Fox News in the Post-Trump Era

A demise? Can the Democrats forgive?

There is no shortage of media pundits predicting (and cheering for) the demise of Fox News’s hegemony in a post-Trump world. After all, the biggest ratings-driver for the dominant cable network has directed his followers toward other, more caustic outlets in order to share and wallow in rage and conspiracy theories. From Politico:

“Nationalist blogs began running hit pieces on Fox News, claiming its viewership was down, and Trump, reportedly mulling his own media enterprise when he leaves the White House, claimed that its ratings had “collapsed,” because “they forgot the Golden Goose.”

While few can accurately predict the fate of Fox Corp’s largest source of income once President Biden takes office in late January, there clearly is considerable disruption taking place within the company’s 6th Avenue headquarters. You know there’s trouble a-brewing when the trio of nincompoops on Trump’s perennial favorite morning show “Fox & Friends” begin fighting:

Or when Tucker Carlson went rogue on a Trump lawyer.

As The Economist (paywall) noted last week in its piece “As the Trump Show is Cancelled, What Next for Fox News:”

“…since 2015 the network’s ratings have risen by one-third (see chart), and in the latest financial year Fox News and Business generated 80% of Fox Corp’s gross operating profit. Now, with the credits ready to roll on the Trump show, the network must figure out how to deal with the exit—and wrath—of its star.”

Even the Democrats are flummoxed by how to deal with the very public divorce between Donald Trump and Fox News. The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein and Maxwell Tani just weighed in on the consternation within the Dems’ ranks with Pete Buttigieg encouraging detente with Fox News in light of his go everywhere approach to media these last several months:

“He made clear he didn’t think it was wise to go on the evening opinion programs. But he also dismissed the notion that Democrats shouldn’t engage Fox for fear of legitimizing it.”

Other influencers in the Democratic Party are less receptive to a truce in a post-Trump era:

“In a piece passed around in Democratic circles, former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor implored Biden’s team to not just “sideline” Fox but treat it as an extension of the Republican Party. In a follow-up interview with The Daily Beast, Vietor explained that this didn’t mean never engaging with the network. But “I don’t think Joe Biden should sit down with Bret Baier,” he added, “that’s an insane waste of time.”

My best guest echoes what Politico’s Tiny Nguyen posited in her piece:

“So the race is on to determine which outlet — cable, radio, internet or otherwise — will embrace Trumpism the tightest. And the competition is driving the far-right MAGA echo chamber to cannibalize itself.”

Hence, none will dominate the way Fox News has over the last dozen years or so even though the network continues to rock the cable ratings. That said, OAN, NewsMax, and Parler, the Twitter-wannabe for right-wingers, will invariably dilute Fox’s viewership numbers. Will that dilution push the network’s editorial decisionmakers further to the right, or as Chris Wallace might wish, to actually strive for “fair and balanced?”

If they were smart, they would build a higher wall between their news division and their commentators. As The (UK) Independent observed in its piece The future of Fox News is hanging in the balance:

If it follows OAN, and Newsmax and dedicates itself solely to the alternative universe they inhabit and some of the viewers want, its attempt to portray itself as a news network will become that much harder. If the Biden administration shows some claws and attempts to replicate what the Obama administration tried it may find it easier to succeed.

On the other hand, if Fox stays the course, the competition from its scrappy rivals on its right flank may become more serious, especially if, as I suggested in my previous column, one or the other of them manages to add Trump to their roster.