In 2004, Hillary Clinton was in the Senate and Christopher Ruddy had some making up to do. He was, back then, best known as “the Inspector Clouseau” of the Vince Foster case — a New York Post reporter who had popularized the baseless theory that Mrs. Clinton’s friend, who committed suicide in 1993, had been murdered.But it now seemed possible that Mrs. Clinton might run for president, and Mr. Ruddy laid it on pretty thick. Mrs. Clinton was doing “a remarkably and surprising good job for NY as Senator,” he wrote to a mutual friend, former Mayor Ed Koch of New …
SAN FRANCISCO — In the tense days after the presidential election, a team of Facebook employees presented the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, with an alarming finding: Election-related misinformation was going viral on the site.President Trump was already casting the election as rigged, and stories from right-wing media outlets with false and misleading claims about discarded ballots, miscounted votes and skewed tallies were among the most popular news stories on the platform.In response, the employees proposed an emergency change to the site’s news feed algorithm, which helps determine what more than two billion people see every day. It involved …
Flanked by aides in the Oval Office on Wednesday, President Trump dialed up a friend in the news media with a message: Keep up the good work.
“He said that it’s just incredible, the ratings you’re getting, and everyone’s talking about it,” recalled Christopher Ruddy, the owner of Newsmax, a niche conservative cable network that has yet to declare a winner in the 2020 presidential election.
Based in Boca Raton, Fla., the network features lo-fi production values and off-brand personalities like Sean Spicer and Diamond and Silk. Even finding it can be a chore: It appears on Channel 1115 in some major markets. But since Election Day, Newsmax has become a growing power in a conservative media sphere that has been scrambled by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory and Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede.
Hundreds of thousands of new viewers have tuned into Newsmax programs that embrace the president’s debunked claims of voter fraud and insist that Mr. Trump can keep the White House. Until recently, the network’s top shows attracted a paltry 58,000 viewers. On Thursday night, the network drew its biggest audience ever, notching 1.1 million viewers at 7 p.m.
The out-of-nowhere rise has come as Fox News — the No. 1 network in TV news and long the destination of choice for many Trump partisans — has experienced a rare dip in dominance. Ratings for the Rupert Murdoch-owned network have dropped since election night, when its early projection that Mr. Biden had won Arizona infuriated Mr. Trump and his allies.
“The great @FoxNews daytime ratings CRASH will only get worse!” the president tweeted on Friday.
“CRASH” is overstating things: Fox News remains the most-watched cable news network in prime-time, averaging about 3.5 million viewers the week after the election. But the shift underscores a volatility among conservative audiences as Mr. Trump denies the reality of his defeat.
While Fox News is home to Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity, it also runs a decision desk and a daytime news operation that have declared Mr. Biden the president-elect. That is something many Trump fans do not want to hear, and Newsmax, which frequently reminds viewers it has not projected a winner, is rushing to provide an alternative.
“This whole idea of a president-elect, it is a media fabrication,” Greg Kelly, the 7 p.m. Newsmax host, told viewers last week. “This is not done. This thing could turn.” On Thursday, Mr. Kelly recorded his best numbers yet, pulling 1.1 million viewers for his hour.
Mr. Kelly, a former Fox News correspondent and a son of the former New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said in an interview that his belief in Mr. Trump’s chances is genuine. “I really believe he’s going to prevail,” he said. “It’s a sense I have. Can I articulate perfectly why I thought he was going to win? No. But I’ll say the media has been wrong about him so many times.”
In fact, Mr. Biden won a decisive victory. Newsmax’s founder, Mr. Ruddy, contends that he is merely staying open-minded. “My view is that it’s an uphill battle for the president to change the vote, but he should be given the right to have a recount,” he said in an interview.
Newsmax is an unusual tribune for baseless accusations of voter fraud.
Mr. Ruddy is a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump and a member of his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. But he calls himself a “Reagan conservative,” belongs to no political party and is a friend of Bill Clinton — despite having built his career in part as a New York Post reporter who cast doubt on the investigation into the death of a Clinton aide, Vincent Foster. Mr. Ruddy later contributed large sums to the Clinton Foundation and has a photograph of himself with the former president on his wall.
The 12th of 14 children, Mr. Ruddy grew up on Long Island and attended the London School of Economics before founding Newsmax in 1998 as a conservative website. The TV network followed in 2014, originally positioned as a centrist alternative to Fox News.
These days, Newsmax is a cozy clubhouse for Trump allies who speak emphatically about a purported second term and have taken shots at Fox News. Mr. Kelly expressed his contempt on his Thursday episode after playing a clip of a Fox News White House correspondent, Kristin Fisher, calling claims by the Trump legal team “light on facts.”
“The nerve they have, the arrogance,” Mr. Kelly said.
Newsmax says it is available in more than 70 million households, but on many cable systems it is listed alongside obscure channels like Newsy, Cheddar and United Nations TV. (Newsmax is still more prominent than One America News, another network that Mr. Trump has promoted.) Mr. Kelly recently thanked viewers for their “deliberate effort” in finding the network.
Its Manhattan studio is bare-bones — Mr. Ruddy called his cable operation “fledgling” and suggested it did not yet turn a profit — and its visuals are more public access than prime-time, lacking the splashy graphics of better-financed rivals. Some of its guests have been shunned by other networks, like Mark Halperin, a political journalist accused of sexual misconduct. (Mr. Kelly was the subject of a sexual assault claim in 2012; prosecutors declined to file charges.)
Then, there are the technical snafus. Wednesday’s episode of “Greg Kelly Reports” opened with a blank screen. After 12 seconds, the host appeared, midsentence in a monologue.
None of this has stopped Mr. Kelly from now drawing an audience about four times larger than CNBC’s Shepard Smith, a former Fox News anchor whose heavily promoted new program airs against it at 7 p.m.
Fox News, which benefited enormously from Mr. Trump’s rise, easily beats Newsmax in overall viewership. But since the network called the race for Mr. Biden, Trump supporters have chanted “Fox News sucks!” at demonstrations in Arizona and Washington, and its ratings have fallen well below pre-election levels.
Much of the drop has come during daytime hours, when its news anchors acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory. But several Fox News opinion shows have seen a dip, too: Earlier this month, for the first time in 19 years, “Fox & Friends” drew a smaller weekly audience than MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
The loss of viewers has set off alarm bells inside Fox News, said several people with ties to the network who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid straining relationships. A new slogan promoting its pro-Trump opinion hosts — “Standing Up For What’s Right” — is now in heavy rotation.
“There’s a ton of discontent with Fox News in conservative circles,” said Nicole Hemmer, a Columbia University scholar who studies right-wing media.
The tensions have spilled into Fox News programming. On “The Five,” Geraldo Rivera attacked a pro-Trump colleague, Jesse Watters, for endorsing baseless claims about a stolen election. In prime time, Tucker Carlson cast doubt on the claims of Sidney Powell, a Trump lawyer, saying she had failed to produce evidence of election fraud. But in the next hour, Mr. Hannity invited another Trump lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to share his baseless claims with viewers.
