A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Four years ago, Fox News headed into the Trump presidency with an unprecedented opportunity. It was not only the primary source of news for the Republican Party, but also the primary source for President Trump himself. The network could have used the opportunity to act responsibly. It could have leveraged its contacts within Trump’s inner circle and the GOP to double down on reporting and break some real news. It could have — at the very least — delivered the cold hard truth to the millions who relied on it for accurate, reliable information.
But it did none of those things. Instead, Fox chose to run in the opposite direction. The propagandists on the network were empowered like never before while the so-called “straight news” hours became Trumpier and Trumpier. Its hosts scored dozens of Trump interviews, but, in most cases, instead of pressing him with tough questions, they egged on his worst tendencies. Even when not talking directly with him, the hosts were speaking directly to him. And they egged on those poor tendencies by feeding him a steady diet of hyper-partisan stories and outright disinformation. While it is officially called the “Trump presidency,” there is a good case to be made that it should be referred to as the “Fox News presidency.”
Now, that is all coming to an end. But it is important to realize that none of that had to happen. Rupert Murdoch, who has already earned more money than he can possibly know what to do with, could have put an end to it with a snap of a finger. He could have done this when his hosts lied about the Russia investigation and pushed “deep-state” nonsense. He could have done it when his hosts misled the American public about the coronavirus. He could have done it when the network’s top personalities entertained wild conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. He did not.
Instead, Murdoch tweaked the network in another way. As Stelter reported earlier this month, Murdoch was personally involved in shaking up Fox’s daytime lineup. That new lineup premiered on Monday. The biggest change? Replacing Martha MacCallum’s newscast — which was already overtly conservative — with another right-wing talk show. More opinion, less news.
Is MacCallum hosting a right-wing opinion show now?
While MacCallum lost her 7pm time slot, she is now hosting at 3pm. The promos said she would bring her “unmatched perspective” to the daytime hour. If Monday’s show was any indication, that “unmatched perspective” translates to a right-wing POV. For her debut at 3pm, MacCallum’s guest list consisted of Sara Carter, Charlie Kirk, Alex Berenson, Geraldo Rivera, Rep. Nancy Mace, K.T. McFarland, Heather Higgins, and Stephanie Cutter. Which is to say her hour was ripe with pro-Trump pundits. And while Cutter was on her show, MacCallum’s posture was adversarial, of course.
Kilmeade plays the hits
Brian Kilmeade on Monday became the first person to try out for host of “Fox News Primetime” — which, I feel obligated to note, is not actually in primetime given that primetime doesn’t start until 8pm. Kilmeade played all the hits for the Fox audience. He led his show talking about censorship, moved on to fear-mongering about a migrant caravan heading toward the US border, and finished off a segment featuring Barstool’s Dave Portnoy. It felt like Kilmeade’s chief aim was to hit directly back at Newsmax’s Greg Kelly, which has chipped away some of Fox’s audience at 7pm, and earn some of that audience back…
Will this call Fox’s viewers back home?
Fox is used to obnoxiously boasting that it dominates its competitors in the ratings. But right now, as Stelter wrote Friday, the channel is stuck in third place. The changes that were implemented Monday should be viewed through that frame. Will the shakeup bring Fox fans home? Also: More big changes are coming soon. Which hours will be shaken up next?