Foreign Policy

As Trump Reels, Fox News has a message for viewers: stay with us

Tucker Carlson, its president, his cable network at a crossroads, started his show Thursday night and asked a question that has been repeated for weeks among anchors and producers at Fox News: “What will life be like for us on January 21st? ”

“Who’s got your concerns in mind? Who wakes up in the middle of the night worried about your family? “Mr. Carlson asked his flock, admitting that Mr. Trump would be gone in two weeks,” and we can’t help it. “

“The rest of us – and that is the key – will still be here,” he continued. “We have nowhere to go.”

The impending end of the Trump presidency has presented the hugely popular, hugely profitable Fox News – the crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s American empire – with a challenge whose right-wing stars have tied more closely to Mr. Trump than any other mainstream pundit over the last four years.

Prime-time hosts such as Mr. Carlson and Sean Hannity spoke grimly about possible election fraud and irregularities. But privately, high-profile figures on the network admitted that it was difficult to pull the needle between the president’s false (and potentially defamatory) fraud claims and the demands of an audience that is growing, given the discrepancies between Mr. Trump’s lies and coverage of Fox Confused was news that Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected President on November 7th.

Fox News executives are unimpressed by the lamentations of liberal critics, but the migration of conservative viewers to frayier pro-Trump outlets like Newsmax has been more worrying. The prospect of Trump TV, a competing media company run by the president himself, also loomed.

Now, after the violence in the Capitol and Mr. Trump’s increasing isolation within his own party, Fox News is finding a way forward: Sympathize with the complaints of a Trump-loving audience who have finally acknowledged that their bleachers have fallen. Become a secure MAGA room.

“Tens of millions of Americans don’t stand a chance. You are about to be crushed by the ascendant left, ”claimed Mr. Carlson. “These people need a defense attorney. You need a defense attorney. “It wasn’t hard to deduce who he had in mind.

Expecting a U-turn from Fox News – or an apology as some liberals may dream – has not studied its history or that of its owner, Mr Murdoch, whose ability to adapt to political change is only matched by his reluctance to face Kowtow to critics.

With the Democrats coming to power in Washington, Fox News pundits are kicking out the old hits. In his Friday program, which aired shortly after Twitter announced that it had banned the president from his platform, Hannity promised more broadly to “expose the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Democrats and the media mob”. He attacked well-known Fox News bad guys like the Clintons, Obamas, Madonna and comedian Kathy Griffin. It could have been a repeat from 2014. (Mr. Hannity had actually pre-recorded his 9pm show a few hours earlier.)

Taking advantage of the news that Twitter had closed Mr. Trump’s account, Mr. Carlson, who was live on Friday, warned viewers that “America’s civil liberties are imminent” and portrayed liberals as hell-bent on silencing conservative views bring to. But he only uttered the word “Trump” twice over the entire hour.

It took a moment for the Fox News hosts to recalibrate after the week’s shocking and violent events.

Several network stars, notably host Laura Ingraham and political analyst Brit Hume, spread an unsubstantiated theory that left activists – not Trump supporters – were responsible for the violence in the Capitol. (Ms. Ingraham later tweeted a debunking of the theory.) A guest on Mr. Carlson’s Wednesday show made the same unsubstantiated claim about the infiltration of Antifa without the host pushing it back. And news anchor Martha MacCallum initially compared the siege at the heart of American democracy to a minor graffiti incident in the home of a Republican senator.

The transition of the president

Updated

Jan. 8, 2021, 10:32 p.m. ET

There were cracks in the firmament on Thursday amid a spate of resignations at the White House and a growing chorus of Republicans declaring it was time for Mr. Trump to leave. “Raising a Trump flag and removing the American flag is not patriotic – it was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” said Brian Kilmeade on Fox & Friends. The false rumors of Antifa involvement were recalled and the hosts criticized the violence in Washington.

Still, no prime-time Fox News star has blamed Mr. Trump for his role in sparking the riot at the Capitol. And instead of counting on years of support from Mr. Trump and giving consolation to his supporters, the network’s commentators have simply turned and found new ways to achieve old goals. In the Fox News universe, Mr. Biden is now a socialist ready to change the American way of life. And many hosts have drawn a direct correspondence between the storming of the Capitol by an anti-democratic mob and the Black Lives Matters protests in support of racial justice that summer.

As repugnant as such rhetoric may be to liberals, it is part of a formula that Fox News, which remains the profit engine of Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation, has seldom failed.

The network’s ratings fell after Election Day and it has fallen heavily in ratings to CNN since the Capitol uprising. But in 2020, Fox News was the third busiest network in the country on weekday prime-time. It wasn’t just cable news; It was all television. Only CBS and NBC ranked higher.

Fox News’ biggest stars, meanwhile, remain in place. Ms. Ingraham announced a new multi-year contract in December, and Mr. Carlson and Mr. Hannity also have long-term contracts, according to someone who knows the ins and outs of the network. With all the hype surrounding Newsmax, ratings have dropped from their highs after the election.

And if Mr Murdoch ever feels the need to distance himself more formally from Mr Trump, he has other platforms on which to do so. In November another Murdoch organ, the New York Post, announced Mr Biden’s victory on a cheery front page. After the Capitol riots this week, Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal called for Mr. Trump to resign.

Mr. Murdoch and his son Lachlan, who is the chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, had no comment, a representative said.

Trump TV, which could have been a significant challenge for Fox News in 2021, now appears to be less of a threat. Industry experts say the reputational damage Mr Trump has sustained as a result of the riots – and his abandonment by allies and donors – has seriously affected his ability to start a viable competitor of Fox News.

“This was not positive news,” said Christopher Ruddy, a confidante of Mr. Trump and CEO of Newsmax.

Starting a new network requires approval from cable dealers like Charter Communications and Comcast (which Mr. Trump happily referred to as “Concast”), companies that may be under heavy public pressure not to partner with Mr. Trump after his presidency.

Even digital news outlets, like the websites of former Fox News stars Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, need help from mainstream tech companies that may be resisting an association with the Trump brand.

“The outlook is now severely limited,” said Christopher Balfe, a conservative media advisor who developed digital platforms for stars like Beck and Megyn Kelly. “You have a real distribution problem. And now that Facebook and Twitter have taken action, they have opened the door to a more comprehensive de-platform. “

Referring to a traditional television station, Mr Balfe said cable operators “weren’t interested before November 6th and they certainly won’t be interested in taking anything from him after January 6th”.

Still, some television veterans say Mr. Trump’s millions of supporters could keep a media broadcast going regardless of corporate concerns.

“There will always be a company willing to make money hosting their service,” said Jonathan Klein, former president of CNN.

Mr. Klein pointed out that Comcast and other cable retailers run Newsmax and One America News “despite the fictions they committed”. Regrettably, he added that the violent events at the Capitol could even serve as a launch pad for a niche media show aimed at audiences who want to hear more from Mr. Trump.

“He might have seen it as his biggest kickoff event,” said Klein.

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