Fox News declined to comment. But the network remains a ratings goliath: This summer, its prime-time audience was not merely the largest on cable, but the largest across all of television. And many in the TV industry expect the network to thrive once Mr. Biden takes office, capitalizing on the same conservative “resistance” viewership that fueled its success during the Obama years.
Even if Newsmax is more willing to indulge the outlandish prospect that Mr. Trump can serve a second term, Mr. Ruddy said that Newsmax would not become, in his words, “Trumpmax.”
“I don’t see him becoming a partner in the company,” he said, adding that he doubted that Mr. Trump “would want to tether himself to one news organization.” A Trump-hosted talk show, he added, would be “terrific,” but he has not made a formal approach.
“He’s confident he has a good shot at winning, and I think he’s focused on that,” Mr. Ruddy said. “I wouldn’t want him to lose his focus.”
Dr. Li-Meng Yan wanted to remain anonymous. It was mid-January, and Dr. Yan, a researcher in Hong Kong, had been hearing rumors about a dangerous new virus in mainland China that the government was playing down. Terrified for her personal safety and career, she reached out to her favorite Chinese YouTube host, known for criticizing the Chinese government.
Within days, the host was telling his 100,000 followers that the coronavirus had been deliberately released by the Chinese Communist Party. He wouldn’t name the whistle-blower, he said, because officials could make the person “disappear.”
By September, Dr. Yan had abandoned caution. She appeared in the United States on Fox News making the unsubstantiated claim to millions that the coronavirus was a bio-weapon manufactured by China.
Overnight, Dr. Yan became a right-wing media sensation, with top advisers to President Trump and conservative pundits hailing her as a hero. Nearly as quickly, her interview was labeled on social media as containing “false information,” while scientists rejected her research as a polemic dressed up in jargon.
Her evolution was the product of a collaboration between two separate but increasingly allied groups that peddle misinformation: a small but active corner of the Chinese diaspora and the highly influential far right in the United States.
Each saw an opportunity in the pandemic to push its agenda. For the diaspora, Dr. Yan and her unfounded claims provided a cudgel for those intent on bringing down China’s government. For American conservatives, they played to rising anti-Chinese sentiment and distracted from the Trump administration’s bungled handling of the outbreak.
Both sides took advantage of the dearth of information coming out of China, where the government has refused to share samples of the virus and has resisted a transparent, independent investigation. Its initial cover-up of the outbreak has further fueled suspicion about the origins of the virus.
An overwhelming body of evidence shows that the virus almost certainly originated in an animal, most likely a bat, before evolving to make the leap into humans. While U.S. intelligence agencies have not ruled out the possibility of a lab leak, they have not found any proof so far to back up that theory.
Dr. Yan’s trajectory was carefully crafted by Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump.
They put Dr. Yan on a plane to the United States, gave her a place to stay, coached her on media appearances and helped her secure interviews with popular conservative television hosts like Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs, who have shows on Fox. They nurtured her seemingly deep belief that the virus was genetically engineered, uncritically embracing what she provided as proof.
“I said from Day 1, there’s no conspiracies,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview. “But there are also no coincidences.”
Mr. Bannon noted that unlike Dr. Yan, he did not believe the Chinese government “purposely did this.” But he has pushed the theory about an accidental leak of risky laboratory research and has been intent on creating a debate about the new coronavirus’s origins.
“Dr. Yan is one small voice, but at least she’s a voice,” he said.
The media outlets that cater to the Chinese diaspora — a jumble of independent websites, YouTube channels and Twitter accounts with anti-China leanings — have formed a fast-growing echo chamber for misinformation. With few reliable Chinese-language news sources to fact-check them, rumors can quickly harden into a distorted reality. Increasingly, they are feeding and being fed by far-right American media.
Wang Dinggang, the YouTube host contacted by Dr. Yan and a close associate of Mr. Guo, appears to have been the first to seed rumors related to Hunter Biden, a son of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. A site owned by Mr. Guo amplified the baseless claims about Hunter Biden’s involvement in a child abuse conspiracy. They were picked up by Infowars and other fringe American outlets. Mr. Bannon, Mr. Wang and Mr. Guo are now all promoting the false idea that the presidential election was rigged.
Big technology companies have started to push back, as Facebook and Twitter try to better police content. Twitter permanently banned one of Mr. Bannon’s accounts for violating its rules on glorifying violence after he suggested on his podcast that the heads of the F.B.I. director and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, should be put on pikes.
But such mainstream notoriety has only bolstered their anti-establishment credentials. Mr. Wang’s YouTube following has nearly doubled since January. Traffic for two of Mr. Guo’s websites soared to more than 135 million last month, up from fewer than five million visits last December, according to SimilarWeb, an online data provider. Many conservatives who claim Facebook and Twitter censor right-wing voices are also flocking to new social media platforms such as Parler — and Dr. Yan, Mr. Wang and Mr. Guo have already joined them.
Dr. Yan, through representatives for Mr. Bannon and Mr. Guo, declined multiple requests for an interview. So did Mr. Wang, citing The New York Times’s “reputation for fake news.”
In a statement sent through a lawyer, Mr. Guo said he had only offered “encouragement” for Dr. Yan’s efforts “to stand up against the C.C.P. mafia and tell the world the truth about Covid-19.”
“I would gladly assist others seeking to tell the world the truth,” he said.
Finding a platform
As the new year began, Mr. Wang was doing what he did best: attacking the Chinese Communist Party on YouTube. He railed against China’s crackdown on Muslims and pontificated on the U.S. trade war.
Then on Jan. 19, he suddenly shifted to the emerging outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. It was early in the crisis, before the lockdown in the city, before China had disclosed that the virus was spreading among humans, before the world was paying attention.
In an 80-minute show devoted to an unnamed whistle-blower, Mr. Wang said that he had heard from “the world’s absolute top coronavirus expert,” who had told him China was not being transparent. “I think this is very believable, and very scary,” he said.
Mr. Wang, who was a businessman in China before moving to the United States for unknown reasons, is part of a growing group of commentators that have emerged on the Chinese-language internet. Their shows, which mix punditry, serious analysis and outright rumor, cater to a diaspora that often does not trust Chinese state media and has few reliable sources of news in its native language.
Since starting his program several years ago, Mr. Wang, who broadcasts under the name Lu De, has emerged as one of the genre’s most popular personalities, in part for his embrace of outlandish theories. He has accused Chinese officials of using “sex and seduction” to entrap enemies, and urged his audience to hoard food in preparation for the Communist Party’s collapse.
His January show on the unnamed whistle-blower combined the same elements of fact and fiction. He called his source, later revealed to be Dr. Yan, an expert, but greatly exaggerated her credentials.
She had studied influenza before the outbreak, but not coronaviruses. She did work at one of the world’s top virology labs, at the University of Hong Kong, but was fairly new to the field and hired for her experience with lab animals, according to two university employees who knew her. She helped investigate the new outbreak, but was not overseeing the effort.
