What’s Up with Fox News?
In recent months, the hatred of Fox News from the left has been almost matched by trending memes – from the right! Examples include (to paraphrase) “Fox News has turned left.” “Fox News is being run by Disney.” “The woke wives of the Murdoch sons are running Fox.” “RINO Paul Ryan is running Fox News from his seat on the company’s board of directors.” And so on.
All of that is false. Total BS. How do I know? Unlike most of the new anti-Fox critics, I actually watch the Fox News Channel (FNC). I take notes. I have monitored the channel closely since its inception 24½ years ago. And I have the tapes and digital recordings of Fox News going back to year one – thousands of hours’ worth – to prove it.
The fact is that Fox News has never been more conservative than it is right now. In the past, Fox News featured a variety of leftists and non-conservatives on its prime-time schedule. For two decades, Bill O’Reilly ruled the roost at 8 PM ET. He claimed he is not a conservative – instead, he described himself as a “no spin guy” who complimented Barack Obama for being “a stand-up guy.” Also in prime time on the channel starting in 1999 was Paula Zahn, who joined Fox after a stint at CBS News. She went on to host a program at CNN after she left Fox. Megyn Kelly, who outed herself as center-left after she went to NBC in 2017, was another prime time star at Fox News for a number of years prior to jumping ship.
Meanwhile, since the fall of 2017, following a year of turmoil and uncertainty, FNC has had the most rock solid conservative opinion show lineup ever in prime time on any channel, featuring hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. All three of their (usually) live shows (8-11 PM ET) are repeated for West coast viewers starting at 9 PM PT. On weekends, FNC’s superb hosts include Mark Levin (whose Sunday show features the best long form interviews on television), Jesse Watters, Jeanine Pirro, and Greg Gutfeld.
The conservative critics of Fox News cherry pick a limited number of recent incidents and claim that they define FNC, including Melissa Francis shutting down a discussion of George Soros on Outnumbered (Soros’s influence has been covered at length on Tucker Carlson’s and Steve Hilton’s programs, among others); the Fox News Decision Desk’s early election night call of Arizona for Joe Biden – a prediction that held up (subsequently one of the experts who engineered that call has left the channel); and the sudden departure on February 5 of popular Fox Business host Lou Dobbs (reportedly in the works for some time, with one of his time slots given to Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council from 2018 to 2021 and a staunch defender of Donald Trump).
These and other conservative critiques ignore the bigger picture of what Fox News has achieved during its quarter century of challenging the mainstream media and what it is doing now.
A little history
Unfortunately, these days most people still rely on the old media a.k.a., the legacy media or the mainstream media (MSM) for their news. So it has been for the past century. Last year was the 100th anniversary of radio – an important anniversary of broadcasting that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere. Radio morphed into TV, and now most videos are being viewed on the Internet. The more that technology advances, the more “mediated” (filtered and manipulated) the reality it depicts has become.
Commercial television broadcasting that the public could access on home receivers began in the U.S. in 1948, three decades after the introduction of broadcast radio. For the next three decades, there were essentially three TV channels: the mainstream alphabet networks (with PBS added in the 1970s) and their well-funded news departments. Some larger cities had at most six or seven channels. Television news since its inception was always a bit left of center, but the networks and local channels, and the rest of the MSM, still tended to adhere to a modicum of traditional journalistic standards.
There were examples of fake news, however. In 1964, right after Arizona’s conservative Senator Barry M. Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination to run against Lyndon Johnson, CBS News’s chief foreign correspondent Daniel Schorr produced a completely fake news piece that aired nationally on CBS TV. He claimed Goldwater would launch his presidential campaign by traveling to Germany to visit a site associated with Adolf Hitler. Despite the toxic, totally made-up nature of this story, Schorr was not held accountable. He remained with CBS for another decade and a half and then he closed out his career at NPR.
Back then, 50-60 years ago, there was a counterweight to the national MSM – the thousands of local TV and radio stations and newspapers around the country, most of which were independently owned. Many of them were conservative. By the 1980s and ‘90s with massive corporate consolidation, independent local ownership was becoming a thing of the past. For the most part, meaningful local media competition and independence no longer exist today.
In 1980, CNN – the Cable News Network – began. The brainchild of leftist globalist Ted Turner, it was the first 24/7 live news network. The Gulf War in 1990-1991 brought CNN to sudden international prominence.
In 1996, there was a sea change as two other well-funded players entered the cable news scene: MSNBC came on in July – a collaboration of Microsoft and NBC, hence “MSNBC.” (Today Microsoft is no longer a part of MSNBC.) In October 1996, the Fox News Channel premiered. It was the first mainstream media outlet that promised to be fair and balanced, while being open to and non-judgmental of conservative viewpoints. Fox News was run by Roger Ailes (a conservative media genius) as part of the communications empire of international conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
In January 2002, Fox News became #1 in the cable news ratings and it held that title for two decades through 2020 until the past month or two. In the calendar year just ended, Fox News had its highest ratings ever as the most-watched cable news channel.
Fox News has always been hated by the left – and the rest of the MSM. But starting in 2018, Fox inspired a legion of new enemies – on the conservative right.
Opposition to Fox News from the right
The conservative opposition to Fox has gained momentum lately. Critics cite the performance and the perceived left-wing bias of hosts Chris Wallace and Neil Cavuto, and the irritants of left side contributors like Juan Williams, Donna Brazile, Marie Harf, Jessica Tarlov, and some others. There have also been a lot of fake allegations made, for example that left-wing Disney is running Fox News – false – or that both of the sons of Rupert Murdoch are running Fox – half-true, only one son is, and he’s the more conservative of the two (see below). Conservative critics have also cited RINO former Rep. Paul Ryan’s appointment to the Fox Corporation Board of Directors in 2019 as a sure sign that he is influencing if not running the channel’s coverage. That is not exactly how a corporate board works, however.
