The Media Are Really Upset at the Fox News 25th Anniversary

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

There’s no need to wonder how poorly the press is reacting to Fox News turning 25 — they are telling us.

In 1996, a true upstart news channel made its debut. Outside of those in the media biosphere, there was not much fanfare, largely because FoxNews had not established all of the carriage agreements with cable providers. Something that would take years to establish held the network back from being a true contender in the ratings but gradually, the network became more entrenched, and then the established news outlets began to realize they had a contender to deal with as true competition.

One of the things that may have helped FoxNews was the dismissive nature seen in the media environment. Fox, after all, was truly starting from the ground up, without an established news division to use as its booster into the realm. MSNBC, which began the same year, had the broadcast network news division to use as its framework. Bill Gates funneling cash into the venture fueled the establishment of the channel and transforming the already existing NBC cable channel America’s Talking made its debut as easy as possible.

Rupert Murdoch had a vision for his new enterprise, and to bring that to fruition he brought in a titan of a man, Roger Ailes. He is probably as responsible as anyone for managing to turn a built-from-the-ground network into not only a viable entity but the top-rated news channel for decades. The irony being that for all of the venom the news networks have for Fox and Ailes, his arrival was their own fault.

Ailes was a figurehead in the NBC news divisions, and he had not only copious experience in developing cable channels but also success. He was the force behind both America’s Talking and CNBC, so one might think he would have been the natural choice to transform one of his own properties into a bigger force. Instead, the General Electric brass gave the duties of the transformation into MSNBC to another executive, and Ailes took offense and walked.

His teaming with Rupert Murdoch was then inevitable, as both men were regarded as having a similar vision of providing an alternative voice in the news spectrum. They evolved the plan to have a more conservative voice to their broadcasts, countering the uniform presentation being seen across the networks. It proved a successful gambit, as there was hunger from the wide segment of the voting public feeling they were underrepresented in the press.

The first program was Fox News Sunday, which debuted in April of that year, and was shown on the Fox Network. Tony Snow was the original host until he left to become White House press secretary for George Bush, giving his seat up to Chris Wallace in 2003. After the channel began operations, it was a lengthy process to be carried into most homes.

AP/Reuters Feed Library

On its launch date, FoxNews was available in less than 20 million homes. Murdoch began undertaking the practice of paying cable companies to carry his channel, but he was shut out of the two largest markets; Fox was not on cable listings in New York nor Los Angeles. When Time Warner bought out the Turner Broadcasting System it led to antitrust stipulations, and since it was the primary cable provider in New York they were required to feature competition. 

The company reneged on a prior agreement, taking on MSNBC instead. Fox had to leverage the office of Mayor Rudy Giuliani to intervene, threatening to pull its broadcast studios out of New York if it could not be seen in the very city where the channel was centered. Once Fox was on equal footing it began to dominate, and it has held the top of the cable news ratings for years and recently has been at the top of the ratings for all of cable.

This has not gone over well with the competition. At all. CNN and MSNBC have been perpetual critics of Fox, leveling all manner of charges at the channel to impugn its reputation. The hilarity is that this is not only rank jealousy, but in almost every instance, what they accuse Fox of are items those same networks are just as guilty of on their own.

These outlets spew out the kind of false content they love to say Fox traffics in on the regular. Laughably, some in the mediascape today feel the need to bring up sexual harassment items regarding Fox, ignorant of — or more likely — ignoring the identical issues seen elsewhere…today. I do not think CNN wants to broach the subject considering they infamously just brought Jeffrey Toobin back into their fold, and the ever problematic Chris Cuomo is currently enduring a batch of harassment claims on par with those of his brother.

The best reaction is easily seen from CNN’s ever-petulant media maven, Brian Stelter, who cannot abide the network celebrating. Stelter mentions how the network is extremely divisive to the nation. “The network will be in full-blown celebration mode on Thursday,” says Stelter, priming for his trademark melodramatic delivery. “But for the families that feel like they’ve been torn apart by Fox, this is not a happy anniversary.

Sure, Brian. Let’s pretend that yours, and the other news networks, have not been openly hostile and politically divisive for years. The allowing of guests to label conservatives as KKK members or Nazis is not the fault of Fox. Pushing the false Russian collusion hoax — for years — was not the move of Rupert’s network. Casting the 2016 election into question throughout the Trump presidency, only to wheel around 180 degrees and now declare that questioning Biden’s legitimacy is a threat to democracy is the move of CNN, not your competitor.

AP/Reuters Feed Library

But what really has Stelter mumbling into his thin slice of celebration cake in the corporate breakroom is that Fox is not only winning in the ratings, they are dominant. CNN has slid into also-ran status in the cable news wars. Just peer over this list of the ratings from Tuesday of this week.

CNN’s highest-rated program is Chris Cuomo’s, coming in at #27. This is a listing, mind you, of just the cable news programs. Cuomo’s anemic numbers are beaten by Tucker Carlson handily, with over 3.5 times the audience. Making this dismal performance all the worse is that CNN is supposed to be comprised of the established experts. The year that Fox and MSNBC came into existence CNN had already been a fixture for over a decade and a half. In that time of a quarter-century, the so-called professionals have squandered that headstart and trailblazing experience.

This is not to be read as a wholesale endorsement of FoxNews, but you cannot deny the success. Although — CNN is attempting to do just that. Bill Carter, CNN’s other media analyst, was asked by Stelter about a piece he wrote at The New York Times in 1996, predicting little success would be seen from Fox. His excusatory explanation is dripping in sour grape juice.

“The landscape of TV was obviously very different 25 years ago. When I wrote that piece many sources doubted whether another cable news channel would be viable — and they were right. And Rupert Murdoch clearly agreed with them because he didn’t start up another news channel, he started up a conservative opinion channel.”

Ah, so you were not incorrect, because you are free to reclassify the network to evade accountability. This is an apt response for the source. Redefining what takes place while denying his own network also offers up biased opinion in order to present a false story — Carter’s response here is perfectly on-brand for CNN.