The episode caught the attention of Mr. Bannon, who said he started worrying about the virus when China began locking down. Someone, he didn’t say who, pointed out the show and translated it.
A few months later, Mr. Wang suddenly told Dr. Yan to flee Hong Kong for her safety, he explained in later broadcasts. Mr. Guo, his primary patron, paid for her to fly first class, he added.
On April 28, Dr. Yan quietly left for the airport. Her family and friends panicked but could not reach her, said Jean-Marc Cavaillon, a retired professor of immunology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who has known Dr. Yan since 2017. A missing persons report was filed in Hong Kong.
Two weeks later, she resurfaced in the United States.
“I’m currently in New York, very safe and relaxed” with the “best bodyguards and lawyers,” Dr. Yan wrote on WeChat, in a screenshot seen by The Times. “What I’m doing now is helping the whole world take control of the pandemic.”
A media makeover
After Dr. Yan arrived in the United States, Mr. Bannon, Mr. Guo and their allies immediately set out to package her as a whistle-blower they could sell to the American public.
They installed her in a “safe house” outside of New York City and hired lawyers, Mr. Bannon said. They found her a media coach, since English is not her first language. Mr. Bannon also asked her to submit multiple papers summarizing her purported evidence, Dr. Yan later said.
“Make sure you can walk people through this logically,” Mr. Bannon recalled telling her.
Mr. Bannon and Mr. Guo have been on a mission for years to, as they put it, bring down the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Guo, who also goes by Miles Kwok, was a property magnate in China with ties to senior party officials, until he fled the country about five years ago under the shadow of corruption allegations. He has since styled himself as a freedom fighter, though many are skeptical of his motivations.
Mr. Bannon, who patrolled the South China Sea as a young naval officer, has long focused much of his energy on China. During his time in the White House, he counseled Mr. Trump to take a tough approach toward the country, which he has described as “the greatest existential threat ever faced by the United States.”
Mr. Guo’s deep pockets and Mr. Bannon’s extensive network have given them an influential platform. The two men set up a $100 million fund to investigate corruption in China. They spread conspiracy theories about the accidental death of a Chinese tycoon in France, calling it a fake suicide orchestrated by Beijing.
By late January, they were both acutely focused on the outbreak in China.
Mr. Bannon pivoted his podcast to the coronavirus. He was calling it “the C.C.P. virus” long before Mr. Trump started using xenophobic labels for the pandemic. He invited fierce critics of China to the show to discuss how the outbreak exemplified the global threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Guo began claiming that the virus was an attack ordered by China’s vice president. He circulated the same claims on his media operation, which includes GTV, a video platform, and GNews, a site that features glowing coverage of Mr. Guo and his associates. He released a song called “Take Down the C.C.P.,” which briefly hit No. 1 worldwide on the Apple iTunes chart.
The men have continued to target the Chinese government even as they battle their own legal woes. Mr. Guo is reportedly under investigation by U.S. federal authorities over fund-raising tactics at his media company. Mr. Bannon, who was arrested this summer on Mr. Guo’s yacht, is facing fraud charges for a nonprofit he helped set up to build a wall along the Mexican border.
In Dr. Yan, the two men found an ideal face for their campaign.
On July 10, she revealed her identity for the first time in a 13-minute interview on the Fox News website. She said that the Chinese government had concealed evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus. She accused, without proof, professors at the University of Hong Kong of assisting in the cover-up. (The university quickly rejected her accusations as “hearsay.”)
“The reason I came to the U.S. is because I deliver the message of the truth of Covid-19,” she said.
She made no mention of Mr. Guo or Mr. Bannon, by design.
“Don’t link yourself to Bannon, don’t link yourself to Guo Wengui,” Mr. Guo on his own show recounted telling Dr. Yan. “Once you mention us, those American extreme leftists will attack and say you have a political agenda.”
After the first Fox interview, Dr. Yan embarked on a whirlwind tour of right-wing media, echoing conservative talking points. She said that she took hydroxychloroquine to ward off the virus, even though the F.D.A. had warned that it was not effective. She suggested that the World Health Organization helped cover up the outbreak.
Those interviews were amplified by social media accounts proclaiming allegiance to Mr. Guo. They translated her appearances into Chinese, then posted multiple versions on YouTube and retweeted posts by other pro-Guo accounts.
Some of the accounts have tens of thousands of followers — of a dubious nature. Many have multiple indicators of so-called inauthentic behavior, according to an analysis by First Draft, a nonprofit that studies misinformation. The analysis found that they were created in the past two years, lacked background photos and had user names that were jumbles of letters and numbers.
Collectively, the followers created online momentum for the conservative media world, which in turn re-energized the pro-Guo accounts. “The two are filtering and feeding off of each other,” said Anne Kruger, First Draft’s Asia Pacific director.
In early September, Dr. Yan met with Dr. Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University who had floated the possibility that the virus was the product of a laboratory experiment. Dr. Lucey said Dr. Yan’s associates, who set up the meeting, wanted to find a credible scientist to endorse her claims. “That was the only reason for bringing me there,” he said.
For more than four hours, Dr. Yan discussed her background and research, while one of her associates, whom Dr. Lucey declined to name, impatiently walked in and out of the room. He said that Dr. Yan appeared to genuinely believe that the virus had been weaponized but struggled to explain why.
At the end, the associate asked Dr. Lucey if he thought Dr. Yan had a “smoking gun.” When Dr. Lucey said no, the meeting quickly ended.
Days later, Dr. Yan released a 26-page research paper that she said proved the virus was manufactured. It spread rapidly online.
The paper, which was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, was posted on an online open-access repository. It was backed by two nonprofits funded by Mr. Guo. The three other co-authors on the paper were pseudonyms for safety reasons, according to Mr. Bannon.
Virologists quickly dismissed the paper as “pseudoscience” and “based on conjecture.” Some worried that the paper — laden with charts and scientific jargon, such as “unique furin cleavage site” and “RBM-hACE2 binding” — would lend her claims a veneer of credibility.
“It’s full of science-y sorts of terms that are jumbled together to sound impressive but aren’t supported,” said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University who was among several authors of a rebuttal to Dr. Yan’s report.
Other misinformation about the pandemic has also emphasized supposed expertise. In the spring, a 26-minute video that went viral featured a discredited American scientist accusing hospitals of inflating virus-related deaths. A July video showed people in white coats, calling themselves “America’s doctors” and suggesting that masks were ineffective; the video was removed by social media platforms for sharing false information.
On Sept. 15, a day after her report was published, Dr. Yan secured her biggest stage yet: an appearance with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Mr. Carlson’s popular show has frequently served as an influential megaphone for the right.
Mr. Carlson asked if Dr. Yan believed Chinese officials had released the virus intentionally or by accident. Dr. Yan did not hesitate.
“Of course intentionally,” she said.
The clip went viral.
Footage of their interview racked up at least 8.8 million views online, even though Facebook and Instagram flagged it as false information. High-profile conservatives, including Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, shared it on Twitter. When the Rev. Franklin Graham, the evangelist supporter of Mr. Trump, posted about Dr. Yan on Facebook, it became the most-shared link posted by a U.S.-based Facebook account that day.
