So that’s eight Fox News discussions of Hill and ESPN between Sept. 12, the day after Hill’s tweets, and the Sunday-morning talk shows on Sept. 17. And that number probably is low: LexisNexis, which I used to compile the above info, doesn’t provide transcripts for most of Fox News’s daytime lineup.
For comparison’s sake, the word “ESPN” was mentioned on Fox News a grand total of zero times in the comparable Tuesday-Sunday stretch from the week before, again according to LexisNexis.
A now-vigilant Fox News gives ESPN a much more potent foil than Fox Sports 1, Bristol’s flailing competitor for sports-TV eyeballs, and not merely because it draws viewers in numbers that its sporty cousin could only dream of. Though that certainly helps: Tucker Carlson’s Tuesday night show drew 2.94 million viewers and was the ninth-most-watched show on cable last week (it was the most-watched Fox News show, as well, with Carlson’s Wednesday episode right behind it). The most-watched FS1 show that Tuesday was a Champions League soccer game between Manchester United and Basel at 2:30 in the afternoon. It drew 188,000 viewers and was the only FS1 program to crack the top 150 in terms of cable-network ratings that day. Notably absent from that list: any of the network’s much-hyped, little-watched daytime shout shows, many of them populated with personalities plucked from ESPN at a high cost.
Those FS1 programs — “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless (formerly of ESPN) and Shannon Sharpe, “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd (ditto), “Speak for Yourself” with Cowherd and Whitlock (ditto) — could spend hours bashing ESPN and few would notice. But when ESPN’s foibles are blasted on the conservative talking-point megaphone wielded by Fox News, it adds staying power. A story that usually would peter out after a day now drags on for two or three or seven, simply because Fox News keeps bringing it up.
According to Ourand, ESPN executives are aware that this is happening and aren’t at all happy about it.
“Some [at ESPN] believe that 21st Century Fox is orchestrating attacks against ESPN to bolster the fortunes of rival sports channel FS1,” he wrote, a charge specifically denied to Ourand by a 21st Century Fox spokesperson and rebutted by several former and current Fox News employees, who say all the ESPN talk simply draws good TV ratings as “catnip” for Fox News viewers.
Whatever the reason, Fox News indeed seems to be “watching” ESPN now, a fact that should worry Bristol executives more than anything Fox Sports 1 can throw at them.
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