MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Progressives have been gnashing their teeth at the right-wing worldview of Fox News since the network was founded in 1996. The death of Roger Ailes, mastermind of Fox, last year has done nothing to diminish that contempt and frustration, nor has the meteoric rise of MSNBC. However, MSNBC's rise is significant, as TVNewswer reported on January 30:
And while Fox News and CNN posted year-over-year audience declines (primarily due to each network's coverage of Trump's inauguration), MSNBC didn't experience that issue in 2018. The de-facto network of "the resistance" posted double digit prime time audience growth this past month versus Jan. 2017, growing +61 percent in prime time and +55 percent in total day....
The major ratings story of the month for MSNBC was the performance of The Rachel Maddow Show. TRMS attracted more adults 25-54 than any other cable news show in Jan. 2018. The program averaged 678,000 demo viewers, versus 660,000 from Fox News's Hannity and the 383,000 demo viewers from CNN.
That Fox News with its aging demographic would run into a headwind has been predicted for some time. However, it is still the go-to channel for reinforcing the mindset and agenda of the right wing among its diehard viewers. Furthermore, Trump's best media friend forever, Sean Hannity, is still drawing impressive numbers to his show.
Fox's loyal audience, one can assume, strongly overlaps with Trump's base, estimated to include 35 to 40 percent of the US population. That may explain why, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, "Trump's TV appearances have largely been limited to the friendly confines of the Fox family of cable networks." Just this weekend, he telephoned Jeanine Pirro of Fox to repeat themes and statements made at his Friday Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) speech.
Trump particularly favors phone interviews. As Washington Post writer Callum Borchers observed about the Pirro interview,
Fox News broadcast what it called an interview of President Trump on Saturday night, but the network might as well have given him 20 minutes of free airtime. Trump bulldozed over host Jeanine Pirro, seldom letting her ask a question and showing again why he likes to make TV appearances by phone.
At one point, after Pirro asked how he planned to expand background checks for gun buyers, Trump spoke for 3 minutes and 10 seconds without stopping, talking over Pirro whenever she tried to interject. By the end of his filibuster, Trump had veered far away from the question to talk about arming teachers.
At other times, Pirro's camera showed her, mouth agape, trying to get in a word but unable to halt the monologuing president.
The Washington Post runs a daily feature with a running time of how long it has been since Trump held his last news conference. At the time of the writing of this commentary, it had reached 375.9 days.
In the absence of such conferences, Fox serves as a megaphone for Trump to directly access his voters. Known for his coarse, strident tweets and statements, he probably won't lose any points by bullying his way through a Fox phone interview. Remember that he is speaking to his followers, with the on-air anchor merely serving as an intermediary.
According to Vanity Fair, Trump's relationship to Fox News is not just on air. In an article entitled "The Trump-Fox News Feedback Loop Is Now Complete," journalist Tina Nguyen writes,
The feedback loop between Fox News and Donald Trump is no secret: the president regularly starts his mornings with several hours of tweets responding to Fox & Friends, and ends his days with online musings about the latest talking points in primetime. In the span of a year, Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity have become, unexpectedly, some of the most powerful people on the planet. Behind the scenes, however, the relationship is even more symbiotic. As my colleague Gabriel Sherman reported last month, Trump has lately evolved into a sort of de facto head of programming at Fox, calling hosts to praise their analysis or to suggest new messaging. "What he usually does is he'll call after a show and say, 'I really enjoyed that,'" one former Fox anchor said. "The highest compliment is, 'I really learned something.' Then you know he got a new policy idea."
The Vanity Fair report also details how Sean Hannity, in particular, serves as a de facto adviser to Trump. Nguyen refers to Hannity as the "Trump-whisperer." Fox News doesn't just mainline Trump administration policy to those who agree with the White House line; anchors and others at the station appear to also impact policies and statements that Trump adopts. One possible reason: Trump values the opinions of Fox News staff because they have an empirical and interactive understanding of the thinking of his base.
Despite MSNBC's growing viewership, Fox News remains a vital link between Trump and the energized right wing of the Republican Party. Roger Ailes may have passed away, but the legacy of a propaganda news network lives on. Trump knows the value of Fox News in keeping his base motivated and in line. Make no mistake about that.