Fox News under fire by Trump allies over Arizona Biden projection

(Reuters) - Fox News faced criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and its allies on Tuesday for projecting that Arizona’s 11 electoral votes would go to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, as other news networks sought more evidence before making a call.

Trump supporters watch the 2020 presidential election results come in on Fox News at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S. November 3, 2020. Picture taken November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

Fox Corp's FOXA.O Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts said the Trump campaign was "livid" that the network projected Arizona for Biden, saying: "Pushback is a very light word to use."

The Associated Press backed Fox’s call on Arizona three hours later.

In an appearance at the White House, Trump falsely claimed he had won re-election. Networks carried his remarks live but quickly corrected him, noting that a handful of key states remained too close to call as of early Wednesday morning.

Some Trump supporters said there were too many outstanding votes for Fox to project Arizona for Biden. Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, said Fox’s projection came when there were 1 million ballots remaining to be counted.

“It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona,” Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said on Twitter. “Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls.”

The director of Fox News’ decision desk, Arnon Mishkin, defended the call on-air, saying that the president “is not going to be able to win enough votes to take over that lead”.

The Arizona projection could exacerbate tension between the president and the news network, controlled by press baron Rupert Murdoch, whose opinion hosts are usually supportive of Trump.

In recent months Trump has publicly criticized the network, in August tweeting: “The people who are watching @FoxNews, in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!”

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, Trump allies are exploring opportunities to fund a conservative media venture or Trump-themed media outlet.

Fox anchor Chris Wallace also criticized Trump’s victory claim. “This is an extremely flammable situation and the president just threw a match into it,” Wallace said.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said: “Almost everything President Trump said in his declaration of victory was not true.”

On Walt Disney Co's DIS.N ABC, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who supports Trump, called Trump's move a "bad strategic decision."

“There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” Christie said. “There just isn’t.”

Fox was faster than the other U.S. TV networks in projecting winners in various states, calling states including Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi hours before others.

Shortly after 2:30 a.m. ET, it had projected Biden with 238 electoral votes and Trump with 213. CNN had also projected a Biden lead with 220 votes and Trump with 213.

In this year’s contest, TV networks faced heightened pressure to report results accurately and without unwarranted speculation.

This is the first presidential election in which the major TV networks received data from different providers. Fox News and the Associated Press no longer used in-person exit polls, instead relying on online and telephone surveys that aimed to reach early and Election Day voters. The news organizations combined that survey data with real-time results tabulated by the AP to help make projections.

The three broadcast news networks and CNN were part of the National Election Pool consortium, which is relying on the firm Edison Research for exit polls and results from each precinct. Reuters has a distribution deal with the NEP for 2020 election data.

Reporting by Helen Coster and Kenneth Li in New York, Sheila Dang in Dallas and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Angus MacSwan