Tonight’s the Night: Can Fox News Get Its Mojo Back?

Tonight, Fox News will begin to take the first steps in an attempt to undo the damage to its brand caused by over a year’s worth of bad news and poor decisions. The cable channel’s strongest on air personality, Sean Hannity, will be shifted to the center of prime time and its weakest show, The Five, will be banished from the evening schedule. These and other moves are setting the stage for the biggest battle yet in the cable news wars involving FNC, CNN, and MSNBC.

For the past fifteen months, Fox News has been in trouble. In July 2016, the channel’s fifteen year-long ratings dominance began its slow erosion after modern television pioneer Roger Ailes, the co-founder and CEO of Fox News and its hands-on guiding influence since it started in 1996, was forced out. This led to a domino-like effect with the subsequent ouster of prominent on-air personalities and executives. Their names include Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, Bob Beckel, and Ailes’s key second-in-command, Bill Shine. All of them got the boot after published reports that they had sexually harassed women employees or been a party to enabling or covering up others’ alleged abuses. (Beckel was alleged to have uttered a racial slur to a fellow employee and was immediately dismissed.)

What were the exact allegations against these and other ousted individuals? Several civil lawsuits filed by women who worked at Fox that never went to trial included some specific but undocumented and unproven claims. Press accounts, many of them citing anonymous sources, some of them completely unsourced, added to the piling on. The mainstream media has long been populated with Fox News Channel enemies and naysayers and every new report was treated as fact. However, nothing that was alleged against any of the named individuals ever made it to a court of law. None of the allegations was ever proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The results of internal company investigations were not reported and never leaked. No one who was fired or forced to resign had a chance to face his accusers.  And everyone who was accused has consistently protested his innocence.

Absent the experienced leadership at the top and some of its best and most popular on-air talent, Fox News began to flounder. The on-air product that had constituted an unassailable ratings powerhouse started to look unstable and chaotic. The channel was able to hold on to a significant share of the total viewing audience – but that wasn’t much to crow about. The competition, in the eyes of Fox News’s traditionally minded viewers, was totally unwatchable anyway.

In fact, with the election of Donald J. Trump as president, that competition, at CNN and MSNBC, had gone off the rails and become little more than echo chambers for the Resistance dedicated to taking down President Trump. Surprisingly, the diet of unceasing attacks aimed at the new POTUS appealed to an increasing number of viewers, effectively growing the audience for cable television news. The preferred audience demographic of cable television news watchers between the ages of 25 and 54 that advertisers covet, once pretty much owned by Fox, was now up for grabs. Incredibly, the number one show on cable news shifted from O’Reilly, who held the title for fifteen years until his firing last April 19, to leftist Resistance leader Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, who had previously struggled in the ratings.

Still frame from Fox News online promotional video for Sean Hannity

Possibly Fox News’ strongest evening lineup ever

With millions of dollars in advertising revenues and corporate profits at stake, something had to give, and finally it has: Last week, it was confirmed that Fox News’s schedule would undergo a major change, starting tonight September 25, 2017. Sean Hannity, approaching the start of his 22nd year with Fox News, will move back an hour to his original time slot of 9 P.M. E.T. in order to directly challenge Rachel Maddow. Five weeks from tonight, round two of the new nighttime schedule will kick in when popular conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham takes over the 10 P.M. slot and veteran reporter and anchor Shannon Bream becomes the host of a new live news program at 11.

The prospect of live, compelling, fair and balanced programming for six hours straight five nights a week on FNC with, for the first time in its history, no repeats between 6 P.M. and 12 midnight has the potential for the channel to recoup its #1 lead.

A hook for Hannity’s first show tonight at 9 P.M. is the first live interview with Steve Bannon since he resigned as chief strategist to President Trump on August 18. Bannon was interviewed at considerable length earlier by Charlie Rose for CBS and PBS, but the conversations were pre-recorded. Bannon is scheduled to speak with Hannity from a rally in Alabama in support of former State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who is competing with (appointed) Sen. Luther Strange for the Republican nomination for the upcoming Alabama special election to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions. Bannon is supporting Moore, while President Trump has endorsed and campaigned for Sen. Strange.

Fox News and the Information War

The survival of Fox News as a conservative oriented mainstream media outlet, with a commitment to fair and balanced reporting 24/7, is critically important in these times. We find ourselves today in the midst of an all-out information war. It’s an active conflict and a war of attrition. Like most wars, there are multiple fronts to this “infowar,” including attacks on the alternative media and unprecedented attempts to control the narrative in the mainstream media (MSM), as well. The latter has been almost entirely taken over or totally influenced by forces friendly to the Shadow Government and the Deep State. Nothing like the current total propaganda matrix has ever been seen in the U.S. since the advent of electronic media 100 years ago, with the possible exception of the media of the era circling the wagons to support the Allies during World War II. Incredibly, Fox News is the only thing approaching a fair and balanced MSM outlet that remains. If it can be neutralized or taken down, it will be a major loss to the First Amendment and the last nail in the coffin of a healthy and independent mainstream Fourth Estate, which has been critical to the survival of the Republic since its inception 228 years ago.

