When Fox News launched in October of 1996, it quickly became a ratings titan, largely due to the network’s focus on fair and balanced coverage of the news of the day. Since then, the network has evolved into a dominant news source with a right-leaning editorial slant. The network’s primetime lineup is comprised entirely of conservative-oriented commentary and drew massive audiences. The primetime lineup configuration was a gamble made by then Fox News CEO Roger Ailes that paid off in dividends. Think nightly talk-radio for your television set. Most importantly, the network was driven entirely by a strong community of viewers who were largely conservative, patriotic Americans.
Fox News was always out on an island by itself, with democrat leaning media dominating the television space. This made Roger Ailes’ Fox News a frequent target of attacks and scandals because of their immeasurable influence with conservatives and GOP politicians. Their audience of faithful fans tuned in nightly, shattering ratings-records to listen to hosts like Bill O’Reilly give their take on the state of the world. With pundits like O’Reilly on the air, Fox News led by embarrassing margins above the other networks, that were becoming increasingly liberal. While the media at large has always leaned to the left, networks like CNN and MSNBC evolved their coverage to mimic the Fox News model.
As the era of social media began to develop in the 2010s, criticism became more impactful. Viral campaigns would target the Fox News bottom line, their advertising revenue. Unlike like editorials in the past that rarely reached the non-politicos of the world, celebrities and influencers leveraged their massive audiences to pile on to the network. This reportedly caused millions of dollars in losses of revenue for Fox News due to advertising boycotts.
In 2016, Fox News had a devastating year. The network was plagued by scandals related to sexual harassment on the verge of the #MeToo movement. CEO Roger Ailes was sued by anchor Gretchen Carlson for allegations of sexual harassment. Later, more allegations would be made, including those by former host Megyn Kelly.
Ailes would resign soon after from the network he built from the ground up. He died the following year in 2017.
In 2017, Fox parted ways with their top personality, Bill O’Reilly, after more than half of the show’s advertisers bailed on the show in April. The boycott happened on the heels of reports that Fox had settled multiple sexual harassment claims against the host.
The shakeups at Fox News left a void in the steady leadership at the network. Ailes, who certainly had his flaws, valued the sense of community and the working class viewers that built the network.
With Ailes gone, viewers detected a notable shift in the daytime coverage of conservative issues. Chris Wallace, a longtime journalist on Fox News and host of Fox News Sunday, was a frequent opponent of President Trump. Furthermore, White House correspondent John Roberts would also draw the ire of the President and his supporters.
Without the editorial guidance of late CEO Roger Ailes, Fox News hosts appeared to criticize the President with increasing frequency. The 2020 election season magnified the divide between the Fox News primetime lineup, and the daytime talk show hosts. Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson shattered television records and built a massive audience with his show ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’.
Though, despite the primetime success and commitment to conservative values in the primetime lineup, daytime coverage of Trump was becoming markedly less favorable.
In October, John Roberts appeared angry on-air about the criticism he had received online from Trump supporters. His on-air outburst quickly went viral and was touted as another sign that the network was shifting left.
Then, the infamous Presidential debate hosted by Chris Wallace happened. Wallace’s performance was criticized by both sides of the political aisle for his failure to maintain order and frequent interruption or ‘fact-checking’ of the president. The bizarre debate performance by Wallace included the host pressing President Trump on whether he would disavow white supremacists, something Trump had done numerous times publicly in the past, including directly to Wallace during a previous debate.
The debate was an embarrassment to the Fox News network and Wallace himself, highlighted below.
The final straw for conservatives happened on election night and in the days since. Trump voters were outraged by the network’s ‘decision desk’ calling Arizona for Joe Biden early on in the evening while refusing to call North Carolina, a state where he had a large margin, and Alaska, where conservatives have won handily for decades. The appearance of partiality at the network left longtime viewers with a sour taste in their mouths.
Arnon Mishkin, the man in charge of the Fox News Decision Desk, reportedly gave $1,500 to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008 and $50 to democrat fundraising platform ActBlue in 2019. Mishkin’s leadership over the Decision Desk, while also allegedly donating money to support the election of Democratic candidates, undermined the trust in the Fox News editorial process.
This was the last straw for many Fox News viewers.
The bad news: Without Fox News, conservative voices will not have an audience in front of millions of viewers every night. Despite cable television’s total audience share waning, nightly shows remain heavily influential.
The good news: Conservative networks are growing exponentially and could emerge as legitimate competitors to Fox News if they continue to shift to the left. Newsmax reports a whopping 183% increase in viewers since Fox News fans began tuning out. One America News Network also reported an increase.
Most importantly though, there are rumblings that President Trump could launch a serious competitor to Fox News. If that happened, it would spell serious problems for Fox News, which depends on their massive conservative audience to garner advertising revenue.
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