Lou Dobbs, another Fox host, tweeted a video of himself and a guest discussing Dr. Yan’s “great case.” Mr. Trump retweeted it.
Dr. Yan was welcomed by an audience already primed to hear her claims. A March poll found that nearly 30 percent of Americans believed the virus was most likely made in a lab.
“Once Tucker Carlson picks it up, it’s not fringe anymore,” said Yotam Ophir, a professor at the University at Buffalo who studies disinformation. “It’s now mainstream.”
Fox News declined to comment.
Weeks later, Mr. Carlson said on his show that he could not endorse Dr. Yan’s theories. Regardless, he welcomed her back as a guest to detail her latest claim: Her mother, she told him, had been arrested by the Chinese government.
The Chinese government often punishes critics by harassing their families. But when The Times reached Dr. Yan’s mother on her cellphone in October, she said that she had never been arrested and was desperate to connect with her daughter, whom she had not spoken to in months.
She declined to say more and asked not to be named, citing fears that Dr. Yan was being manipulated by her new allies.
“They are blocking our daughter from talking to us,” her mother said, referring to Mr. Guo and Mr. Wang. “We want our daughter to know that she can video-chat with us at any time.”
Amy Chang Chien contributed research.
After falling prey to some of the same business difficulties that have plagued newspapers and magazines, the digital-media giants BuzzFeed and HuffPost have decided to join forces, the companies announced on Thursday.
Under the plan, BuzzFeed will acquire HuffPost from its owner, Verizon Media, as part of a larger stock deal, the companies said. The BuzzFeed and HuffPost websites will remain distinct, each with its own editorial staff. The BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, who helped found HuffPost 15 years ago, will serve as the chief executive.
As part of the arrangement, Verizon Media will become a minority shareholder in BuzzFeed, the companies said, but it will not have a seat on BuzzFeed’s board.
“We’re excited about our partnership with Verizon Media, and mutual benefits that will come from syndicating content across each other’s properties, collaborating on innovative ad products and the future of commerce, and tapping into the strength and creativity of Verizon Media Immersive,” Mr. Peretti said in a statement.
BuzzFeed and HuffPost have struggled, with both having gone through rounds of layoffs in recent years. Mr. Peretti believes that getting bigger is the right move for his business.
Digital media, a relatively open territory when HuffPost started in 2005, has grown crowded and more competitive. Google and Facebook have grabbed huge chunks of ad revenue from publishers; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch are taking would-be readers’ attention; and many legacy media outlets have gotten the hang of the web while also figuring out how to persuade readers to pay for content.
The deal between BuzzFeed and HuffPost marks the fourth significant merger among name-brand digital publishers, following the combination of Vox Media and New York Magazine, Vice Media’s acquisition of Refinery29, and Group Nine’s merger with PopSugar. Digital journalism needs size to survive — and even these deals may not be enough to sustain their operations.
Because BuzzFeed and HuffPost appeal to different readerships, they should complement each other as part of the same company, Mr. Peretti said in an interview on Thursday.
“We want HuffPost to be more HuffPosty, and BuzzFeed to be more BuzzFeedy — there’s not much audience overlap,” he said. “These are different audiences they serve. On the editorial side and the consumer side, we want to have a lot of independence and autonomy for HuffPost and for it to determine its own brand.”
Mr. Peretti, 46, also said HuffPost will have a new editor in chief. The site’s previous top editor, from 2016 until March of this year, was Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times editor. She left HuffPost to become the head of content at the podcasting company Gimlet Media, and a successor has yet to be named. On the business side, operations are likely to be combined.
Mr. Peretti approached Verizon on several occasions about a possible HuffPost acquisition, he said in the interview. In 2018, shortly after Hans E. Vestberg was named Verizon’s chief executive, Mr. Peretti made an overture, only to be rebuffed.
He said he found a willing ear in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the convention that draws digital publishers, tech companies and major advertisers who meet to broker multimillion-dollar marketing agreements between games of craps and blackjack.
In a suite at the Aria Resort and Casino on the 35th floor overlooking the Vegas Strip, Mr. Peretti met with Guru Gowrappan, the Verizon Media chief executive, who reports to Mr. Vestberg, to discuss ways the two companies could work together.
At first, they discussed how Verizon Media could help BuzzFeed with its ad technology, as well as the possibility of entering into a content-sharing arrangement. Some months later, the talk turned to an acquisition, Mr. Peretti said.
“While considering opportunities to work together, naturally, Jonah and I also discussed the property he co-founded, HuffPost,” Mr. Gowrappan said in a statement. “We quickly realized BuzzFeed’s strategy would complement HuffPost’s road map, injecting it with new energy and growing the brand into the future.”
HuffPost had seen a large drop in revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two people with knowledge of the company, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In an interview, Mr. Gowrappan said that the company believed in Mr. Peretti’s approach, which persuaded him that a merger deal would add value.
Once the deal goes through, BuzzFeed will have to find ways to cut costs, the two people said. Mr. Peretti’s company was on track to turn a profit this year, but the addition of HuffPost will add more costs starting next year. The deal includes some cash from Verizon that will help BuzzFeed pay for severance for possible layoffs and other costs associated with the merger, the two people said.
Both outlets share DNA. Along with the political power player Arianna Huffington and the investor Kenneth Lerer, Mr. Peretti was part of the team that created the original Huffington Post, as it was then known, in 2005. The driving idea was to build a liberal version of Drudge Report — an online gathering spot for readers fed up with the George W. Bush administration.
The site benefited from Ms. Huffington’s Rolodex, back when Rolodexes were still a thing: She was able to charm big-name contributors from Hollywood and the Beltway to write for free. Steeped in the Google algorithm, Mr. Peretti, the site’s chief technology officer, along with its editors, helped make Huffington Post into an online force, one that featured a new brand of journalism — unapologetically web-native, complete with slide shows, hot-take opinion pieces and curiosity-inducing headlines — that drew millions of clicks in the years before Twitter and other social media platforms took charge of the internet discourse.
In 2006, Mr. Peretti, a scientist of the web with a perennial interest in which pieces of online content proved most engaging to readers, started BuzzFeed while he was still HuffPost’s chief technology officer. At first, it was an experimental project that he ran out of a small office in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Mr. Peretti left HuffPost in 2011, after it was sold to AOL for $315 million, and with the help of $35 million from corporate investors, he transformed his side gig into a stand-alone media company.
BuzzFeed caught on as a website filled with features aimed at a largely millennial audience, things like “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” and a video of BuzzFeeders trying to make a watermelon explode. As the site matured, it went deep into current-events coverage and investigative articles under BuzzFeed News, a division that was led for eight years by its founding editor, Ben Smith, before he joined The Times as its media columnist, and is now run by Mark Schoofs.
But struggles lay ahead.
In 2017, BuzzFeed cut 100 employees after missing revenue targets. Last year, it laid off more than 220 employees, or 15 percent of its work force. Amid the cost-cutting measures, BuzzFeed added banner ads, a form of advertising it once eschewed. It even expanded into the retail business, with branded products, including a recent partnership to create sex toys.
