By Larry Schweikart
I can almost remember the moment I gave up on Fox News.
It was in 2015, and they had just had another “expert” panel on of ultra neverTrumpers—people like Jonah Goldberg or Guy Benson who sneered in the face of evidence. It was one thing, I thought, to have an opinion on why someone might be a “bad” candidate, but it was entirely something else to deny the reality that (as I recall) by that time he had led the entire GOP field for the entire summer. Sure, he might fade, but at that point, all the evidence suggested it would be minor at worst, and that whomever the top two or three were left standing, Donald J. Trump would be among them.
Not for Fox News.
Its polling unit consistently was the worst for Trump, especially in the general election when, by the way, not one of those smug prognosticators admitted their error. Fox’s polling routinely rated little better than the horrendous Quinnipiac. Fox’s on-air commentators, with the exceptions of Steve Doocy, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity, at that time, continually disparaged Trump and expected him to lose. It might be added that Fox’s once brightest-star, Glenn Beck, who had left to form his own internet network—which by then was struggling—also was on the anti-Trump train. As for the regular remaining “anchors?” At the time, Brett Baier and Megyn Kelly were despicable “moderators” at the presidential debate and set the tone for all the debates to be Trump hate-fests. Chris Wallace, Fox’s star “reporter,” proved horrid as any of the purely “editorial” personalities.
In short, if Fox was “conservative,” it had a funny way of showing it even back then. Aside from Lou Dobbs, the network was entirely open borders in its immigration outlook. O'Reilly occasionally had guests of varying positions, but Sean Hannity produced a stale stable of repetitious commentators that added little. Regulars included John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and leftists like Donna Brazile and Juan Williams. If indeed Fox had truly been “conservative,” then an occasional liberal wouldn’t matter—but it wasn’t. Slowly, more and more liberals began to appear on panels. And once Trump came into office, fewer and fewer real Trumpers appeared.
Then came the China Virus and hosts such as Neil Cavuto literally lost their minds, arguing with both doctors and Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who had educated himself and been on top of the damage done by the lock-downs from the get-go. Indeed, Tucker Carlson wanted to claim credit for getting President Trump to “take COVID seriously” (which, of course, he had already done.)
Fox Business, on the other hand, maintained some credibility with Maria Bartiromo, Dobbs, and Charles Payne. But when people say, “Fox News,” they mean the news division.
First, James Murdoch, the youngest of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, resigned from the Fox Board in 2020. This did not trigger anything: rather, it was the fruition of the sons James and Lachlan's leftward movement and their extremely liberal wives.
James stated he resigned due to “disagreements over certain editorial content” in the company’s news outlets. He had already spoken favorably of Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in an interview with the New Yorker. James had bought into the myth of Trump’s “good people” comment, saying, “I can’t even believe that I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.” James did not mention the fascist group, so-called Antifa, which had brutally beaten Trump supporters across the country and terrorized peaceful conservative gatherings.
Then again, James may have only been taking orders from his wife, Kathryn. She called Trump a dictator and tweeted “We Did It” after Fox declared Joe Biden the winner of the election without any evidence and with many races that could determine the presidency still in dispute. James and Kathryn made significant donations to Joe Biden.
It has been well known for some time that James and his wife had bought into the global warming hoax and had attacked Fox for not being all-in on climate change. They announced they were frustrated with News Corp, the publishing and Australian broadcast entity split off from 21st Century Fox in 2013, and its coverage of Australia’s fires, which they deeded a result of global warming. James had even toyed with the idea of creating a $1 billion liberal competitor to Fox News—as if that niche wasn’t already populated by a half-dozen other “news” outlets. How much Lauchlin, supposedly the more conservative of the brothers, is responsible for Fox's continued decline is not clear.
The trigger for Fox’s collapse came when the network made an early night “call” of Arizona for Joe Biden, despite the fact that as of this writing votes in Arizona are still being counted with no clear winner (although Biden leads, but still within a range where Trump can win the state). Fox’s Arizona call set the tone all night for a mounting crescendo of anger at the network. In short, by 11 p.m. EST, Fox looked no different in its election night coverage than CNN. Indeed, all evening the . . . wait for it . . . New York Times had more balanced coverage in its vote totals and “meters” of who was winning than did CNN or Fox.
And the predictable result? Fox’s viewers jumped ship at an alarming rate. It came on the tail-end of setting a record for the most-watched election night coverage in cable news history, only to finish the week in third place. CNN, the favorite ratings whipping boy, had just under double the viewers of Fox by Nov. 6 and even the horrific MSNBC bested Fox. Since the election, Fox, has cut away from a White House briefing, with the pompous Cavuto saying that the network could not in “good conscience” continue showing it, even while Kayleigh McEnany was presenting evidence of fraud . . . that Fox and other networks said did not exist.
