Ratings Rumble: Fox News and CNN Opt for More Opinion

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Ratings Rumble: Fox News and CNN Opt for More Opinion
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Photo Credit: From left to right: Tucker Carlson, Gage Skidmore. Marth MacCallum, Public Domain. Jim Acosta, Gage Skidmore. Jake Tapper, nrkbeta.


Editor’s Note: In case you hadn’t noticed, impeachment proceedings are dominating daily headlines. For example, “coronavirus” was only mentioned once on the front page of the New York Times’ website at the time of this writing. The Democrats’ (and some Republicans’) effort to remove President Trump will likely continue to drive the news cycle over the course of the next week. We covered what both sides are saying about it yesterday. With that in mind—and in an effort to bring you fresh analysis—today’s top story is slightly different in the sense that it uses only one source. The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating overview of the cable-TV shake-up that is happening behind the scenes while the world burns. Let’s take a look and don’t forget to share your thoughts.


Top story from the Wall Street Journal: “Fox News and CNN announced substantial changes to their lineups Monday, as cable news channels look to capitalize on continued viewer interest in politics two months after the presidential election.” Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes:

On the Right: Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is doubling down on the network’s opinion programming. During the 7 PM hour, “Fox News Primetime” will replace “The Story,” which is a news program captained by Martha MacCallum. “Fox News Primetime” will feature a “rotating group” of hosts that will air at 7 PM. The network said it is planning to name a permanent host “at a later date.” Fox News was number one in every major category for 2020 as a whole, however, competitors made a comeback after the election. According to Nielsen, from November 4 to January 6, CNN took the lead in total-day viewership, averaging 1.56 million viewers. During the same time period, Fox News drew an average total-day audience of 1.44 million viewers. Nielsen showed that CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” outpaced “The Story” during the post-election period, highlighting MacCallum’s demotion. “Meanwhile, pro-Trump channels like One America News and Newsmax are vying for the Fox News audience of conservative viewers,” Benjamin Mullin reports for the Wall Street Journal. Fox News still draws more viewers than CNN or MSNBC in prime-time, when conservative opinion hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham attract big audiences.”

On the Left: Turner Broadcasting System’s CNN is also mixing things up. The network is “adding another hour for anchor Jake Tapper, the 5 PM block currently occupied by “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer,” while senior political correspondent Abby Phillip will host a Sunday program.” Chief political correspondent Dana Bash will also join Tapper to co-host “State of the Union” which airs on the weekend. Currently, Tapper anchors that program by himself. CNN also said that Ms. Phillip will anchor an 8 AM show called “Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip.” Lastly, Kaitlan Collins will step in as CNN’s chief White House correspondent. She will replace Jim Acosta, who will shift roles to become CNN’s chief domestic correspondent and a weekend anchor. As Mullin outlines for the Wall Street Journal, “Cable news channels, which enjoyed record ratings in the aftermath of the 2020 election, are jockeying for advantage as the story shifts to the turbulent exit of Donald Trump from the White House and the beginning of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.”

Flag This: On October 2, 2020 our newsletter was titled “Chaos Equals Cash.” We highlighted how “major networks stand to make a killing this election season by stoking division, fear, and chaos.” The shake-up above highlights how each side is trying to keep the cash flowing. It appears that both are betting on expanded “opinion” offerings. This will most likely usher in more chaos because an extra hour of opinion programming on Fox News and CNN every day allows viewers more opportunities for what’s known as “confirmation bias,” or content that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. Stronger confirmation bias will lead to deeply entrenched echo chambers. The crux of the matter is that journalists believe news and opinion are separate, but readers, viewers, and the American public increasingly can’t tell the difference. These shake-ups will only exacerbate that trend.