Donald Trump’s presidency continues to be the victim of an unrelenting cascade of scandalous news. At the same time, ironically, Fox News appears to be the victim of Donald Trump. As the President’s fortune’s sink ever lower, so do the ratings for Fox News. And it’s no coincidence.
This week MSNBC hit a significant milestone. For the first time ever the network topped the weekly primetime ratings in a commanding fashion. For both total viewers and the critical 25-54 year old advertising demographic, MSNBC led all of cable news. This was a broadly based ratings win that stretched beyond the network’s powerhouse, Rachel Maddow. All In with Chris Hayes, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and The 11th Hour with Brian Williams all won their time periods.
Simultaneously, Fox News descended to lows that it hasn’t seen in seventeen years. They came in third in the demo in primetime behind both MSNBC and CNN. This is fairly conclusive evidence that the media landscape is shifting in the Era of Trump. MSNBC’s primetime lineup has proven to be popular as the nation seeks in-depth coverage of Trump’s floundering White House. Viewers appreciate the perspective and analysis of clear-eyed anchors and guests.
The problem for Fox News is that their entire business model works against them in this environment. The editorial practice on Fox is to hype anything and everything that reflects negatively on Democrats and liberals. Conversely, they avoid or underplay any news that harms their benefactors on the right. Since almost all of the news these days is horrible for Republicans, Fox News is trapped in a vortex of right-wing happy-talk. And worse, they are ideologically precluded from reporting what viewers are most interested in.
Every day there seems to another bombshell story related to Trump’s alleged collusion with Russian operatives. These are among the most compelling stories of any news cycle. The American people want to know whether the President engaged in potentially impeachable conduct. They want to know if he’s in cahoots with foreign enemies. In addition, there are numerous other topics that cast the administration in a bad light. They include: the much despised Republican proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare; Trump’s tax reform that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us; the foreign and military affairs wherein Trump exposes his profound ignorance; the financial conflicts of interest by the President and his family; and the many episodes of embarrassing and/or unlawful behavior by his advisers and associates.
But Fox News won’t cover any of that. At least not in any detail. So if news consumers want to know what’s going on they have to switch away from Fox. And they are doing so in droves. MSNBC is clearly the biggest beneficiary of this. While viewers know there’s an editorial slant during the network’s primetime, they appreciate the exhaustive research and factual basis. Particularly with breakout star Rachel Maddow. CNN has also grown their ratings, but their obsession with phony balance and artificially combative debate limits their upside.
Fox is likely to continue its downward spiral. And not just because of their reporting embargo on actual breaking news. In the past year they have lost their CEO, Roger Ailes, and biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, to sex scandals. They also lost Bill Shine, the executive who replaced Ailes. They are under investigation by the New York Attorney General for financial securities violations. Among their on-air personalities they saw the departures of Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros, and Julie Roginsky. And their only African-American anchor, Kelly Wright, is a plaintiff in a racial discrimination lawsuit along with twelve others. The list of litigants against Fox for racial and gender discrimination continues to grow.
Meanwhile, MSNBC is enjoying record audience growth. Maddow and her primetime colleagues are doing what was once considered unthinkable. They are beating Fox News. Recent reports that suggested that MSNBC might not renew the contract of Lawrence O’Donnell launched a massive outcry that may have forced the network to the negotiating table.
The trends are decidedly in MSNBC’s favor. They have the content and the public on their side. While Fox News is struggling without leadership, star power, or news that appeals to their glassy-eyed disciples. We can expect the fates of Fox and Trump to continue to slide in sync with one another. And as they both alienate TV viewers, the nation, and the world, their influence will decline to match their dishonest and loathsome reputations.