This has not been a particularly good year for Fox News. After the disaster of 2016 that saw their founder and CEO, Roger Ailes, fired for multiple instances of sexual harassment and abuse, 2017 was supposed to be a year of rebuilding. However, their problems escalated as their biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, was also terminated for the same deviant reasons. Several other Fox News hosts and executives were likewise jettisoned, and they faced lawsuits for both gender and racial discrimination.
That left Sean Hannity as the default face of Fox News. He was moved up to the 9:00 pm slot and expected to carry the primetime schedule with newcomers Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. He would also be airing head-to-head against MSNBC phenom, Rachel Maddow. Surely the most embarrassing outcome for Fox News would be for Hannity to lose to a left-wing lesbian on a liberal network. But as the year comes to a close, that’s precisely what happened.
In the first half of December, Maddow outright beat Hannity nine out of eleven days in the coveted 25-54 year old advertiser demographic. On four of those days she also won in total audience. Her demo margin of victory was an impressive average of 656,000 viewers, more than 50,000 above Hannity’s average. And Maddow helped to carry her colleagues to wins over Fox News. Lawrence O’Donnell took five of eleven nights, and Brian Williams took six of the eleven. [Note: The second half of December is not included in this analysis because most of these programs had guest hosts].
What’s more, Maddow has been steadily pummeling Hannity throughout the year. The annual figures for these programs put Maddow in close contention with Fox’s long-running leaders. In total audience, Maddow grew an astonishing seventy-seven percent. In the 25-54 demo she was the number two program (after Hannity) following a seventy-four percent growth surge. And among younger viewers (18-49) Maddow was number one.
Along with those achievements in ratings, Maddow also won two News and Documentary Emmys this year, something Fox News has never done. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Fox News is not regarded as an especially reliable source for news. They exist only to pump disinformation into the muddled heads of Republican partisans and Donald Trump cultists. Their coverage of any issue is predictably focused on advancing right-wing politics and defending Trump for whatever outrageous thing he did or said that day.
And Hannity is the worst of the lot. He openly colludes with Trump, who he reportedly speaks with almost every day. He has appeared in campaign ads for the President. There is simply no more brazenly brown-nosed Trump-fluffer than Sean Hannity. Not even Trump’s TV babysitters on Fox and Friends. And as his fortunes decline, Hannity gets ever more extreme. He is outdoing Alex Jones’ Infowars for crackpot conspiracy theories. This year he has spent hours on pure nuttery like Pizzagate, the Seth Rich murder, Hillary Clinton’s email (still?), and most recently, his fetish for smearing special counsel Robert Mueller. Hannity has led the charge to slander Mueller as a corrupt, dishonest, charlatan determined to stage a coup against Trump. Never mind that Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. And a life-long Republican to boot.
2018 may bring even greater rewards for Maddow and her MSNBC colleagues. She has the intelligence and the insight to make some very dry subjects both interesting and educational. And there is clearly an audience for smart, honest news analysis. The country yearns for programming that is more light than heat. And that’s what Maddow specializes in. She never books hostile adversaries simply to provoke on-air fights the way Fox and CNN do. Her mission is to inform, not infuriate. And when truth is on one side of the debate, lies are never presented just to have a perception of balance. That’s the Maddow model, and the rest of cable’s newscasters should seek to emulate it. It’s obviously a winning strategy, with the added benefit of having journalistic integrity.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.