nytimes – Fox News steps up pro-Trump policies as dissidents leave

Fox News used to devote its 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. slots to relatively simple news broadcasts. Now those hours are filled with opinion broadcasts from hosts who denounce Democrats and defend former President Donald J. Trump’s worldview.

For seven years, Juan Williams was the only liberal voice on “The Five,” the network’s popular afternoon chat show. On Wednesday, he announced he was leaving the program, after months of hard return to the air by his conservative co-hosts. Many Fox News viewers applauded its release on social media.

Former Democratic Party chair Donna Brazile was hired by Fox News with great fanfare in 2019 as a dissenting voice for its political coverage. She criticized Mr. Trump and spoke passionately about the Black Lives Matter movement, which other hosts on the network have often demonized. Ms. Brazile has now left Fox News; last week, she quietly started a new job at ABC.

On and off screen, in subtle and overt ways, Fox News has adapted to the post-Trump era by going in one direction: Trumpward.

The network has rewarded pro-Trump pundits like Greg Gutfeld and Dan Bongino with time slots. Some opinion leaders who have ventured to criticize the former president on the air have been replaced. And within Fox News reporting ranks, reporters have privately expressed concern that the network is less engaged in direct media coverage than it has been in the past.

The changes at Fox News, which is controlled by father and son moguls Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, came in the wake of what was an existential moment for a cable channel that is home to Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham: The 2020 Elections.

Fox News odds fell sharply after the network announced early on election night that Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. would wear Arizona and later declared him the winner, even as Mr. Trump was advancing lies about fraud. With viewers in revolt, the network dismissed dissenting voices and put a new emphasis on right-wing commentary.

In January, the network fired its veteran political writer, Chris Stirewalt, who had been the onscreen face of the first Arizona appeal for Mr Biden. This month, he recruited a new editor in the Washington office: Kerri Kupec, a former spokesperson for Mr. Trump’s attorney general William P. Barr. She had no journalistic experience.

Financially, the Murdochs ‘formula has produced results: after a rare loss to rivals CNN and MSNBC in January, Fox News’ audience strength has recovered; the channel is once again the Nielsen leader in cable news. In May, Fox News is on track to more than double CNN’s prime-time audience.

Its new 7 and 11 opinion shows – with segments lamenting “canceling culture” and attacking Mr. Biden – are drawing larger audiences than the news broadcasts they replaced. And the right-wing niche network Newsmax failed to maintain its post-election audience gains.

Partisanship plays well on cable news, an idea not lost on programmers on other networks chasing tired viewers. Liberal-leaning MSNBC expanded the show hosted by anti-Trump commentator Nicolle Wallace; he also replaced moderator Chris Matthews at 7 p.m. with partisan commentator Joy Reid. Last week, CNN dropped one of its top conservative commentators, Rick Santorum, after being criticized for his remarks about Native Americans.

“Conservatives have long suspected that the mainstream media is in the reservoir of Democrats and the left,” said Ryan Williams, Republican strategist and longtime aide to Mitt Romney who has occasionally appeared on the network as a guest. . “For many years, Fox News was seen as the only medium that was not profitable for the other party. The Liberals may doubt the power of Fox News, but it still attracts a huge following for a reason. “

Fox News says its media coverage remains strong. And in some ways, the Murdochs are making a rational business decision by following the Conservatives who have been the heart of Fox News’ audience; recent polls show more than three-quarters of Republicans want Mr. Trump to run in 2024.

But under Roger Ailes, the founder of the network, who shaped his appearance, Fox News raised liberal rejecters like Alan Colmes, a Democrat who shared the same prime-time billing with Mr. Hannity until late 2008. , and moderates like Mr. Williams.

Credit…Andrew Toth / FilmMagic

“Roger’s point of view was that you had to have some unpredictability and you had to challenge the audience; you couldn’t just read Republican talking points every night, ”said Susan R. Estrich, Democratic lawyer and former Fox News commentator who brokered Mr. Wings off the network amid his misconduct scandal. sexual.

Ms Estrich recalled that Mr Ailes defended Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, when Mr Trump, then a presidential candidate, attacked her in misogynistic terms. Now, she said, “instead of trying to get its audience, Fox News is shrinking and digging it.”

Ms Brazile said she left Fox News on her own.