HuffPost cut 39 employees during a round of layoffs in 2017. In early 2019, Verizon said it would cut 800 positions, or 7 percent of its media divisions. Later that year, HuffPost let 11 video employees go.
In a 2018 interview with The Times, Mr. Peretti dropped huge hints that his site would be better off as part of a larger entity. “If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company,” he said at the time, “you would probably be able to get paid more money.”
In the interview on Thursday, Mr. Peretti did not rule out another merger.
“We will continually look at opportunities, but I haven’t taken the approach of trying to rush it,” he said just before hopping off the call to lead an all-hands meeting of the HuffPost staff. “We’re building a real platform for digital media to get more value from content operations that we own, that everyone should be getting.”
The president has some bones to pick with the American media: about our “bias,” our obsession with racism, our views on terrorism, our reluctance to express solidarity, even for a moment, with his embattled republic.
So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon from his gilded office in the Élysée Palace to drive home a complaint. He argued that the Anglo-American press, as it’s often referred to in his country, has blamed France instead of those who committed a spate of murderous terrorist attacks that began with the beheading on Oct. 16 of a teacher, Samuel Paty, who, in a lesson on free speech, had shown his class cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” President Macron said, recalling Nov. 13, 2015, when 130 people were killed in coordinated attacks at a concert hall, outside a soccer stadium and in cafes in and around Paris.
“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values — journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”
Legitimizing violence — that’s as serious a charge as you can make against the media, and the sort of thing we’ve been more used to hearing, and shrugging off, from the American president. And Americans, understandably distracted by the hallucinatory final days of the Trump presidency, may have missed the intensifying conflict between the French elite and the English-language media.
More than 250 people have died in terror attacks in France since 2015, the most in any Western country. Mr. Macron, a centrist modernizer who has been a bulwark against Europe’s Trumpian right-wing populism, said the English-language — and particularly, American — media were imposing their own values on a different society.
In particular, he argued that the foreign media failed to understand “laïcité,” which translates as “secularism” — an active separation of church and state dating back to the early 20th century, when the state wrested control of the school system from the Catholic Church. The subject has become an increasing focus this year, with the approach of the 2022 election in which Mr. Macron appears likely to face the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Mr. Macron didn’t initially campaign on changing the country’s approach to its Muslim minority, but in a major speech in early October denouncing “Islamist separatism,” he promised action against everything from the foreign training of imams to “imposing menus that accommodate religious restrictions in cafeterias.” He also called for remaking the religion itself into “an Islam of the Enlightenment.” His tough-talking interior minister, meanwhile, is using the inflammatory language of the far right.
When Mr. Paty was murdered, Mr. Macron responded with a crackdown on Muslims accused of extremism, carrying out dozens of raids and vowing to shut down aid groups. He also made a vocal recommitment to secularism. Muslim leaders around the world criticized Mr. Macron’s and his aides’ aggressive response, which they said focused on peaceful Muslim groups. The president of Turkey called for boycotts of French products, as varied as cheese and cosmetics. The next month saw a new wave of attacks, including three murders in a Nice church and an explosion at a French ceremony in Saudi Arabia.
Some French grievances with the U.S. media are familiar from the U.S. culture wars — complaints about short-lived headlines and glib tweets by journalists. But their larger claim is that, after the attacks, English and American outlets immediately focused on failures in France’s policy toward Muslims rather than on the global terror threat. Mr. Macron was particularly enraged by a Financial Times opinion article on Nov. 3, “Macron’s war on Islamic separatism only divides France further,” which argued that he was alienating a Muslim majority that also hates terrorism. The article said he was attacking “Islamic separatism” when, in fact, he had used the word “Islamist.” Mr. Macron’s critics say he conflates religious observance and extremism, and the high-profile misquote — of his attempt to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism — infuriated him.
“I hate being pictured with words which are not mine,” Mr. Macron told me, and after a wave of complaints from readers and an angry call from Mr. Macron’s office, The Financial Times took the article off the internet — something a spokeswoman, Kristina Eriksson, said she couldn’t recall the publication ever having done before. The next day, the newspaper published a letter from Mr. Macron attacking the deleted article.
In late October, Politico Europe also deleted an op-ed article, “The dangerous French religion of secularism,” that it had solicited from a French sociologist. The piece set off a firestorm from critics who said the writer was blaming the victims of terrorism. But the hasty deletion prompted the author to complain of “outright censorship.” Politico Europe’s editor in chief, Stephen Brown, said that the article’s timing after the attack was inappropriate, but that he had apologized to the author for taking it down without explanation. He didn’t cite any specific errors. It was also the first time, he said, that Politico had ever taken down an opinion article.
But French complaints go beyond those opinion articles and to careful journalism that questions government policy. A skeptical Washington Post analysis from its Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “Instead of fighting systemic racism, France wants to ‘reform Islam,’” drew heated objections for its raised eyebrow at the idea that “instead of addressing the alienation of French Muslims,” the French government “aims to influence the practice of a 1,400-year-old faith.” The New York Times drew a contrast between Mr. Macron’s ideological response and the Austrian chancellor’s more “conciliatory” address after a terror attack, and noted that the isolated young men carrying out attacks don’t neatly fit into the government’s focus on extremist networks. In the Times opinion pages, an op-ed asked bluntly, “Is France Fueling Muslim Terrorism by Trying to Prevent It?”
And then, of course, there are the tweets. The Associated Press deleted a tweet that asked why France “incites” anger in the Muslim world, saying it was a poor word choice for an article explaining anger at France in the Muslim world. The New York Times was roasted on Twitter and in the pages of Le Monde for a headline — which appeared briefly amid the chaos of the beheading — “French Police Shoot and Kill Man After a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.” The Times headline quickly changed as French police confirmed details, but the screenshot remained.
“It’s as though we were in the smoking ruins of ground zero and they said we had it coming,” Mr. Macron’s spokeswoman, Anne-Sophie Bradelle, complained to Le Monde.
As any observer of American politics knows, it can be hard to untangle theatrical outrage and Twitter screaming matches from real differences in values. Mr. Macron argues that there are big questions at the heart of the matter.
“There is a sort of misunderstanding about what the European model is, and the French model in particular,” he said. “American society used to be segregationist before it moved to a multiculturalist model, which is essentially about coexistence of different ethnicities and religions next to one another.”
“Our model is universalist, not multiculturalist,” he said, outlining France’s longstanding insistence that its citizens not be categorized by identity. “In our society, I don’t care whether someone is Black, yellow or white, whether they are Catholic or Muslim, a person is first and foremost a citizen.”
Some of the coverage Mr. Macron complains about reflects a genuine difference of values. The French roll their eyes at America’s demonstrative Christianity. And Mr. Macron’s talk of head scarves and menus, along with the interior minister’s complaints about Halal food in supermarkets, clashes with the American emphasis on religious tolerance and the free expression protected by the First Amendment.
