied.
HANNITY: If that.
MORRIS: No, right now it’s about tied.
“Brand new Fox polls are in and this race is tightening.”
—Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly
“The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll of likely voters nationwide, which Major Garrett was just mentioning, shows that the race is tightening considerably from last week, with Barack Obama’s overall lead over John McCain is shrinking from nine points to three; that’s within the margin of error.”
—Fox News correspondent James Rosen
“We are down to the wire. And guess what? The race is far from over. The Associated Press is reporting that a study shows one in seven are persuadable. That means this isn’t over. And if you don’t believe that, how about this news? The polls are tightening. A new Fox News poll shows Senator Obama at 47 percent and Senator McCain at 44 percent.”
— Greta van Susteren
HANNITY: One of the more amazing things is the numbers of undecided, anywhere between eight and 14. You know Dick Morris interprets that that is — that means Obama can’t close the deal and that people have doubts about him and it appears by the tightening that’s going on that those voters are moving toward Senator McCain. Do you share that analysis?
ROVE: I think Dick is largely right. There has been a persistent nagging concern on the part of the American people about whether or not Barack Obama is qualified to be president.
* * *
HANNITY: Are you looking at the polls? There’s a real tightening going on. Very interesting to me, as it’s happening. Seems Barack Obama cannot close. Why?
FOX NEWS ANALYST MIKE HUCKABEE: I think there is the lingering doubt as to what he’s going to do to people’s personal income. This is not about — you know, right now it’s not about even terrorism or international affairs. Joe the plumber hit the reset button on this entire election.
“Apparently, for our audience’s sake, apparently, big move in the polls. McCain up by one, Drudge is reporting, in the latest Zogby poll. It’s going to come out tomorrow.”
“In a surprise turnaround, get this, a brand new Fox News poll find that John McCain is surging among younger voters, those under 30 years old. He is catching up to Barack Obama’s 48 percent, McCain has 43 percent. I think those numbers are wrong – 48 to 58 percent among voters under the age of 30.”
—Fox News host Heather Nauert
NAUERT: … McCain has gained 10 points with the youth vote within the last week?
MORRIS: Yes. In the last week, among voters 18 to 30, McCain has vis-a- vis Obama has closed the gap by 20 points.
“Two days and counting until you decide our next president. With the polls tightening, is John McCain about to pull off one more remarkable comeback?”
—Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace
SEAN HANNITY: Investors Business Daily, which was the most accurate poll in the last presidential election, now has it down to a two-point race.… You know, Colorado was just, you know — a week and a half two weeks ago, it was supposed to be a blowout. It’s now right there at the margin of error. The same with the state of Virginia. Again, that was, you know, supposed to be a blowout. And then we look, for example, we’ve got Senator McCain is up in Florida. He’s tied in Missouri. He’s now up in North Carolina, which was supposed to be a blowout for Senator Obama. There—something has happened here fairly dramatic. And do you think that this could even go further by the time people vote tomorrow?
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think, first of all, that the mistake of Senator Obama telling Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth has clearly slowed down all the momentum for the Obama campaign, because it turns out most Americans are not very interested in having politicians decide to take their money out of their wallet and spread to it the politicians’ friends. That may turn out, in retrospect, to have been the biggest single mistake of the campaign by Senator Obama.
“I think that — I don’t believe these polls. I do not believe any, but I agree with Dick Morris. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow night.”
For more information on the obvious and rather dramatic differences in the way Fox News Channel and MSNBC were covering the presidential race see the FAIR Blog. (11/2/02.)
ACTION: Ask Fox News Channel why it failed to provide its viewers with an accurate picture of presidential election polls in the lead-up to the November 4 election.
FOX News Channel
Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief Brian Wilson