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Fox News Is Showing Signs of Strain Under the Trump Presidency

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 24, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 24, 2018 |


Last night on CNN, in a trainwreck of an interview with Kellyanne Conway (are there any other kinds with Conway?), Chris Cuomo said to her, “I can’t let you say things that are untrue. That’s Fox. Go to Fox if you want to do that.”

“Go to Fox” is exactly what most inside the Administration do, including the President, who seldom seeks an audience with anyone outside of the Fox News bubble, where the editorial side of the network feeds conspiracy theories to the President, who tweets them, thereby giving Fox News the ability to call those conspiracy theories “news.”

Fox News juggernaut, however, is still a juggernaut, especially among older viewers. However, there are signs of strain. For instance, on Tuesday — the day that Manafort was convicted and Cohen pleaded guilty — it finished third in primetime ratings among the coveted 25-54 demographic, behind MSNBC and CNN, suggesting that when it comes to reality, either the typical Fox News viewers turns the television off or watches another network, because the other networks actually deliver the news of the day instead of hiding from it. On perhaps the roughest day of the Trump presidency, Fox News primetime spent most of its time on the Mollie Tibbets story (and a bizarre white nationalist conspiracy theory about South African farmers).

Moreover, the leader in cable news, Sean Hannity, is now regularly getting beat by Rachel Maddow, who had her second best day ever on Tuesday, amid all the turmoil (when the Cohen and Manafort news broke, how many of you thought, “I can’t wait to see Maddow tonight!”)

The Mollie Tibbets story may play well with Trump’s racist base, but it’s getting criticism from some even within the Fox News ecosystem. Yesterday, for instance, Geraldo Rivera criticized his own network on his own network for unfairly spinning the Tibbets story.

“We, at this network, are putting that spin on this story,” Rivera told Fox News host Martha MacCallum, who had commented that the suspect never should have been in the country. “This is a murder story. It’s not an immigration story.”

Rivera said he was well aware that “most of the Fox audience disagrees with me — but I’m begging you to have compassion and not brand this entire population by the deeds of this one person.”

Geraldo is not wrong. It’s not an immigration story. It’s a toxic masculinity story.

Geraldo is not the only Fox News employee to go against the company line. The hard news division, while maintaining a conservative bent, still regularly criticizes the President when it’s appropriate, especially Shep Smith — who runs the hard news division — and Neil Cavuto, who yesterday railed against the President for suggesting that the stock market would fall if he was impeached, suggesting that morality was more important than the bull market. Meanwhile, Christopher Wallace was harder on Vladimir Putin a few weeks ago than the President.

Last night, we also learned that a Fox News on-air employee left the network over objections to the way the network covers the Trump presidency. Adam Housley became the second Fox News employee to leave in the last few weeks over frustrations with the direction of the network.

Housley believed that as the network’s focus on Trump has grown — and the number of talking-head panels during news shows proliferated — it had become difficult to get hard reporting on air, according to one of those former employees.

“He’s not doing the type of journalism he wants to be doing,” the former employee said. “And he is unhappy with the tone of the conversation of the channel.”

Some still inside Fox News are also anxious to leave.

A former Fox News employee still in touch with old colleagues said that several are itchy to get out.

“Many Fox News employees I talked to would jump at an opportunity to leave if there was one, just out of frustration,” the former employee said. “There is a frustration with being tied to the Trump administration. At the end of the day, journalists want to report facts.”

Losing two reporters is hardly a big deal for a company that lost a lot of high-profile talent over the last couple of years to sexual misconduct scandals, but it does leave one to wonder what happens to Fox News once the President leaves office or is impeached? Back in 2008, Fox News had sense enough to put some distance between itself and the Bush Administration when it bottomed out, but how will it fare with so many of the most high-profile talents on the network — Hannity, Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro — so entrenched in the Trump administration? They all have a huge incentive to prop Trump up and provide him with cover, because their very jobs may depend upon it, but it’s hard to imagine how they survive in a post-Trump world. But it’s just as difficult to imagine that hard news side of Fox News being able to maintain its credibility after the tarnish of four years of Trump.

With a demographic advancing in age and a Trump presidency teetering, it’s also hard to imagine Fox News surviving the 2020s without some real dramatic changes.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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