The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fox News doesn’t carry Trump rallies live anymore. ‘He’s got to be very unhappy about it.’

Conservative rivals Newsmax and One America News are reaping viewership benefits by filling the void left by Fox

Trump supporters now have to rely on Fox News competitors such as Newsmax and One America News to watch his political rallies. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

When former president Donald Trump began speaking at a boisterous rally Saturday night in Conroe, Tex., his favorite cable news channel did not show it. Viewers tuned in to Fox News at that hour were instead greeted with a six-day-old clip from CNN’s media commentary program.

Fox also chose not to broadcast Trump’s first big speech of 2022, at a Jan. 15 rally in Arizona, even though a reporter for the network later described it as “his first stump speech of a possible 2024 campaign.”

As Trump appears likely to run for president again, his supporters can no longer turn to Fox News Channel for live coverage of his latest speeches, as they generally could during his 2016 campaign, presidency and reelection campaign. Instead, viewers have to rely on one of the conservative channels hoping to outflank Fox from the right, such as Newsmax, One America News or the online outlet Right Side Broadcasting Network.

It’s the latest sign that Fox is becoming more selective about how it covers Trump — after years during which the network bragged about the ratings for its live rally coverage and even chided rival networks for not carrying some events. Prime-time hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham even served as informal advisers to Trump during his presidency.

Newsmax, which was founded by longtime Trump pal Chris Ruddy, has been thrilled to fill the void left by Fox, bragging in online stories about its ratings boost from being “the only major news carrier to cover Trump’s rally live.” A Jan. 20 item on Newsmax’s website said the network drew 2.9 million total viewers during the Arizona rally, a huge increase from its normal Saturday night numbers, though still behind Fox, which Newsmax accused of imposing a “blackout on Trump rallies.”

Newsmax treated the Texas rally like a Super Bowl, with pregame coverage and postgame analysis from Bill O’Reilly and Ben Carson — both former Fox News personalities — as well as an on-screen poll asking viewers whether they want Trump to run again. At one point, the network split the screen between Trump’s rally and an advertisement for Newsmax-branded hats.

“We can’t speak to Fox News’s decisions, but we believe this rally was a significant news event that was worthy of coverage,” Ruddy told The Post on Tuesday, claiming that viewer interest in all things Trump is still “strong.”

Robert and Charles Herring, the father-and-son duo who control One America News, have also been all-in on Trump’s rallies. Both men reportedly attended Trump’s last two rallies in person, drawing shout-outs from the former president, who offered his support for the network after a recent decision by distributor DirecTV to stop carrying the aggressively pro-Trump channel.

Fox News representatives did not respond to a request for comment on the network’s decision not to broadcast Trump’s recent rallies. Once nearly as enthusiastic in its rally coverage as Newsmax and OAN, Fox started to pull back shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, when the network refrained at times from preempting high-value weeknight shows to carry the president’s latest stump speech. Still, the network trumpeted the big audience it received from a carrying a key Trump campaign speech in June 2020.

But Fox’s decision to play down this month’s big rallies isn’t necessarily about ratings. Trump speeches regularly include baseless claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him, and Fox is battling two big defamation lawsuits over Trump allies who made similar claims on its airwaves. Fox’s online story about the Jan. 15 rally noted that Trump “repeated his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’” Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch has also castigated Trump for obsessing about the settled 2020 election.

Or Fox’s programmers might have simply decided that a former president’s rallies do not merit live coverage when his next potential candidacy is still years away. Trump made news at this month’s events, nevertheless. On Saturday night, he dangled the prospect of pardons for people who have been charged with crimes in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection “because they are being treated so unfairly.” (Trump is expected to hold “roughly” two rallies per month going forward, Fox News reported last month.)

Whatever the reason, former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon has lashed out at Fox for the exclusion. “The Fox scam is over! Fox does not cover Trump at all, whatsoever,” he said on his podcast after the Arizona rally.

Fox is still covering highlights from Trump rallies in later programs, generally in a more favorable light than rivals such as MSNBC and CNN, which faced extensive criticism for regularly airing Trump’s rallies during the 2016 campaign. “Wow — you can tell people were excited to see that,” Fox co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy said after airing a Trump rally clip on “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday morning.

And both Trump rallies this year have aired live on the Fox Nation online streaming service, as they “always” will, Fox News host Pete Hegseth said Sunday. (“Join us as President Trump holds a rally and makes America great again,” offered the most recent promo.)

Daniel Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey who wrote a 2016 book about Fox News, said the network has to walk a fine line between appeasing Trump-supporting viewers and potentially offending corporate sponsors who might recoil at the former president’s acerbic language and unfounded accusations.

“They’re trying to feel it out,” Cassino said. “Can we still show excerpts from the rallies and keep Trump fans happy, while excising and not showing the stuff that will make advertisers unhappy with us?”

While Fox News viewers may or may not be miffed by the exclusion, Trump surely is, said Charlie Sykes, a political commentator who works for the Bulwark and MSNBC. “He has to be very, very conscious of the fact that Fox is not giving him the kind of airtime that he’s used to in the past. He’s got to be very unhappy about it,” he said. “This is the heart and soul of his media strategy, and Donald Trump is a media creature.”

Sykes guessed that Fox News will “keep their powder dry” and stay somewhat neutral in advance of the 2024 Republican nominating contest, as the network did in the 2016 Republican primary. Skimping on Trump’s live rally coverage could be a way of doing that, he said.

But “they will ultimately follow their audience,” Sykes added. And he thinks that audience wants more Trump.

So, evidently, do some of Fox’s hosts.

“Boy, it was beautiful to see Donald Trump, the former president, on the stage for an hour and 20,” Hegseth told viewers during “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday, recounting the previous night’s rally. “You watch him rocking and rolling from that podium, as I did for an hour and 20 minutes last night — he’s raring and ready to go.”

Longtime GOP pollster Frank Luntz argued that Fox News is successful because the network draws viewers beyond just Trump superfans. “The Fox audience attracts people who don’t necessarily agree with the political line,” he said. “They’ve got a good product and it earns a good audience.”

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal that they’re not broadcasting Donald Trump 24-7 because he still shows up on Fox more than anyplace else,” Luntz added. “In the end, you can’t please all the people all the time.”