In fact, five days ago Fox announced a new multi-year contract with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott. Scott has been with the channel since the beginning and she engineered the schedule change in 2017 that reinforced the conservative opinion hold on prime time.
The conservative critiques of Fox News strike me as ironic and suspicious, because Fox News’s opinion programs, and some of its news shows like Fox & Friends in the morning, and the output of the channel as a whole are bedrock conservative. One example of many: For the first 12 years, Sean Hannity had to share a prime-time marquee program with his leftist counterpart the late Alan Colmes. In January 2009 Hannity went solo with his program Hannity which has been the most-viewed show on FNC for much of the past decade.
In addition, Fox today also has Mark Levin, Jeanine Pirro, Jesse Watters, Greg Gutfeld, Pete Hegseth, Steve Hilton, Tomi Lahren, and a number of conservative contributors like Victor Davis Hanson, Gregg Jarrett, David Webb, and Tammy Bruce. This is an A-list of conservatives in any media.
As much as President Trump has kvetched about Fox News, that’s the only place he went on a regular basis for long form interviews. And it was Fox, and not CNN or MSNBC, that showed so many of President Trump’s rallies and speeches live in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election.
During the past month under Scott’s leadership, Fox News is reinforcing its conservative opinion in early prime and post-prime time. Last month, Fox News moved a news department show – The Story with Martha MacCallum – from 7 PM ET to 3 PM and in its place premiered a new conservative opinion hour, Fox News Primetime. On February 10, Fox News announced that starting this spring, Greg Gutfeld’s weekend conservative chat show will move to five nights a week at 11 PM ET – kicking another news program, Fox News@Night with Shannon Bream, back an hour to 12 Midnight ET. So now there will be eight continuous hours of conservative opinion shows in the evenings (five new hours in a row and then three that re-air for the West coast).
Almost three years ago, I broke a story at American Thinker based on a high level source who tipped me to an internal battle brewing at the channel between the opinion program hosts and some on-air personalities in the news department. The names that were mentioned were Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. Smith is now gone – to CNBC – but Wallace is still there. But other – in fact, most – people on the news side are very good, for example broadcast news veteran Brit Hume. Meanwhile, conservative opinion hosts are more entrenched than ever.
And for the record, yes, Fox News deserves criticism like everything does when it’s warranted. Nothing is perfect. I have written around 100 articles about cable news, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. I have offered criticism when I felt Fox News deserved it. For example, I wrote several articles critical of Juan Williams after he strongly defended Louis Farrakhan.
Any discussion of Fox News in 2021 needs to mention Tucker Carlson. The host of Tucker Carlson Tonight since 2017 at 8 PM ET, Carlson has had three decades of experience in Washington, D.C. as a leading conservative journalist, editor, and publisher, and he’s also worked as a host for all three cable news channels. His nightly prime-time Fox News program has become essential viewing, as he’s taken on issues and with a depth and a point of view that are closer to the truth than anyone else in the mainstream media. A sign of his success is that forces on the left are constantly trying to get his show boycotted by advertisers or canceled outright. A new campaign to cancel Carlson started on February 10 after he questioned the widely-reported cause of George Floyd’s death. Carlson also challenged the article of faith that held that the US Capitol Police officer who died the day after the January 6th incursion was killed by a protester. Carson said his staff’s investigations found that the story that the officer was hit in the head by a metal fire extinguisher was fake news.
A strong runner-up in the truth-telling department at Fox News is Sunday night host Steve Hilton. For the past three Sundays, Hilton’s The Next Revolution program has presented a trail of evidence linking Dr. Anthony Fauci to the origins of Covid19 at China’s Institute of Virology lab in Wuhan. (Link to full episodes of The Next Revolution here.)
I would simply suggest to people who are now saying they are finished with Fox News: be careful what you wish for. It’s great that One America News and Newsmax are out there – the more competition the better. But they are conservative opinion channels with limited reach – not full-service mainstream news channels. If that’s your cup of tea, fine. But in terms of Fox, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Meanwhile, Newsmax’s new fans must have been disappointed recently when the channel awkwardly shut down MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell as he insisted on discussing reports of fraud in the 2020 election.
It’s also useful to keep in mind that conservative podcast hosts and online publications that are demanding that people boycott Fox News are essentially in competition with Fox News. Has anyone thought about that? They want viewers (and readers of Fox News dot com) to ditch Fox News and instead pay attention to – and support – them and their advertisers.
There’s one other thing: Two years ago, Fox News started a separate competitively priced subscription-based online streaming channel, Fox Nation. In October 2018, I described the announcement of Fox Nation here. The content is almost totally conservative, including documentaries, hard-hitting investigations (including by 60 Minutes alumna Lara Logan), programs honoring American history, and Bible study shows. Critics of Fox News on the right never mention Fox Nation.
Finally, according to Deadline (February 9), during an earnings call with Wall Street analysts, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch had this to say about Fox News:
The success of Fox News throughout its entire history has been to provide the absolute best news and opinion for a market we believe is firmly center-right. . .
[The center-right] is exactly where we should be targeted. We don’t need to go further right. We don’t believe America is further right. And we’re obviously not going to pivot left. All of our significant competitors are to the far left. So, we’ll stick where we are. . . With that, we’ll see a return to our ratings dominance.
I don’t know what the future holds – for Fox News or for anything else. But in my opinion, Fox News as a mainstream complement to many other sources of news does not deserve to be totally shut out by people who think for themselves – at least not now.
Corrections: date of Fox News becoming number one corrected; host who shut down discussion of George Soros corrected.