Both Carlson and Hannity were on mega-buck contracts, and while not impossible to let go, would certainly end any hope Fox might have of viewership. Both, however, have been extremely cautious in criticizing their own network. Hannity prefers to let Lindsey Graham do the talking, while Carlson threw in the towel by saying that fraud existed, but it wasn’t important. For viewers to see him as the white knight would be misguided. He has always distrusted Trump. His appeal came from the fact that he could walk the tightrope of offering alternative views (and engaging stories) about the Left without identifying Trump as the only entity standing between the Left and his viewers.
It was a position Glenn Beck found himself in when he left Fox in 2011. Some of the explanation for Beck’s departure involved his desire to start his own internet channel; some involved his dissatisfaction with living in New York City and the harassment he and his family had put up with, but some also came from Fox advertisers who abandoned him when he rightly called Barack Obama a racist. For someone who had an astonishing 3.5 million viewers in prime time just two years earlier, Beck’s collapse was almost as fast then as Fox’s is today. Beck later told a crowd at a Ted Cruz rally that he was told “Stop telling people to pray,” and that urging people to pray took “God’s focus off important things like war.” Was Beck, a Mormon, “too Christian?” One group, the Jewish Friends for Justice, ran an ad in the Wall Street Journal opposing Beck and said he had been “rejected by Jews.” Whatever the reason for Beck’s departure, it was only a symptom of the deeper issues damaging Fox.
Fox didn’t get there overnight. In addition to James’s transition, the open-borders taint of Fox had positioned it to be an anti-Trump network for some time. Stories about crimes committed by illegal immigrants became harder to find. Then came the army of Trump administration defectors who each carried a story that filled airtime. Wound into all of this was the subtext of sexual harassment at Fox, which forced out Fox Chairman (and creative genius) Roger Ailes in 2016.
Ailes’ resignation came after a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson—but his wouldn’t be the first. Fox’s mega-host, Bill O’Reilly, whose show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” generated almost half a billion dollars in advertising revenue over a two-year period from 2014 to 2016 when he replaced Beck as the top draw in Fox’s stable. The Atlantic opined that the harassment allegations “have compromised The O’Reilly Factor as an (alleged) arbiter of American civic life, and also, relatedly, as a money-making juggernaut.”
Beck and O’Reilly were critical to Fox’s position of not merely being a voice speaking to politics, but also a frequent reminder that there was more to news than politics in maintaining a republic. Whatever their personal flaws, they served as reminders that man does not live by bread, or Charmin, alone. This stood in stark contrast to the coolly efficient and all-business character Fox wanted to portray. After all, to be accepted in the news world, a network couldn’t allow hosts to rant about God, prayer, civic virtue, common sense, and free thought. STICK TO THE ISSUES!
Next, in August 2017, conservative stalwart Eric Bolling was suspended following accusations he harassed female colleagues; a month later, he was gone. As a member of “The Five,” Fox’s round-table answer to “The View,” Bolling was one of the reliable Trump supporters. Former Bushie Dana Perino, jokester Greg Gutfeld (who seemed to warm to Trump over time, Kimberly Guilfoyle and former Democrat campaign operative Bob Beckel provided enough Trump criticism to carry the show. (Over time, Guilfoyle not only ideologically seemed to move more toward Trump, but she began dating Donald Trump, Jr., a remarkable shift for someone married to California Governor Gavin Newsom from 2001-2005.)
Nor was Bolling the last: in July 2020, a former Fox Business producer filed a civil suit against Ed Henry, once one of Fox’s top anchors, claiming he raped her. Fox quickly ditched Henry as well.
The corporate objective seemed clear: to allow sexual harassment suits to completely reshape Fox’s public persona, in the process, getting rid of many of its top talents and more conservative voices. A message went out: The only way to remain at Fox was to toe the line on immigration, climate change, and above all, Donald Trump. If not? Well, Fox couldn’t help you with your harassment claims that were sure to come. Hint. Hint. It’s also interesting that Fox sold off its entertainment/culture business to Disney in March 2019, keeping only the “news” services, indicating that Fox again thought it could separate business from culture and morality.
Fox will not be successful in any of this. None of its “move to the middle” or “fairness” initiatives have won it one iota of respect from competitors that still view it as the propaganda arm of the Fourth Reich. But now, having stabbed its viewers in the back, Fox will learn that a conservative network with no billionaire pipelines of bailout money is not long for this world. CNN and the rest can count on social justice warrior trust-fund corporate slush funds to offset its utter absence of viewers—but not Fox, who’s liberal sidestep has been a decade in the making. The day of reckoning appears to have finally come
Larry Schweikart is the co-author, with Michael Allen, of A Patriot’s History of the United States, author of Reagan: The American President, and founder of the Wild World of History history curriculum website featuring full courses in US and World History that include teacher’s guide, student workbooks, maps/charts/graphs, tests and answer keys, and video lessons accompanying every unit (www.wildworldofhistory.com).