Had you tuned in five hours later, though, the scene would have been different.
Here is what each network showed that afternoon at 15 and 45 minutes past each hour, as captured by the media monitoring service TVEyes. We’ve faded out coverage that wasn’t the live trial.
Until there’s that gap in data in the midafternoon, the coverage looked similar, the same coverage of the same speakers or evidence. The networks even carried the same break from showing the Senate floor at 3:45 p.m., as the Senate was itself in recess.
But once 6 p.m. rolled around, Fox News’s coverage shifted. From that point on, until the end of the day’s testimony, Fox News aired its regular programming instead of carrying the trial live. During commercial breaks, the live coverage would air in a little box next to ads, just as it would sit in a little box in the corner at some points during the shows themselves. Overall, though, that was the extent of what was shown as the Fox News hosts talked about politics more broadly.
On Thursday, the pattern was similar.
What did Fox News air in prime time on Thursday instead of the trial? Interviews with Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), and conservative pundits like Mark Levin.
On Friday, the Democrats wrapped up their case.
What did Fox News show in prime time? Interviews with Stephen Moore, whom Trump at one point nominated to the Federal Reserve Board, and fervent Trump supporters such as Charlie Kirk. An hour after Kirk, Tucker Carlson aired an excoriation of what “media pundits” were focusing on. An hour after that, Sean Hannity was talking about how the 2020 election was only 284 days away.
CNN and MSNBC carried the Democrats’ case in its entirety. On Saturday morning, they did the same as Trump’s legal team began its arguments. Over the two hours that case was made, Fox News also carried it without interruption.
It’s certainly the case that Fox News knows its audience. It’s a safe bet that most Republican Fox News viewers would rather watch Hannity’s summary of the trial than the Democrats’ case itself. As we’ve reported previously, Fox News Republicans are Trump’s most loyal allies, with more than half telling PRRI last year that there’s almost nothing that Trump could do to lose their approval.
That has noticeable local effects, too. In Wisconsin, for example, Fox News Republicans are significantly more likely to say Trump did nothing wrong in relation to Ukraine than are Republicans in the state who prefer network news.
The acid test for the network’s coverage will come Monday when the case being made by the president’s team will — presumably — overlap with Fox News’s prime-time lineup. Will the network air the president’s defense without interruption? Or will it send the message it did last week, that other news is more important than the trial (even if the trial itself was the subject of much of the conversation on the shows)?
The latter seems more likely since, to a large extent, airing the Trump team’s presentation doesn’t matter. Why would Fox News need to air Trump’s rebuttal to the Democratic argument, after all, when it didn’t air a large part of that argument in the first place?