President Obama’s reelection has had a devastating impact on Fox News. Ratings are down, viewer trust is at an all time low, and now the network is caught in the middle of a Republican civil war.
Republicans and right wing media have become fond of claiming that President Obama is out to destroy the Republican Party, but no other media organization has suffered greater damage from the president’s reelection than Fox News. But it wasn’t Obama that wounded Fox; rather, it was a series of absurdly poor decisions that left the network reeling.
As the Republican Party’s demographic base has shrunk, Fox News has followed. The recent news that FNC (Fox News Channel) registered their lowest ratings with the 25-54 demographic in 12 years is not a surprise. During Obama’s first term, Roger Ailes and company have geared their programming towards the newly radicalized base of the Republican Party. They ran wild with anti-Obama rhetoric and conspiracy theories. The daily Fox News message that the country really didn’t like Obama was one of the main reasons that the Republican Party went into the 2012 election thinking that they could nominate anybody and win. While Fox embraced the quest to make Obama a one term president with gusto, the rest of the country still liked Obama. Fox News alienated everyone who wasn’t a hard core conservative with their extremism. As a result, many moderate people stopped watching Fox.
However, the biggest problem for Fox News is that they were wrong. FNC was so blinded by their partisan mission that they got the 2012 election completely wrong. They were wrong about Obama’s vulnerability, wrong about Romney’s victory, wrong about who would show up to vote, wrong about Republicans retaking the Senate, and most importantly, they were completely wrong about the direction of the country. The success of Obama’s tax message, the popularity of ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and his action on immigration were a clear signal that the country was moving left. Instead of injecting a bit of reality into their coverage, Fox News kept trotting out people like Sarah Palin and Dick Morris to tout the inevitability of Romney’s victory. Viewers reacted to Fox’s propaganda-over-facts attitude by giving the network their lowest trust ratings ever. Except for the political right, viewers don’t trust Fox.
The third wheel to fall off the Fox News juggernaut is the now out in theopen civil war between the Republican Party establishment and the tea party. Fox News employs both Karl Rove, the leader of the establishment push back, and several tea party darlings, like Mike Huckabee. Fox News was a big factor in the promotion of the right wing billionaire-backed AstroTurf movement known as the tea party in 2009 and 2010, but over the past year, they have been trying to distance themselves from the monster that they helped create. President Obama’s landslide reelection turned what was stealth conflict inside the Republican Party into full on public warfare. Fox News is going to be forced to alienate a portion of their audience by picking a side. So far, the network has tried to straddle the middle publicly, but the firing of Sarah Palin made it clear that Murdoch and Ailes are siding with the party establishment.
All of these problems at Fox News were caused by Obama’s reelection. If Romney had beaten Obama, Fox News would have been correct about the election. They would have had a Republican president to sell, and the warfare between the establishment and the tea party would have retreated underground.
Firing Sarah Palin and Dick Morris won’t be enough to fix what is wrong with Fox News. Like the Republican Party, Fox execs think that adopting a more moderate tone will bring the viewers back. It won’t. Having a conservative slant is not the same thing as partisan political activity. Cosmetic changes can’t hide the fact that viewers are rejecting both the ideology and the tone of the network.
Fox News will continue to lead in total viewership until either CNN gets their act together or MSNBC is available in more homes, but their viewership edge, which is built on monopoly of conservative news viewers, is camouflaging some much bigger issues.
The Fox News audience is static. Fewer younger people are watching, and fewer Americans trust the network. Fox News is an aging network, with aging leadership that is being left behind because, like the Republican Party, they are fighting losing battles against demographics and time.
In other words, the fallout from Obama’s election to a second term is causing the piecemeal destruction of what we used to know as Fox News.