Such abstract ideological distinctions can seem distant from the everyday lives of France’s large ethnic minorities, who complain of police abuse, residential segregation and discrimination in the workplace. Mr. Macron’s October speech also acknowledged, unusually for a French leader, the role that the French government’s “ghettoization” of Muslims in the suburbs of Paris and other cities played in creating generations of alienated young Muslims. And some of the coverage that has most offended the French has simply reflected the views of Black and Muslim French people who don’t see the world the way French elites want them to.
Picking fights with American media is also an old sport in France, and it can be hard to know when talk of cultural differences is real and when it is intended to wave away uncomfortable realities. And reactionary French commentators have gone further than Mr. Macron in attacking the U.S. media, drawing energy from the American culture wars. A flame-throwing article in the French magazine Marianne blasted U.S. coverage and then appeared in English in Tablet with an added American flourish denouncing “simplistic woke morality plays.”
But the ideological gaps between French and American points of view can be deceptive. The French commentariat has also harped on the #metoo movement as an example of runaway American ideology. Pascal Bruckner, the well-known public intellectual, called the sexual abuse case against Roman Polanski “neo-feminist McCarthyism.” But perhaps the most prominent American journalism in France this year came from The Times’s Norimitsu Onishi, who played a central role in forcing France to grapple with the well-known pedophilia of a famous writer, Gabriel Matzneff. A recent profile in a French news site described Mr. Onishi and others as “kicking the anthill just by naming things” that had previously gone unspoken. Mr. Matzneff is now facing charges.
And Mr. Macron has his own political context: a desperate fight against a resurgent coronavirus, a weak economy and a political threat from the right. He is also disentangling himself from an early, unsuccessful attempt to build a relationship with President Trump. He had spoken to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the day before our conversation.
I asked him whether his vocal complaints about the American media weren’t themselves a little Trumpian — advancing his agenda through high-profile attacks on the press.
Mr. Macron said he simply wanted himself and his country to be clearly understood. “My message here is: If you have any question on France, call me,” he said. (He has, in fact, never granted The Times’s Paris bureau an interview, which would be a nice start.)
And he recoiled at the comparison to Mr. Trump.
“I read your newspapers, I’m one of your readers,” he said.
At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Americans all over the country began flicking on their TVs.
Moments after CNN and most of the major television networks declared that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had defeated President Trump in the presidential election, viewership surged across the three major cable news networks and the Big Three broadcast networks, according to Nielsen Media Research.
On CNN, viewership jumped 36 percent at 11:30, six minutes after the network became the first to project the Biden win. The MSNBC audience jumped 29 percent at 11:30. (NBC News had made its call at 11:25.) On Fox News, which made the call at 11:40, there was a 38 percent jump. The broadcast networks broke into “special report” mode and also saw huge spikes, according to Nielsen.
In all, more than 21 million viewers across the six networks took in the news that Mr. Biden would be the 46th president, an unusually high total for a weekend morning.
CNN had, by far, the most viewers of any network, averaging around seven million between noon and 2 p.m. Eastern time. MSNBC, the home network for many liberal viewers during the Trump years, had an average of roughly 4.5 million. Fox News, which usually has a commanding lead in viewership, had about three million.
Fox News viewers also began to tune out a little more quickly than viewers of the other cable networks, not long after being greeted to gleaming graphics that Mr. Biden was now president-elect. Viewers started to leave Fox News around noon, about 20 minutes after the network made its call, according to data from Nielsen.
By 3 p.m., as cable viewers began to tire of the roundtable discussions about a Biden presidency, CNN had lost 24 percent of its noon audience and MSNBC 23 percent. But Fox News had shed 45 percent of its audience, to about 1.8 million viewers from about 3.4 million at noon.
The gap between Fox News and other networks was even more pronounced Saturday night. More than 35 million watched Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s prime-time speeches, according to Nielsen. CNN commanded the largest audience, with 13.6 million, and MSNBC had the second-highest total, 8.5 million. CBS led the broadcast networks with 5.6 million.
But Fox News had the smallest viewership of any network that carried the speech: Only three million watched.
No television executive anticipated that this trend would last longer than a day or two. Fox News has hit record ratings marks throughout the year. It scored the highest viewership in prime time on election night of any network.
And indeed, by Monday, it appeared that order had been restored. Fox News won in prime time as its hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — who continued to discuss the Trump campaign’s baseless claims about voter fraud and other alleged election irregularities — averaged 3.8 million viewers, a million better than MSNBC and 1.3 million better than CNN.
The tension mounted for days — and then broke, all at once.
CNN went first, calling the presidential election at 11:24 a.m. Eastern. It was followed in quick succession by NBC, CBS, ABC and The Associated Press. Fox News confirmed the outcome at 11:40 a.m., underscoring what its anchor Chris Wallace later called “the power of what we are seeing right now.”
“Here we have on Fox the headline, the chyron at the bottom of the screen, ‘Joe Biden Elected 46th President of the United States,’” Mr. Wallace told his viewers. “On Fox.”
The projection that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had beaten President Trump came after days of slow-burning suspense on the cable news networks and broadcast channels. As millions of anxious viewers watched, the anchors and pundits filled hours of airtime by tracking the vote counts in battleground states. All the while, President Trump fumed and filed legal challenges.
Some on-air personalities began to lose patience with the slow pace. On ABC on Friday night, Nate Silver, the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight, was asked if he thought the race was over, and he replied, simply, “At this point, yeah.”
The anchor, George Stephanopoulos, and ABC’s supersized panel burst into laughter, with one panelist exclaiming, “Why are we still here then?”
Some viewers may have begun wondering the same, despite pre-election pledges by news outlets that they would be extra careful in tabulating results. But resolution came shortly before lunchtime on Saturday, courtesy of Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
“After four long tense days, we’ve reached a historic moment in this election,” Mr. Blitzer announced. “CNN projects Joseph R. Biden is elected the 46th president of the United States, winning the White House and denying President Trump a second term.”
It was a projection in Pennsylvania that tipped the networks’ models to a surefire Biden victory, as a batch of a few thousand ballots from Philadelphia trickled in, heavily skewed in Mr. Biden’s favor. “It is a cathartic moment for millions and millions of Americans,” said the CNN correspondent Abby Phillip.
Catharsis of a different sort came for the dozens of television producers, correspondents and anchors who had been overseeing a virtually 24-hour broadcast since Tuesday night, with some political analysts pulling overnight shifts in the event of a decisive development.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s highest-rated anchor, had been the co-anchor of the network’s broadcasts all week until she had to go into isolation in what she called her “Covid quarantine cove” on Friday after a close contact tested positive for the virus.
On Saturday, Ms. Maddow appeared onscreen via Skype, explaining to viewers that she was cleaning her bedroom when she heard about Mr. Trump’s loss. (She said she was cleaning out the three-hole punch that she had used to make her research binder for election night and “Dustbusting up the little holes that fell out.”)
“I’m not sure this is the way I imagined I would learn that Donald Trump was a one-term president,” Ms. Maddow said. “But I’ll take it!”
