The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Newsmax hopes conservative anger at Fox News and a few Trump tweets can boost the much smaller network

Newsmax, which wants to draw viewers away from Fox News, has played up conservative criticisms of the network. An anchor said Fox is “jumping right into the tank for the left.”

Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and President Trump. (Left:Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images; right: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

On Monday, as President Trump sought to make the case — without evidence — that the election he lost to former vice president Joe Biden was fraudulent, he found a message he liked on little-watched cable news network Newsmax.

Trump liked what Newsmax was saying so much that he tweeted three clips from the network in three minutes. One featured a Republican spokeswoman, who said that “Joe Biden did not win this election. President Trump did.” Another featured a Republican congressman, who spoke while an on-screen graphic declared that “IT ISN’T OVER YET.” In the third, a Trump booster talked about dead people voting.

The claims made in the clips did not pass muster on Twitter, which affixed a “this claim about election fraud is disputed” warning on each one.

But, they provided valuable and free publicity to Newsmax, which has been trying to break into the cable news big leagues since launching in 2014. During the campaign, the president has encouraged his Twitter followers to watch his rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania on Newsmax. “Getting ready to land in Florida,” he wrote last month. “BIG CROWD! Live on various networks: @OANN, @cspan, @newsmax and others!!!” Fox News covered the rallies sparingly — or not at all.

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It’s been an uphill battle for Newsmax, which began as a Web portal in 1998. The network attracted just 21,000 total viewers over the course of a week this summer, according to Nielsen research data, compared with 1.9 million Fox News viewers during the same period, though it has achieved gains recently.

The network is upping its attacks on Fox lately, smelling blood in the water after many conservatives, including the president, criticized Fox News for being the first news outlet to call Arizona for Biden, leading to something of a rift in the cozy, long-standing relationship.

On Tuesday, after showing viewers that Trump had tweeted Newsmax clips, an anchor said, “The president seems to be changing his tune on which network to go to."

Businessman Christopher Ruddy, who founded Newsmax, has emphasized his friendship with the president. During a CNN interview on Sunday, Ruddy said that Trump “is very disappointed in Fox News,” mentioning the performance of Fox News anchor Chris Wallace in moderating the first presidential debate as well as the network’s electoral forecasts.

Fox News was unequivocal on Nov. 7 about President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but some hosts and guests were eager to spin it. (Video: The Washington Post)

Unlike Fox News, which called the election for Biden on Saturday along with all major news outlets, Newsmax still has not made a call. On Tuesday, Newsmax critically covered an editorial decision made by Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto to cut away from a Monday press briefing by Trump’s reelection campaign, saying that he “can’t in good countenance continue showing you this” unless the campaign provides evidence to back up its voter fraud allegations. A Newsmax anchor said the decision showed that Fox, along with the rest of the media, was “jumping right into the tank for the left.” Later in the morning, an anchor asked rhetorically, “what happened to ‘fair and balanced?,’" mocking the network’s longtime slogan. Another Newsmax host criticized Fox’s ”unwillingness, their lack of curiosity, to get to the bottom of what’s going on” with the election.

Fox News cuts away from Kayleigh McEnany news conference after she alleges vote fraud with no evidence

Newsmax also played up a leaked clip of Fox News anchor Sandra Smith, expressing frustration with a guest casting doubt on the outcome of the election. (But, not everyone on Newsmax is playing along. When host Lyndsay Keith was teed up by an anchor to attack Fox and Smith, she mostly demurred, instead commenting more broadly on the role that networks play in calling election results.)

Fox News has long viewed the network as a tiny thorn in its side, pushing back only when needed — as it did on Saturday night when Newsmax alleged in an on-screen graphic that Fox News host Jeanine Pirro had been “suspended” by the network. While Pirro’s pro-Trump show did not air as normally scheduled, a Fox spokesperson said it was because of previously announced special election coverage. However, Newsmax’s assumption did serve to rile up conservatives on social media who accused the network of censoring a key conservative voice.

Newsmax’s lineup is now chock-full of Fox News defectors, including hosts Rob Schmitt and Greg Kelly, as well as a coterie of other television news personalities in need of a new home. (Former Fox Business Network anchor Trish Regan is a frequent guest on a daily show hosted by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.)

This summer, Newsmax hired conservative commentators Diamond and Silk after Fox News Media iced out their streaming show, suggesting in an announcement that the hosts were “too edgy” for Fox. The hosts encouraged their fans to “ditch and switch” from Fox to Newsmax.

Newsmax flipped at least one prominent Fox viewer on Election Day. “No matter what the final results are tonight, one thing is extremely clear: @FoxNews can no longer claim to be the fair and balanced network they once were,” wrote country music singer Travis Tritt on Twitter. “There are a lot of biased hacks there now and a ton of folks are noticing. It’s now @newsmax for me for election results.”

At least some of Newsmax’s critical coverage of Fox News seems to be jostling for position in a future media ecosystem that could include the star power of an ex-president Trump. Ruddy said in his CNN interview that he would love to go into business with his friend someday. “I certainly would love to have Donald Trump on Newsmax a lot, whether he’s president or not,” he said. “I think he’s great television.”

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