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On Fox News, Election 2010 is cause for cheer

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, November 3, 2010;

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a "results watch" at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch's cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama - and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

"That's an earthquake," exulted Fox's own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. "It's a big darn deal."

"It's a comeuppance," Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

"I have one word," said Sean Hannity. "Historic."

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. "A gigantic - not a wave election but a tidal wave election," he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected. Murdoch and News Corp. took the unusual step of donating $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association and another $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which led the effort to defeat Democrats. According to a report by the liberal watchdog Media Matters, no fewer than 30 Fox News personalities have endorsed, done fundraisers, or campaigned for Republican candidates or groups in more than 600 cases across 47 states.

Prospective GOP presidential candidates Palin and Mike Huckabee are Fox News contributors - a fusion of journalism and party politics that will become more difficult for the network now that Republicans have gained more power and are preparing for the next presidential campaign. But those are worries for another day; on Election Day, it was time for a victory lap.

"A lot of Americans have been anticipating this day," Glenn Beck told his viewers, crediting his own "monumental" effort to invigorate the Tea Party movement and the "amazing things" that resulted.

Longtime Fox newsman Brit Hume dropped by mid-morning Tuesday to foretell a "huge washout of Democrats," and why: "The turning point, Bill, in this election cycle, was when the Tea Party activists . . . threw in with the Republicans" - a marriage arranged in no small part by Fox News.

The narrative did not hold up as well as the Fox News team had outlined. Some Tea Party favorites lost big, while some Republican establishment figures triumphed easily. Exit polls indicated a majority was either indifferent or opposed to the Tea Party, while the number of voters who favored repeal of the health-care law was matched by the number saying the law should be maintained or even expanded.

Yet even in cases where the figures didn't point in the Republicans' favor, Fox's far-flung correspondents found reason to celebrate. Trace Gallagher, reporting on the Senate race in California, said: "The numbers appear to favor the incumbent, Barbara Boxer, the three-term senator, but the mood here in California, John, really seems to be going toward Carly Fiorina's way.

Interviewing Nevada's Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle Monday night, Hannity had gushed: "I think there are a lot of conservatives like myself looking forward to an announcement tomorrow" that Angle had defeated Majority Leader Harry Reid.

But it didn't go as smoothly as Hannity had hoped. Early in the night, Bill O'Reilly delivered the bad news: "The Republicans won't win the Senate tonight."

As Fox's Megyn Kelly announced that one Democratic senator, expected to lose big, was in a race "too close to call," she commented: "That's, uh, an interesting update." When Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), said by Fox commentators to be endangered, cruised to an easy win, Kelly commented: "Alas."

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House - an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for "perspective," said it still qualified as a "blowout evening." To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. "This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party," he proclaimed.

But for Fox, which long ago repudiated the Democratic Party, this was not breaking news. Fox's Beck accepted credit for the victory even before most polls opened, when he arrived on the set of Fox & Friends at 7 a.m. wearing a black paramilitary sweater. He called it the "culmination" of what he began two years ago. "I was trying to convince people: You're not alone. You're not alone," he said.

Indeed, they were not. Fox News was with them.

danamilbank@washpost.com

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