Until Saturday, Fox News had appeared closest to calling the race for Mr. Biden because of its early call for the Democrat in Arizona, an election night projection that prompted criticism from Mr. Trump, and some rival data journalists, for possibly jumping the gun.
In the end, Fox News was the final TV network to project a Biden win. The anchor Neil Cavuto was holding down the 11 a.m. shift as other networks began to make the call; he informed viewers of those projections but said Fox News was not yet prepared to weigh in.
By 11:40 a.m., the network’s lead anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum had arrived on the set. “The Fox News decision desk can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden will win Pennsylvania and Nevada, putting him over the 270 electoral votes he needs to become the 46th president of the United States,” Mr. Baier said.
Mr. Wallace told Fox News viewers that Mr. Trump “is going to end up with more votes than anybody in history — except for Joe Biden this year,” adding, “He is going to be a big player. He is not going to go away and be quiet.”
Still, Mr. Wallace seemed unimpressed with the president’s baseless talk of a fraudulent election and his legal challenges. “I think it’s going to become increasingly untenable,” he said, noting that Mr. Trump would need to find evidence of “industrial-strength election fraud and we have seen none of that so far.” He noted that Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, had begun to talk of a Biden presidency and predicted that his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate would follow Mr. Graham’s lead.
Donna Brazile, a Fox News contributor who was formerly the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, wiped away tears as she reflected on the significance of Senator Kamala Harris becoming the first woman of color to be elected vice president.
“Been a long time coming, to be the last to get voting rights, to be those who waited and waited for our turn; it’s been a long time coming,” she said, after noting that she had been thinking about her grandmother, who did not have the right to vote. “This is not about asking anyone to leave the room. Just scoot over and let women also share in the leadership of this country.”
On CNN, the anchor Anderson Cooper asked the pundit Van Jones for his reaction. Mr. Jones, tearing up behind his eyeglasses, took a moment before saying, “Well, it’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your kids that character matters.”
The nail-biting week had exhausted anchors and audiences alike. On Friday, Jake Tapper of CNN acknowledged “frustration” among viewers, but evoked memories of the 2000 election, when networks had to reverse projections in Florida. “No one wants to go through that again,” he said, urging patience. “Everyone in the media wants to get it right.”
Shortly after Saturday’s projection, the major networks showed scenes of revelers celebrating Mr. Biden’s victory in American cities, as well as groups of Trump supporters in places like Harrisburg, Pa., who were waving Trump flags and carrying signs that said, “Stop the Steal,” a reference to the president’s unfounded claims that the election was fraudulent.
Mr. Trump, at that moment, was absent from the airwaves. He was off playing golf at a course in Virginia that bears his name.
Edmund Lee and Katie Robertson contributed reporting.
Yuhui Chai came to the United States from China more than a dozen years ago, drawn by the country’s vibrant democratic values. She eventually found work as a journalist, relishing the chance to pursue hard-hitting stories and ask questions in a manner often discouraged in China’s authoritarian society.
Now Ms. Chai is among more than 100 Chinese news media employees in the United States caught in a heated dispute between Beijing and Washington over the rights of foreign journalists. Unable to secure a long-term visa amid new American restrictions, she has decided to leave her job this week to return to China.
“There’s no way to plan for the future,” said Ms. Chai, a New York-based correspondent who covers technology for SunTV, a Hong Kong news outlet. “It’s very painful.”
As the United States and China fight a broader geopolitical struggle over trade, technology, military policy, the coronavirus and other issues, the news media from both countries are caught in the middle.
The American government has put new limits on the number of employees at Chinese state media organizations, effectively forcing some to leave, and shortened the length of visas for Chinese media workers. China has expelled 17 foreign journalists, including some from The New York Times, and frozen the credentials of several others.
China in particular has long harassed and surveilled foreign journalists on its soil, but the new round of tit-for-tat restrictions risks cutting off a critical source of insight into both Chinese and American societies. American journalists in China have traditionally provided an important window into the country’s opaque government.
Chinese journalists in the United States, especially those working for commercial outlets, can play a role, too. While the majority of Chinese journalists in the United States work for the Chinese government’s flagship news outlets, including Xinhua and China Central Television, others represent more commercially minded organizations that strive to produce in-depth journalism. Though they have to abide by China’s strict censorship rules, they can help balance out the Communist Party’s propaganda machine back home.
The Trump administration says a tough approach is necessary to force Beijing to ease pressure on foreign news outlets. Critics argue the new rules are undermining America’s reputation as a bastion of civil liberties and giving Beijing an excuse to crack down on foreign news outlets even more.
“It has done huge damage to the ideals of freedom of the press and free speech,” said Yik Chan Chin, a lecturer in media and communication studies at the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. “All these concepts have been significantly damaged during this war.”
Many of the Chinese journalists affected by the new restrictions came to the United States to escape severe controls on the news media in China, where journalists are routinely harassed, punished and imprisoned. Under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, the government has all but eliminated investigative reporting and demanded media workers show unflinching loyalty to the party.
Now, faced with visa hassles and growing scrutiny of their work in the United States, some are considering changing jobs. Others are making plans to return home, saying in interviews they are tired of being seen as spies and propaganda workers.
The Trump administration has sought to portray Chinese reporters in the United States as foreign agents, designating nine Chinese news organizations as operatives of the Chinese state. David R. Stilwell, a top State Department official, said in a speech last week that workers at state-run outlets “masquerade as legitimate news reporters when their real business is propaganda and espionage.”
Chinese reporters say that portrayal is too simple. The more commercially minded outlets have somewhat more freedom in what they write or broadcast than official government outlets like Xinhua.
“In this age of great divides, it’s more important than ever to hear from more people,” said Du Chen, a reporter for a Chinese technology news site who left the United States earlier this year and has been unable to obtain a visa to return.
Mr. Du said smaller Chinese outlets in the United States have played an important role in dispelling stereotypes. “It still is very crucial to keep these journalists on the ground in U.S.,” he said, “if the U.S. government prefers a meaningful exchange of ideas rather than propaganda wars.”
In a move seemingly aimed at avoiding an escalation, American officials said this week they would allow Chinese journalists whose visas have expired to remain in the United States and apply to have their stays extended. Many are still awaiting word from the Department of Homeland Security on renewal applications they submitted months ago.
China remains angered by a decision from the Trump administration in May to limit visas for Chinese journalists to 90 days, a significant downgrade from the open-ended visas they used to receive. The Chinese Foreign Ministry this week accused the United States of subjecting Chinese journalists to “political persecution and suppression,” and vowed to take retaliatory measures.
China has already stopped renewing press credentials for several foreign reporters still in the mainland, raising the possibility of further expulsions. State-run news outlets have suggested Beijing could seek to impose limits on foreign journalists working in Hong Kong, a former British colony that has traditionally respected press freedoms, if the situation continues to escalate.
American officials, in response, say the Chinese government has ignored their requests to ease pressure on foreign news outlets. They have called on Chinese officials to reinstate reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Times who were expelled earlier this year. The expelled reporters have no ties to government institutions or the Trump administration.
