By Peter Barry Chowka
The Fake News-inspired perception that existential problems are enveloping the Trump Administration is expanding and deepening. As this questionable meme takes hold, it appears that the current toxic political climate is drawing more anti-Trump viewers to the partisan attack “resistance” programs that are playing out nightly on two of the three cable television news channels. Meanwhile, the new ratings war among the three 24/7 cable news outlets is settling into an ongoing war of attrition.
In recent weeks, the Fox News Channel (FNC), considered the most friendly to President Trump, has lost the commanding ratings lead that it held for the past decade and a half. On most – but not all – weeknights now, FNC is coming in second or third to MSNBC in prime time when the preferred demographic or “the demo” (viewers between the ages of 25 and 54) is the metric. The other anti-Trump channel, CNN, has seen its ratings rise, too, and occasionally it wins an hour or two in prime time. With the future of FNC’s iconic conservative program Hannity in doubt, the outlook for Fox News is, at best, increasingly uncertain.
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The rewards for the winner of the cable news wars are substantial. According to a 2015 New York Times Magazine profileof Fox News anchor-star Megyn Kelly, who has since jumped to NBC, “During a 10-year span, Fox News’s profits grew six-fold to $1.2 billion in 2014, on total operating revenue of $2 billion, according to the financial analysis firm SNL Kagan.” On April 20, 2017, the Hollywood Reporter noted that 20 percent of the profits for 21st Century Fox in 2016 came from Fox News, “the biggest-earning division in the company.”
The unprecedented success of the Fox News Channel is accountable to billionaire international media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who bankrolled the effort, and Roger Ailes (1940-2017), the legendary TV producer, political consultant, and all around media genius. Ted Turner, the founder of CNN in 1980 and another larger than life personality, believed that “the news is the star.” Ailes discovered and nurtured personalities – attractive ones, at that – and made them the stars of his channel. (Ailes’s 1987 book on how to achieve success is titled You Are The Message: Secrets of the Mass Communicators.) This ethos had a profound impact on the other news channels, which, like FNC, are also now largely personality driven.