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Fox News loses, liberal networks gain

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Fox News is the answer to scoffers who say that the news media have no effect on politics. Launched in 1996, Fox became the dominant cable news network in the U.S. by the 2000s, selling a mix of conservative politics decorated with cookie-cutter blond female newscasters -- all designed by Fox News head, Roger Ailes.  

Bill O'Reilly, top Fox commentator, drew more than 3,000,000 viewers every night at 8 pm for his raging rants -- more than any other cable news program. O'Reilly likes to shock people. Among his famous quotes are calling the American Civil Liberties Union the biggest "terrorist" organization in the U.S., and saying that Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was the reason he was shot.   

Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Chris Wallace -- the network specialized in privileged white men working themselves into rages over threats to their own security. Many of  #45's favourite conspiracy theories first aired on Fox News.

But a funny thing happened in this "leg cam" paradise, where cameras shot female anchors from the thigh up, and where on-air women got more comments on their make-up than on their editorials. Women at Fox started complaining about sexual harassment.

When fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Fox president Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, alleging that he fired her when she refused his advances, six other women stepped forward immediately with similar complaints of harassment.  A workplace survey turned up dozens more.

Rupert Murdoch and his sons, who own Fox News, successfully pressured Ailes to resign. Top Fox anchors and commentators started looking for other jobs. But the best was yet to come.

The New York Times revealed that Fox had paid five women a total of $13 million to settle sexual harassment claims against O'Reilly. Advertisers began pulling their ads from his show. Then the group that organized the Women's March on Washington joined in lobbying the advertisers. Boycott group Sleeping Giants jumped in too, adding Fox to the Breitbart advertisers they were targeting.

Fox has cratered in 2017. Or rather, cable news viewership has soared, with MSNBC winning most of the new viewers, CNN's share increasing by almost half, and Fox following in third place. As Variety reported:
"All three major cable news networks saw increases in their ratings compared to the same period last year, but CNN and MSNBC saw the biggest lifts in all key measures."

"In total day, MSNBC was up 93% in total viewers and 78% in the demo. CNN was next, up 41% in viewers and 59% in the demo. Fox News was up 22% in viewers and 40% in the demo. Primetime was much the same, with MSNBC seeing an incredible 105% rise in total viewers compared to last May and a 101% increase in the demo...."

For a journalist, this sudden resurgence of interest in the news is heartening, especially after #45's constant media critiques. An informed electorate is the backbone of democracy, yet most American news media are starving to death. Only Fox has been reporting $1 billion annual profit. 

Until now.

"In a development that has sparked murmurs throughout the cable news business," writes Media Matters for America, "Fox News in recent weeks has regularly finished in last place among advertising-friendly viewers between the ages of 25 and 54...And yes, a lot of this is President Donald Trump's fault."

Adweek magazine also credits #45 for MSNBC’s sudden popularity: "The seemingly non-stop chaos coming out of the Trump administration has been providing MSNBC with huge prime time ratings," says the May 31 issue.

“In fact, MSNBC finished May as the No. 1 cable news network in the advertiser-friendly A25-54 demo for weekday prime (Mon-Fri, 8 – 11 p.m.), per Nielsen. This is the first time the network has defeated both Fox News and CNN on weeknights in the demo since September 2000..."

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is the biggest sweepstakes winner, a stunning contrast to Fox News' brash opinionated ideologues.  Maddow researches deeply and presents her case in intricate detail. Her show was #1 among the crucial 25-54 age group, for the month of May.   

Fox News -- sometimes called Faux News -- has been peddling fake news practically since its inception as a voice for America's under-served conservatives. Fox supported George Bush. President Obama wouldn't talk to them. #45 watches Fox compulsively; they practically write his policies, to the extent that he has any.  

But among the public, it seems that even ideologues have their limits. "The sheer cascade of events last week that made Trump look so bad, it was simply too much for that audience and they didn’t want to tune in to the news last week," a former CNN president told the LA Times.

Of course, even if Rachel Maddow retains her hold as top cable news show, 45 probably won’t take his policies from her. But perhaps her growing audience of engaged and enraged voters, will. And that swing, like Fox News’ rise, will demonstrate the importance of news media to a functioning democracy.   

Image: Flickr/colecamplese

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