“Beijing’s actions prove time and again that the C.C.P. is afraid of independent and investigative media reporting,” a spokesman for the American embassy in Beijing said in a statement this week, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
An agreement between the United States and China to ease tensions on the news media, while still elusive, could eventually lay the groundwork for more cooperation between the two countries, experts say.
A compromise could help reduce friction between the two countries at a tense moment, said Jerome A. Cohen, a New York University law professor and an expert on China.
“These steps will set the tone for the series of broader compromises that have to be attempted regarding more major issues,” Mr. Cohen said, pointing to climate change, trade, arms control and other challenges.
For Chinese journalists, the sharp deterioration in relations has been dispiriting.
Many say they have appreciated the chance to report in a relatively free environment on a variety of contentious issues, such as politics, religion and ethnic divisions — subjects that are typically restricted in China.
“I feel myself breathing again in an open society,” said Helen Zhang, a journalist from China who works in the United States. “Chinese journalism is not dead, but homeless.”
Ms. Chai, the reporter for SunTV, said she is considering leaving journalism once she returns to China, in part because of limits on free speech there. She said she worries the United States is isolating itself by making it harder for foreigners to report in the country.
“The United States should be giving positive messages to those who support democracy and freedom, instead of punishing everyone,” she said. “If your policies are driven by fear, driven by a kind of hostility, that creates very big problems.”
Albee Zhang contributed research.
President Trump and Fox News have a complicated relationship. Election Day did not help.
The cable news channel that kick-started Donald J. Trump’s political career was suddenly in the position of signaling its potential end. The network’s early call of Arizona on Tuesday night for Joseph R. Biden Jr. infuriated Mr. Trump and his aides, who reached out publicly and behind the scenes to Fox News executives about the call.
The network held firm — even as two of its biggest stars, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, attended Mr. Trump’s defiant early-morning speech in the East Room of the White House.
The election-night split screen underscored the fine line that Fox News’s anchors and opinion hosts have walked in the past 24 hours. By Wednesday night, Fox News was the closest of any major network to calling the presidential race for Mr. Biden — not the outcome that many fans of its pro-Trump programming may have wanted.
Fox News was also the only major cable network to carry a news conference on Wednesday held by the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was making baseless claims of election fraud. But the channel promptly cut away to announce a major development: It projected a win in Michigan for Mr. Biden, placing him at the doorstep of the presidency, according to Fox’s projections.
And shortly after Bret Baier, the network’s chief political anchor, emphasized to viewers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s threatened litigation could throw the race into doubt — even if Mr. Biden was projected to win 270 electoral votes — Fox News’s politics editor, Chris Stirewalt, threw cold water on some of the Trump campaign’s baseless claims.
“Lawsuits, schmawsuits,” Mr. Stirewalt said. “We haven’t seen any evidence yet that there’s anything wrong.”
Fox News has long occupied an unusual position in the Trump orbit. The network is home to some of the president’s most vociferous defenders, including Sean Hannity, Ms. Ingraham, and the hosts of “Fox & Friends.” But Mr. Trump frequently takes potshots at its news division and polling operation.
“Fox has changed a lot,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday morning on “Fox & Friends.” “Somebody said, ‘What’s the biggest difference between this and four years ago?’ I say, ‘Fox.’”
The president is a vociferous viewer and constant critic, praising preferred hosts by first name at rallies (“Jeanine!” “Tucker!”) and dialing up the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, to complain about coverage. He has hired (and fired) former network personnel; belittled its hosts while also agreeing to interviews; and relied on Mr. Hannity’s political advice while bashing news anchors like Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith, who left the network for CNBC.
In the wake of Tuesday’s Arizona call, a mixed view of Fox News had spread to some of Mr. Trump’s allies. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who rose to fame on the strength of Fox News guest appearances, bashed the network for what he deemed an insufficiently swift projection of a Trump win in his home state.
“For Fox to be so resistant to calling Florida and yet jumping the gun on Arizona, I just thought was inexplicable,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee on Wednesday. “I don’t think that that was done without some type of motive, whether it’s ratings, whether it’s something else.”
In fact, members of Fox News’s decision desk said repeatedly that the network’s polling team — which reports to the news division and is sequestered on election night — was merely adhering to a rigorous analysis. The network’s data team, led by Arnon Mishkin, relies on a proprietary model that draws on data from The Associated Press.
Still, some Fox News personalities speculated whether Arizona would remain in Mr. Biden’s column. “There may be some tightening there,” Mr. Baier said on Wednesday, summarizing arguments from the Trump campaign, while Bill Hemmer used an interactive map to conjure ways Mr. Trump could eke out a win in Pennsylvania.
But when Mr. Hemmer asked if the network might consider reversing the Arizona call, Mr. Stirewalt laughed. “Not that I see,” he said.
Mr. Wallace also offered a grim prognosis for the president. “It’s real simple math now,” he said, shortly after Fox News projected that Mr. Biden would win Wisconsin. Pointing to Mr. Biden’s advantages in Nevada and Michigan, he said: “If he just holds on to his lead in those two states, he’s the 46th president of the United States.” (Fox News would call Michigan just over an hour later.)
Mr. Hannity did not appear on Fox News on election night, but he returned on Wednesday evening, echoing some of the president’s talking points about the integrity of the vote count. He stopped short, though, of Mr. Trump’s baseless claim of outright “fraud.”
“Do you trust what happened in this election?” Mr. Hannity asked viewers. “Do you believe these election results are accurate? Do you believe this was a free and fair election? I have a lot of questions.”
Mr. Hannity had few specific arguments, tossing in a reference to “dead people,” and at times his monologue sounded like a regular episode of his program, not a postelection special. His lead-in, Tucker Carlson, also spoke ominously about the vote results while avoiding an outright embrace of Mr. Trump’s baseless claims about winning states that had yet to be called.
“Many Americans will never again accept the results of a presidential election,” Mr. Carlson said at one point.
Fox News set a record for the highest Election Day prime-time viewership totals in cable news history, according to Nielsen. The network drew 14.1 million viewers between 8 and 11. Its next-closest competitor, CNN, drew nine million in the three hour block. Each of the three top broadcast networks carried less than half of Fox’s audience, with ABC, at 6.3 million viewers, leading that group.
This followed a delirious ratings run for Fox News in the weeks leading up to the election. In October, Fox News averaged 4.9 million viewers in prime time, up 85 percent from a year earlier and far higher than MSNBC, which finished second with 2.7 million viewers.
“Tucker Carlson Tonight” earned an average of 5.4 million viewers in October, the highest monthly average for any show in the history of cable news. And Fox News even scored higher viewership totals than any of the broadcast networks during the two presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate.
Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s elder son and the executive chairman of Fox News’s parent company, was asked on a Tuesday earnings call if a prospective Biden victory might rein in the channel’s ratings success. He pointed out that Fox News had dominated cable news rivals through “different administrations and different political cycles.”
Mr. Murdoch added: “We fully expect to be No. 1.”
Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.