Sub-Prime(Time) Meltdown Hits Fox News Where It Hurts

Over the past year there has been a broad array of economic and political indicators that have been trending generally downward. In the U.S. jobs having been declining, as have exports. Construction has pulled back and property values have fallen. Wages are not keeping pace with inflation. At the same time, approval ratings for President Bush have cratered and Republican Party registration is down. GOP primary voters are showing up at the polls in significantly lower numbers than Democratic voters.

Not surprisingly, this social climate crisis is also being reflected in the market performance of the Fox News Channel. For 2007, Fox News squeezed out a meager ratings increase of 4%. While that was enough to beat the somnambulent CNN’s 2% gain, it was far short of the surging 32% rise enjoyed by MSNBC.

Fox 2007

The new year didn’t produce much to brighten Fox’s spirits. Despite the abundance of news, Fox still managed to lag far behind its competitors. Here is a sampling of some of the important events that took place in January:

  • Primary contests in six states
  • Nine nationally televised debates (two of which were on Fox News)
  • Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in the last days of 2007
  • Deadly violence increased in Iraq
  • Bush delivered his last ever State of the Union Address
  • The stock market suffered historic declines (the worst January for the Dow in 7 years, 17 for the S&P 500, and the worst ever for the Nasdaq)
  • Britany was committed.

This sort of activity usually triggers increased viewing for news networks. Indeed, that was the case for CNN which rose 42% for the month, and MSNBC which nabbed a 37% gain. However, Fox pulled up the rear with a paltry 9% uptick. At a time when viewers are tuning in to news with greater frequency, Fox is being left behind while its competitors are reaping rich rewards.

For those seeking an explanation for the disparity between Fox and the rest of the news purveyors, you need look no further than the content and style for which Fox has become famous. The influence of rightists in the government and the media is dissipating. As it does so, the noise level on Fox News is swelling to an earsplitting shriek. They are descending (and condescending) into a desperation fueled by their own crumbling credibility. They are finding it increasingly difficult to lure fair-minded commentators and public figures to appear on their tainted air. The refusal of Democrats to participate in Fox-sponsored debates is having a real impact on both the network’s performance and their perception as the Republican house organ. That effort must continue and broaden to include ANY appearance by Democrats or progressives (Starve The Beast) The result of this cold shoulder is an over-reliance by Fox on plainly biased personalities like their newest contributors, Tony Snow, Rick Santorum, and Karl Rove. I expect we will also be seeing a lot more of Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, and Bill Kristol, as the Foxians resort to just interviewing one another.

The current stable of Fox News hosts are becoming noticeably more shrill. Chris Wallace recently branded Democrats as “damned fools” for their refusal to be abused by Fox demagogues. Bill O’Reilly went positively crackers as he shoved an aide to Senator Obama because the aide was blocking his view. John Gibson didn’t see anything wrong with making offensive and homophobic jokes about Heath Ledger on the same day the actor died.

Fox News is in a sort of journalistic death spiral of its own. The more people tune them out, the higher they turn up the volume on their idiocy amplifier (and they’re already way past eleven). Then even more people tune out. This process will continue until no one is left but the brain-damaged spawn of a Coulter/Limbaugh clone experiment gone horribly awry.

Fox has already destroyed any pretense of credibility that they might have hoped to use to delude the weak members of the herd, and now they are simply becoming a parody of themselves. They still have a surplus of habitual viewers that may take a while to wind down. But the time is coming when their ratings will be struggling to keep up with the Bass Fishing Channel. And their programming will be just as exciting and newsworthy.