“Fox has never censored my opinions in any way,” she wrote in an email. “Everyone treated me courteously like a colleague. Ms Brazile added: “I think it is important that all media expose their audiences to both progressive and conservative perspectives. With the election and President Biden’s first 100 days behind us, I accomplished what I wanted at Fox News.

Mr. Williams will remain at Fox News as a senior political analyst; the network said in a statement it had asked to be closer to his family in Washington rather than travel to New York, where “The Five” is recorded. Fox News said another Liberal host will replace him. Among those in the running is a newly hired Fox Stable contributor, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr.

Mr Williams left after a harsher side crept into his dealings with colleagues like Mr Gutfeld and Jesse Watters. “The Five” has long been a hotbed of heated, albeit friendly, debate, but Mr. Williams was repeatedly mocked and yelled at when he accused Mr. Trump of lying about the election and fueling the election. riot at the Capitol on January 6.

Mr Williams also noted an on-air Fox News report on Mr Biden falsely claiming he wanted to restrict Americans’ consumption of hamburgers. (Fox News later released a correction.)

Credit…Fox News

Its main antagonist, Mr Gutfeld, launched an 11pm show last month that is supposed to rival late-night fares like “The Daily Show”. “Gutfeld! »Attracted more viewers than the previous 11pm offer, a newscast anchored by Shannon Bream that was shifted to midnight.

Fox News is still in the process of determining a permanent host for its new 7 p.m. Opinion Time, which is now a reliable venue for pro-Trump commentary. It was there that Tucker Carlson, the network’s 8 p.m. host, made his remarks about the White Replacement Theory that sparked an uproar from the Anti-Defamation League.

A pro-Trump drift at Fox News is not new: George Will, a mainstream conservative who opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy, lost his contributor contract in 2017. Shepard Smith, a news anchor who was tough on Mr. Trump, left in 2019.

Some Fox News reporters, however, say privately that they are increasingly concerned about the direction of the network. Kristin Fisher, one of the network’s rising stars in Washington and White House correspondent, left Fox News earlier this month despite the network’s efforts to keep her. She was criticized by viewers in November after a segment in which she aggressively debunked the lies about voter fraud advanced by lawyers for Mr. Trump.

Longtime Washington bureau chief Bill Sammon resigned in January after internal criticism over his handling of election coverage, around the time Mr. Stirewalt was fired. (Mr. Stirewalt was laid off along with around 20 Fox News digital journalists, which the network attributed to a realignment of “the business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era.”)

Mr. Sammon has effectively been replaced by Doug Rohrbeck, a producer with extensive current affairs experience on Bret Baier’s newscast and Chris Wallace’s Sunday show. Still, some Fox reporters were surprised when the network hired Ms Kupec, Barr’s former spokesperson, to work under Mr Rohrbeck’s direction.

A Fox News spokesperson said the network was proud of the journalism within its ranks, listing examples including coverage of Israel by foreign correspondent Trey Yingst, Pentagon coverage by Jennifer Griffin and reporting on the crisis. on the Mexican border by Bill Melugin and Aishah. Hasnie.

Mr. Baier, the channel’s main political presenter, announced in May that he had extended his contract until 2025. With Mr. Wallace of “Fox News Sunday”, he regularly lands topical interviews; a recent conversation with Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming became irritable when she blamed Fox News for perpetuating Mr. Trump’s lies about the election and Mr. Baier responded that he made it clear to viewers that Mr. Biden was the rightful winner.

Fox News has a smaller international footprint than rivals like CNN, but it maintains multiple offices overseas and has had reporters in Israel covering the recent violence there. On Wednesday, the network announced an expansion of Fox News International, a streaming service available in 37 countries in Asia and Europe.

Despite continued criticism from the Liberals, Fox News remains a financial heavyweight for the Murdoch Empire; it is expected to generate record advertising revenue this year, the network said.

Even though its programming decisions appear to be aimed at attracting Trump supporters, Fox News faces one hurdle: Mr. Trump. The former president has maintained his scathing criticism of Fox News, which he says betrayed him by triggering the election of Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump reiterated his criticism on Friday in a statement he released in response to a critical speech by former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a member of the Fox Corporation board since 2019.

“Fox totally went astray and became a very different place” after Mr. Ryan joined the board, the former chairman wrote. Mr. Trump added: “Fox will never be the same again!

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