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Fox News faces the future

Fox News faces the future

‘His end,’ said I, with dull anger stirring in me, ‘was in every way worthy of his life.’
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Buoyed by an intense and bizarre election cycle, last year Fox News earned well over a billion dollars in profit. It was the most watched cable news network in America by a wide margin, featuring the most popular and influential commentators on TV. Fox is the biggest baddest dinosaur in the media forest, as a comet silently tears across the sky.

While profits piled up, last year Fox News founder Roger Ailes was forced to resign. Sexual harassment allegations that swirled around Ailes for years finally reached their tipping point. Similar controversies finally cost Bill O’Reilly his career this spring. Fox News and O’Reilly had invested well over $10 million to keep O’Reilly’s accusers at bay. It was a bargain, as his show has reportedly generated more than $400 million in ad revenue over its lifespan. Meanwhile Fox’s other major star, Sean Hannity, is still in the “they’re out to get me” stage of the O’Reilly Arc. He’s dug in, denying his sexual harassment allegations and refusing to budge.

Roger Ailes will soon be laid to rest. He will be remembered as one of the most consequential figures of his time. Consequential, in this case, being a funeral euphemism, like Joseph Conrad’s description of Mr. Kurtz as a “remarkable man.” In a ceremony likely to be a Sahara of tears, he will be eulogized for his impact on American political culture, without much comment devoted to the public merits of those achievements.

Fox News will go on, as it has since his resignation last year, but the damage is piling up. As a Presidency Fox spent two decades manufacturing descends into chaos, the network is struggling to invent a compelling narrative. Their talking heads keep regurgitating last year’s Clinton stories, as if a Weekend At Bernie’s strategy might delay a reckoning. 24-hour cable news was never a great idea from a public policy standpoint, but Fox managed to turn it into a dangerous national infection. Their audience, the oldest in cable news, is following Ailes into demographic oblivion. A cliff looms ahead.

A media strategy premised on becoming the favorite newsertainment source for the Last Jim Crow Generation is inching toward its denouement. Dominating TV news is like being the king of the pager industry. There’s money to be made on the long tail, but it’s a business model premised on managed decline. Along the way, they continue to serve as one of the most toxic sources of disinformation and political polarization in our country. For all the talk about the divisive influence of social media, research demonstrates that nothing tops cable news, particularly Fox, as our fountainhead of extreme, irrational partisanship.

What happens to Fox News? ESPN may be a leading indicator. America’s leading sports network is suffering as younger viewers abandon broadcast entertainment and pro-sports faces stiff competition from other pastimes. Fox and the rest of the cable news ecosystem enjoys some insulation from these trends, as their appeal comes from an older demographic, but nothing lasts forever.

America isn’t producing a lot of new Fox viewers. As the country becomes increasingly diverse and a large millennial generation moves into political maturity, the influence of these anachronistic media formats seems destined to finally fade. The bad news is that the Fox News demographic has the highest levels of political participation in our democracy. While their numbers continue to slide and their dominant narratives become ever more difficult to sustain, their outsized influence is likely to linger. Decline, rather than collapse, is the most likely path for Fox News for many years to come. And as the entire genre fades, Fox might enjoy tremendous profits, reigning alone, last to disappear, as competitors blink out of existence around them.

Fox News’ audience is remarkably loyal even as their value to advertisers slides and their raw numbers falter. The only thing likely to weaken Fox News over the next few years is competition from other TV news sources who attempt to adopt more of the Fox model. Those posers will find it tough to replicate Fox’s dark success. Unlike Ailes, Fox News probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


  1. A man in a Soundgarden shirt sits down to finish his deal with the devil.

    “Kill Roger Ailes,” he said.

    “Sure,” the devil replied, “but I get to pick one too, and he dies up to 24 hours before yours does.”

    RIP Chris Cornell. (I’m a bit pissed Ailes’s death stole some of the attention away from Cornell’s.)

  2. While Fox News may eventually die off, the monster it has created lives on and continues to grow.

    Indeed, one of their problems is they no longer control the movement they incubated. The people who frequent breitbart and infowars think Fox is a liberal elite MSM not to be trusted.

    The rabbit hole they created now digs itself. It will go on even if Fox news goes away.

    1. Unfortunately, I know a few Fox viewers. These are not stupid people but they are older and do tend to watch nothing but Fox and for quite long periods of time despite repetition of stories. They think all other news outlets are commie librul news if they don’t repeat the same shit Fox is. Everything is the libruls fault and relates to Obama or the Clinton’s. You can offer up proof that what they believe is false and they will cover their ears and deny and deflect and yell “fake news”. There is a theory that their brains are wired differently.

      1. There has been considerable research relating to the authoritarian mindset. I have read some books regarding that. But do not have time now to dig out references. Both of your links relate to this. Ailes had perceived this and structured FAUX News to take advantage of the large group of people with an authoritarian mindset in the U.S.; it actually probably aggravated that mindset. Trump is actively appealing to that mindset. Before him Bush 2 and Reagan also appealed to the authoritarian mindsets.

      1. EJ

        It may be wrong to respond to a Godwin, but: in my view, Hitler’s death was a tragedy.

        Hitler killed himself in order to deprive the world of the chance to put him on trial for his crimes. He was the most evil man humanity has ever produced, and yet he had the luxury of dying by his own hand while surrounded by millions who still obeyed his every word even if it meant their own certain deaths.

        He never had to live to see the rise of the state of Israel, or the success of a liberal democratic Germany which embodied everything he saw as weak and decadent. He never had to see his legacy reduced to ashes, his symbols used by promiscuous bourgeoisie for kinky sexual purposes, and his very name used as an insult.

        He wanted to be an evil messianic emperor, and he got to die as one. He was a death-worshipper who would rather destroy the world than live in it, and he got his wish. This was a tragedy.

      2. It was a tragedy for all who suffered through Hitler’s demonic rule that he was able to control his own time and means of death. The Nuremberg Trials taught the world how cruelty can destroy democracy. How very sad that he wasn’t a part of that sobering process.

        I have no doubt that one day Trump will be held accountable, but how much more damage will he cause before that time arrives? And, who will take his place? Those in the Republican Party who are already complicit in allowing him to function without any accountability? Their actions or lack thereof, are more reprehensible to me for their total abdication of responsibility and duty to the American people to hold their candidate and this president accountable. Actions that are more egregious than those of any other president in American history and which they demanded from the Democratic president, Barack Obama, and the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton. Their hypocrisy is beyond defensible. What is concerning is to witness how this attitude and disregard for any interest save their own agenda is filtering down to the state level and local politics.

        This is an abhorrent situation. The truism, “the emperor has no clothes” has never been more true. How much more harm will be done before the people of America stand up to this shameful behavior? We have the benefit of history through people like Hitler and other dictators to teach us what can happen in authoritarian governments. Will Americans submit to this tyranny or will they rise up? It won’t be easy as Republicans control so many state and federal positions, including the US Supreme Court, but it must change.

      3. My greatest disappointment is the dearth of any leadership in the Republican Party. Let me relink to the column by Howard Fineman from a few days ago and refer back to my postings in Chris last column.

        Finally a few Republican senators are beginning to show a little stiffness in their spines, but in general the entire Republican Party is acting like milquetoast. Ryan and McConnell are particularly disgusting. Both are abdicating their oath to protect and defend the Constitution and that is for ulterior personal motives. As far as I am concerned both could be prosecuted as accessories to obstruction of justice.

      4. “I will be the bigliest and most respected President in the history of the United States to be impeached and that will be an incredible honor as only a small handful of US Presidents are important enough to be chosen for the Impeachment Ceremony. ”


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