An internal civil war is tearing at the fabric of Fox News. The events of the past week have brought the long-simmering conflict closer to the surface. The legitimacy and viability of President Trump are under constant assault in the mainstream media as never before – and that is saying something. Fox News Channel executives, staff, and on air talent are taking sides. The future direction of the right-of-center, fair and balanced Fox News approach to presenting the news may well be in serious doubt.
One week ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, a melee that involved Nazis, the alt-right, Antifa, and anarchists resulted in the death of one woman with at least 19 more people injured. The whole country seems to be taking sides or at least trying to understand what really happened that led to such a violent confrontation over the future of Civil War statues and monuments on public land. Most mainstream news organizations are siding with the left-wing narrative and blaming President Trump for his unconventional reaction to the events at Charlottesville. They are also largely absolving the anarchist and Antifa participants of any responsibility for the violence that took place.
Fox News still has its defenders of Trump. But they are increasingly being outnumbered by other hosts, contributors, and guests on the channel. Newsweek, an anti-Trump publication, put it this way in its August 17 story “Fox News Can’t Stop Literally Crying About Donald Trump’s Worst Week Yet:”
It’s been a bizarre week for the folks at Fox News…. For many of the network’s personalities, it’s been one of the most challenging weeks since Trump took office – and the tears have been steadily streaming on live television for its millions of viewers nationwide.
A Trail of Tears
On Thursday, August 17, during a live discussion of the Charlottesville rally five days earlier, Fox News anchor and host Melissa Francis, according to Newsweek, was having a hard time:
“I am so uncomfortable having this conversation,” Francis said, bursting into tears. “I know what’s in my heart, and I know that I don’t think anyone is different, better or worse based on the color of their skin. But I feel like there is nothing any of us can say right now without being judged.”
As Newsweek described the moment:
The tears arrived after Francis’s fellow anchors, Juan Williams and Marie Harf [Harf is in fact a contributor, not an anchor], both rejected her support for the president’s statements. . . Francis was then comforted by Harris Faulkner, a black female anchor for the network’s show Outnumbered, who said “there have been a lot of tears on our network, and across the country and around the world.”
There was more crying when Abby Huntsman, filling in as a Fox & Friends weekday co-host on Wednesday morning, was discussing the controversy over Confederate statues and the President’s reaction to Charlottesville with two black guests. Newsweek provided the transcript:
“It’s beyond a monument. This is about hatred. This is about white supremacy,” Democratic contributor Wendy Osefo said Wednesday.
“There are good people on both sides of this debate.…” Huntsman responded, seemingly attempting to pivot away from an emotional conversation.
But when she leaned on her Republican pundit Gianno Caldwell for support, she was met with more disdain for the president’s behavior – and more tears.
“I come today with a very heavy heart,” Caldwell said, wiping away tears. “Last night, I couldn’t sleep at all because president Trump, our president, has literally betrayed the conscience of our country.”
“No…” Huntsman interjected, trailing off.
The Daily Beast also took note of the segment:
By the end of the segment, Caldwell was openly weeping, wiping tears from his eyes as Osefo nodded along in support and started to tear up herself. Hunstman had no idea what she had walked into and no concept of how to handle it.
Some Fox hosts, anchors, contributors, and guests have attempted to defend Trump – or, like Huntsman, tried without much success to stake out a middle ground – without opening themselves to charges of racism or being Nazi sympathizers or apologists. Others have put aside their objectivity and ventured into unabashed opinion journalism. The most prominent example was Fox News Specialist co-host Eboni K. Williams. On Monday, Williams delivered a four-minute long monologue that strongly criticized President Trump. The following day, she reported that she had received email “death threats” because of her commentary, and that became a major story that lasted for the next several days. Also on Monday’s Specialists, co-host Kat Timpf said “I have too much eye makeup on right now to be crying. It’s disgusting.”
Meanwhile, reliable conservative prime time hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity took a more measured approach to the escalating criticisms of Trump that characterized most of the coverage in the rest of the mainstream media and at Fox, as well. Unlike all of the prime-time hosts at CNN, who covered few other stories as the week went on, including downplaying the terrorist attack in Barcelona on Thursday, Carlson and Hannity took time to report other important news of the week. Carlson, Hannity, and several of the hosts on The Five also pointed out that Trump’s critics were often misrepresenting what the POTUS had actually said about Charlottesville.
One of the Murdoch Boys Adds His Voice
James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s new CEO, is one of the “Murdoch Boys” – the two sons of Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch who are moving into positions of power at the global media conglomerate that their father built over six decades. As the week after Charlottesville was drawing to a close, James Murdoch went on the record deploring Trump and appearing to criticize his own news channel for some of its pro-Trump coverage. The Murdochs’s own publication, The Wall Street Journal, broke the story on Friday: “Trump Criticized by James Murdoch: ‘There Are No Good Nazis’ – Head of 21st Century Fox joins growing dissent at president’s response to Charlottesville violence.” The vehicle for James Murdoch’s critique was a personal note he emailed to friends and colleagues on Thursday.
What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people…. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.
The New York Times quickly published the entire text of Murdoch’s email in addition to another article that labeled the missive a “rebuke” of Trump. The WSJ noted that Murdoch’s communication was a kind of shot across the bow aimed at Fox News:
Many commentators on Fox News, a unit of 21st Century Fox, have been supportive of President Trump’s handling of Charlottesville and Mr. Murdoch’s note was seen by some there as a criticism of its coverage, a person close to the situation said.
These latest examples of disequilibrium or disunity at Fox News – which likely mimic what is going on in the country at large – appear within a context of mounting challenges for the channel. On August 17, a number of headlines blared like this one in Variety: “MSNBC Ranks as No. 1 Cable Network in Total Viewers for First Time Ever.” That news no doubt did not improve James Murdoch’s mood. Variety:
MSNBC ranked as the number one network across all of cable in total viewers for the first time in its history, according to Nielsen data.
For Wednesday, Aug. 16, MSNBC averaged 1.52 million viewers for the total day across all of cable, edging out second place Fox News, who averaged 1.5 million. CNN ranked fourth among all cable networks for the day with 1.13 million total viewers. Nickelodeon was third with 1.17 million. However, in the key adults 25-54 demographic, CNN was number one among the cable news networks for the total day, averaging 381,000 viewers in that measure. Fox News was second in the demo for total day with 353,000 viewers, and MSNBC was third with 343,000.
Fox News did come in second to MSNBC and CNN depending on the audience metric, so the ratings picture could have been worse – except when you consider that one year ago, and for the fifteen years before that, Fox News almost always won the ratings in both total viewers and the preferred demographic by wide margins, sometimes with higher numbers than both CNN and MSNBC combined.
Fox’s immediate remedy is to shuffle its schedule starting around Labor Day when it is expected that the under-performing program The Five will return to its 5 P.M. E.T. time period, freeing up 9 P.M. for Hannity and 10 P.M. for, presumably, a new show starring Laura Ingraham. However, with the growing influence on Fox News of the liberal Murdoch Boys, and their equally left-leaning wives, it is unclear how long the new execs at 21st Century Fox will tolerate Hannity – and Tucker Carlson – in prime time. If President Trump’s popularity continues to decline and if the Deep State’s moves to impeach the president succeed in gaining momentum, all bets are off.