The biggest on-air talent to be taken down so far was Bill O'Reilly, not only Fox News' #1 on-air personality but the host of the highest rated show on all of cable television news for the previous fifteen years running. As Sean Hannity, Fox News’ most popular current host, said in May, O'Reilly's enemies, employing cunning social media-driven tactics of an advertising boycott, had delivered a “kill shot” to O'Reilly. (O’Reilly has said publicly, most recently on Hannity’s radio show on September 18, that he regrets not fighting harder to defend himself and answer his critics last April.) Many of the same far left individuals and organizations behind the boycott and the smears aimed at O’Reilly are now targeting Hannity and will likely focus their efforts on other conservative or fair and balanced Fox News hosts as they rise in prominence. Already, Shannon Bream has been attacked as one who has “consistently given airtime to right-wing religious extremists and hate group spokespersons.”

With Roger Ailes gone and Fox News co-founder Rupert Murdoch, 86, gradually ceding his tight control over his far-flung media empire, Murdoch's sons James and Lachlan, both in their 40s, are assuming greater power over the family business, 21st Century Fox and its most successful component, Fox News. The sons, commonly known as the “Murdoch Boys,” are much more liberal than their conservative old man, as are their prominent and influential wives. This situation does not bode well for the longer-term future of Fox News. Already, in recent history, it has been widely reported that the Boys and their wives convinced Rupert Murdoch to cut O’Reilly loose in April 2017 when Rupert was initially disinclined to do so. The loss of O’Reilly completely upended Fox News’ schedule and led to the end of its dominance in the ratings.

The potential of the new Fox News schedule

In addition to its strong new schedule that will air live each evening until 12 A.M., other changes accompanying the new schedule that starts in part tonight are noteworthy. The entire evening lineup consists of seasoned professional hosts and anchors who have proven their worth. At least three of the evening hosts – Hannity at 9, Ingraham at 10, and Bream at 11 – are unapologetic Christians. While almost no one wants to see a religious litmus test for television news show hosts, this factor promises to appeal to Fox News’s traditional viewer base (as almost everyone else on television and in the popular culture these days parrots a politically correct, leftist party line that is openly dismissive of people of faith). Since 2016, that traditional base of Fox News viewers has often been ignored if not insulted by the increasing prominence given to outspoken left of center Fox News “contributors,” and even some hosts, who act like they belong more at CNN or MSNBC.

Meanwhile, the latter two channels have honed their appeal to their base – increasingly hardcore left-of-center viewers like trendy young Democrat socialists in urban centers – who want nothing less than the total destruction of Donald J. Trump and everything that he stands for. At least three of the prime-time hosts on the other two news channels, accounting for a total of five hours of programming each night between 7 P.M. and midnight, are out of the closet homosexuals whose political views are usually in sync with the leftist activists who profess similar sexual preferences. In other words, there is nothing fair and balanced about them.

Juan Williams

Over at Fox, the most prominent example of an insufferable, impossible-to-watch leftist that comes to mind is Juan Williams.  A one-time contributor and very occasional fill-in host, Williams was elevated to a high-profile five night a week prime time position as a co-host of The Five, the ensemble talk show that mercifully is now moving from its 9 P.M. slot, where it landed on May 1, back to 5 P.M. where it can be safely ignored. It remains to be seen if and how often Williams and his ideological soul mates at Fox, like Marie Harf, Jessica Tarlov, Leslie Marshall, Austan Goolsbee, Richard Fowler, and a number of other leftists who are similarly hard to take, will pop up in prime time now.

And whatever happened to Megyn Kelly?

In an interesting coincidence, this is also a big day for former Fox News celebrity anchor Megyn Kelly, who left Fox last January for a $17 million a year job at NBC. Premiering this morning at 9 A.M. E.T./P.T., Megyn Kelly Today, complete with a live studio audience, will comprise the third hour of the venerable Today show. Hopes were high for Kelly when she signed with NBC, but her first show, Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, which premiered last June, was a ratings disappointment. Reruns of CBS’ 60 Minutes typically had more viewers than Kelly’s first run evening show. Last month, an NBC insider, according to Lloyd Grove, described a “total panic” at the network at the prospect of the successful third hour of Today having been transformed into a Megyn Kelly show in light of the uncertain appeal of the program’s star host.

Megyn Kelly

An AP story on the eve of Kelly’s NBC morning debut highlighted additional challenges facing Kelly:

While audiences are much more familiar with her, she’s become a polarizing figure. Among women – the target audience for “Megyn Kelly Today” – her positive “Q” score tumbled from 21 two years ago to 4 this summer, said Marketing Evaluations Inc., a company whose data measures the relative popularity of individual personalities. The average score for TV hosts is 15.

Peter Barry Chowka is a widely published author and journalist.  He writes most frequently these days for American Thinker.  His website is  Follow Peter on Twitter.

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