Last September Fox News moved Sean Hannity’s program to 9:00pm to compete directly with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Looking back they might not consider that a particularly smart decision. Hannity is Fox’s highest rated program, but it consistently comes up second to Maddow, which must be a painful embarrassment. And the first month of 2018 was almost all Maddow’s
The first week that Hannity aired in Maddow’s time period he looked pretty good. Of course he front-loaded the show with high profile guests including Fox favorites like Steve Bannon, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh. He certainly wasn’t going to keep that up. But it was enough to get Donald Trump to retweet his son Eric bragging…
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) September 29, 2017
It was mostly downhill from there. In January Maddow outperformed Hannity, and all other cable news programs, in the key audience demographic of 25-54 year olds. She averaged 677,000 viewers to Hannity’s 636,000. She scored solid victories for three of the four weeks in both the key demo and total viewers. The last week of the month Hannity staged a bit of comeback as he ramped up his wild-eyed, conspiracy theory rhetoric. But by month’s end Maddow still had a higher average rating than Hannity.
What’s more, MSNBC was the only cable news network to see ratings gains year-over-year. They grew in total prime time viewers more than sixty-one percent, and in total day viewers more than fifty-five percent. Meanwhile, Fox News declined fourteen percent and eighteen, respectively, in those same metrics.
It would be an understatement to call Hannity’s deranged broadcasts “over the top.” He repeatedly assailed the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller as corrupt agents of the “deep state” who were acting on behalf of a “secret society.” These were deliberate attempts to smear those investigating Trump’s unsavory relationships with Russia. Hannity’s rants derailed with repetitious hyperbole such as…
- “…the biggest scandal in American history.”
- “…never seen in American history.”
- “One of the biggest political scandals in modern U.S. history.”
- “…far bigger than Watergate.”
- “…makes Watergate look like stealing a Snickers bar.”
- “This is Watergate on steroids and human growth hormones.”
No doubt this nonsense will play well among Hannity’s dimwitted viewers and the glassy-eyed disciples of Donald Trump. Hannity is striving to steal the mantle of right-wing kook from Alex Jones. And his guests are often more tightly wound than he is.
This strategy could pay off over time because so much of the conservative audience has a an affinity for tabloid melodrama and unrealistic political soap operas. They like nothing better than the wingnut version of Housewives of Washington, D.C., mixed with some Duck Dynasty doofusness, and a healthy dose of white nationalism. You know, the makings of the average Trump voter. And Hannity is serving it up by the shovel-full.
Time will tell if Maddow’s thoughtful, well-reasoned, fact-based brand of intelligent discourse will continue to best Hannity’s Lowbrow Racist Hour. But it’s encouraging to see how successful she has been against competition that was considered unbeatable a year ago.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.