Rove's War with Fox's Nerds: The Backstory

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The best moment on television Election Night was when Karl Rove picked a fight with the usually nameless and faceless Fox News guys who crunch the numbers and call the winners—and lost. Why'd he do that? New York's Gabriel Sherman reports that Fox chief Roger Ailes told the election coverage team to keep it together if the night didn't go their way, but Rove couldn't play by those rules. When Bret Baier called Ohio, and the presidency, for President Obama, "Fox phones lit up with angry phone calls and e-mails from the Romney campaign, who believed that the call was premature, since tallies in several Republican-leaning Southern counties hadn't been been fully tabulated," Sherman reports. Rove had been in touch with Romney's team, and he aired their complaints live.

Behind the scenes, the Decision Desk wouldn't budge, but neither would Rove. At first the network considered bringing the nerds up to explain the numbers. But then they had another idea, which made for amazing TV, and which The Atlantic Wire recapped in GIFs.

With neither side backing down, senior producers had to find a way to split the difference. One idea was for two members of the decision team, Mishkin and Fox's digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt, to go on camera with Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to squelch the doubts over the call. But then it was decided that Kelly would walk through the office and interview the decision team in the conference room. “This is Fox News,” an insider said, “so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.” The decision desk were given a three-minute warning that Kelly would be showing up.

They explained they were 99.95 percent sure in calling Ohio for Obama. Rove never apologized.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.