“You’ll have us tomorrow night for more hours than you can stomach,” Shepard Smith jauntily promised on Election Eve. That was easy for him to say, since Shep wasn’t actually part of Fox News’s coverage of Donald Trump’s blindside win. But taking him at his word, I decided to test my cast-iron constitution—which, as of now, may be in better shape than America’s capital-C Constitution, the Second Amendment exempted—by sticking with Fox all evening as the returns came in. The channel that did the most to make Trump politically credible to begin with seemed like the place to be.
Admittedly, I was counting on a Hillary Clinton win to add zest to the ordeal: “The Night Fox News Died,” and so on. Ever since the unlamented Roger Ailes got the old heave-ho last summer—gee, remember the days when accusations of sexual harassment could still get powerful men in trouble?—nobody’s been sure how things will shake out at Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing wind machine, especially with Rupe’s sons (James and Lachlan) increasingly calling the shots nowadays.
Less propaganda-minded than Dad, they’d really like the new face of Fox to be ultra-polished Megyn Kelly—who may or may not jump ship once her contract expires next July—and not shouting heads like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. So the channel’s Election Night coverage was a try-out of its modulated new identity. That started with the unveiling of a spiffy, new multilevel studio so elaborately rigged with flashing screens and a numbers-crunching “Data Deck” that the damn thing looked ready to blast into space and battle the Martians if President Trump gave the order.
All the same, just like everybody else in the biz, the Fox News team was pretty clearly anticipating President Clinton as their coverage got underway. Even Brit Hume, who’d end the night proclaiming “the revival of the white vote” (ugh) looked listless early on as if he’d had his spleen surgically removed and then been fed it for lunch. When an equally befogged O'Reilly made his one appearance of the evening and tried to talk up the Donald’s chances, Charles Krauthammer—Charles Krauthammer!—shut him down in a way that treated Clinton reaching 270 as a foregone conclusion. As for Karl Rove, he was so plainly determined not to make a fool of himself the way he did on Election Night 2012 that he remained guarded even as a Trump victory went from impossible to unlikely to bizarrely plausible and then real.
As a result, the only vivid spectacle on display was the coronation of Queen Kelly. Four years ago, our Megyn was just another part of the Fox stable, but now she’s the channel’s superstar—and from what I could tell, deeply amused by the role. In fact, maybe that was the real reason her male colleagues all looked so hangdog when they should have been crowing. If we tuned in on Election Night expecting to see a woman take charge of a male bastion, we got our wish in a way; it just wasn’t the woman we expected. Even if this year’s electoral outcome was a great argument for the likes of me to get out of the prediction business for good, I won’t be totally surprised if President Trump soon has cause to regret that he made her an enemy.