Roger Ailes, 77, the founding father of Fox News, has died. His decades-long run at Fox ended last year with his resignation, the first of several ousters from the network resulting from widespread accusations of sexual harassment and numerous settlements of claims brought by former Fox female employees. With the departure of stars such as Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren and Bill O’Reilly (himself the subject of multiple claims and settlements), Ailes leaves behind a much-diminished operation.
Indeed, at what should be the pinnacle of its success — election of a president whose message aligns perfectly with Fox’s favorite themes (illegal immigration, antagonism toward the mainstream media), Fox is floundering.
Fox, which has a pro-Trump vibe in prime time, usually ranks No. 1 among cable news channels with 25 to 54 year olds, a key demographic for advertisers. But for the past week, with [President] Trump mired in scandal, MSNBC has out-rated Fox News in prime time in the so-called “demo.” …
Fox still has a loyal base of viewers who watch the network throughout the day. It remains No. 1 in total viewers, with CNN and MSNBC far behind. But with the White House in crisis mode, and Fox sometimes downplaying the seriousness of the situation, channel surfers are opting for MSNBC and CNN instead. So far this week, Fox has ranked No. 3 in prime time behind both CNN and MSNBC, which almost never happens.
On Monday night, after the Washington Post broke the news that Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials, MSNBC was No. 1 with an average of 662,000 “demo” viewers during prime time. CNN averaged 608,000 and Fox averaged 499,000.
One could attribute this to two phenomena.
First, a number of Republicans may be down in the dumps as they see the presidency collapse and the hope for their agenda go down the tubes. In politically depressing times, there would be an understandable desire literally to tune out. Watch a sitcom, go for a walk. By contrast, anti-Trump voters are thrilled, luxuriating in nonstop schadenfreude. They cannot wait for the next episode of “How Foolish Could He Be?” They cannot get enough of it — new scandals give rise to the hope that they’ll be rid of Trump in less than four years.
Second, Fox has gone off the deep end. Covering made-up conspiracies, howling about the liberal media and doing just about everything other than covering the biggest news in the country — the collapse of the presidency — it now verges on self-parody. Over the past few years, we have witnessed the development of two sets of news viewers, watching different stories and getting different information to reinforce their biases. But when one side refuses to even acknowledge that one major story after another comes along — the firing of an FBI director, Trump’s spilling intelligence to the Russians, hiring an national security adviser under investigation, etc. — it ceases to be news at all. It has become irrelevant, not to mention entirely predictable. How much bellyaching about the mainstream media can one take? In essence, Fox has become so detached from reality that it is losing even Trump voters.
The Associated Press reported on the “ominous” drop in ratings for Fox:
It’s a time of opportunity for rivals of Fox News, long the dominant cable news network, because of last month’s firing of Bill O’Reilly, Fox’s most popular personality, who lost his job after it was revealed the network was paying millions of dollars in settlements to women who charged him with harassment. O’Reilly has denied the charges, saying he was the victim of a determined liberal campaign. Tucker Carlson leads Fox’s new prime-time lineup.
Just at the time viewers might be looking for other options, Fox suffers a meltdown in coverage, giving its readers every incentive to look elsewhere.
The excuse for airing the likes of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson has always been that getting ratings and revenue was worth sacrificing journalistic respectability. Now, however, Fox may be faced with a new problem: When there is serious news to watch, viewers aren’t going to go watch Trump fanboys air their grievances. It might just be that Fox has underestimated the intelligence and curiosity of its viewers. The network might need to up its game, even get new hosts capable of conducting reasoned interviews of substance. Fox might have to start acting like a real news operation, not just in the “Special Report” news hour or “Fox News Sunday.” That might be the best thing to happen to Fox, conservative media and the Republican Party in decades — and it sure would come as a relief to the network’s real news reporters. It also would be a proper tribute to Ailes.