Trump isn't the only one with the post-election hangover. Fox News is facing its most pressing ratings challenge in years, as Trump fuels a schism within the conservative media.
This Monday, between 4 pm and 11 pm, just two Fox News programs scored as the top-rated in their hours. In the other six, one-hour time slots, Fox News finished second or third vs. CNN and MSNBC. That represents a stunning fall for a network that just two months ago, at the height of the election season, was often posting big ratings wins across the board, all afternoon and all night.
Suddenly, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Brett Baier and others are trailing competitors in the post-election news landscape. What really turned industry heads though, was the fact that at 7 pm, Fox News' "The Story with Martha MacCallum " actually finished fourth, behind a former fringe cable news player, Newsmax TV.
In the key 25- to 54-year-old viewer demographic, Newsmax's "Greg Kelly Reports" drew a larger audience than MacCullum did. The victory was shocking, considering that prior to the election, Kelly was logging 20,000 viewers in the demo, while MacCullum was landing 500,000.
"Hard to communicate how seismic this is," tweeted MSNBC's Chris Hayes.
Nothing about 2020 surprises us anymore. But yes, Fox News is floundering, and right-wing radicals are cheering the network's hardship. "FOX News continues to crash and burn after they turned a blind eye to the massive voter fraud in the 2020 election," reported the far-right conspiracy site, Gateway Pundit this week, featuring an image of the Hindenburg, with a Fox News logo on its side, bursting into flames.
“They forgot the Golden Goose,” Trump tweeted last month, about how Fox News had supposedly abandoned him by acknowledging president-elect Joe Biden.
Outflanking Fox in the far-right swamp, Newsmax is gobbling up viewers by telling them it's not possible to know who won the presidential election this year, and that Trump's second term is still within reach. The channel has specifically attacked Fox News for crowning Biden president-elect on November 7. Even after Trump lawyers have lost 50 straight court cases trying to prove invisible cases of voter fraud, Newsmax continues to pump its audience with delusional election claims.
" These [Trump] lawsuits are coming together," Kelly recently assured viewers. "There are a lot of fake news headlines out there right now saying that the Pennsylvania situation is over. It is not. It is alive and well."
The election lies are working. During August and September, Newsmax was drawing a microscopic, overall audience of 100,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen ratings. Following the election, and while championing Trump’s undemocratic claims of a "stolen" election, Newsmax's audience has ballooned to nearly a million viewers each day, as former Fox loyalists migrate to more appealing conspiracy programming.
The idea that it's natural for Fox News' ratings to dip after the election because fatigued viewers were moving on after a huge news event doesn't add up in this case. While Fox News has been sliding in recent weeks, one key competitor has been surging — CNN in November notched the network's most-watched month in its history, averaging two million viewers in primetime each night. For weeks now, CNN has been beating Fox News in the 25-to-54 demo, a crucial advertising category that Fox has owned for years.
Since Election Day, Fox News' coverage of the "stolen" contest has been incoherent at best. At first, there seemed to be some resistance — likely dictated by Fox boss Rupert Murdoch — to follow Trump down the deranged "stolen" rabbit hole. Days after the election, when Kayleigh McEnany held a press conference to double down on allegations of fraud, illegal voting, and a rigged election, Fox News host Neil Cavuto cut away: “Whoa, whoa, whoa – I just think we have to be very clear. She’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this." Weeks ago Ingraham even seemed to suggest it was time for Trump to concede.
But as the right-wing backlash grew and Fox News' ratings began to slip after becoming the target of far-right attacks, Fox changed its tone. It’s now actively pretending there are lots of unanswered questions about "fraud" and whether the election was "stolen." One on-screen chyron recently read, “Rep Brooks: We Witnessed ‘Largest Election Theft.’ ”(Over at Fox Business, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo have consistently delivered the most craven, deranged, and fabricated commentaries about Democrats allegedly stealing million of votes.)
But does the adjustment come too late for Fox? Has the network done lasting damage by acknowledging Biden's victory, thereby crossing an unspeakable line among its more unstable viewers?
The irony, of course, is that Fox News for years fed and built this right-wing base into a fevered band of paranoid radicals. Groomed to distrust science, the government, the media, and all Democrats, the movement that carries Fox News' lasting impression has decided that Murdoch's team no longer passes the purity test, and has noisily migrated elsewhere.
The GOP’s misinformation monster is eating its own.