If you pay any attention to the business side of the media, you are at least a little aware that post-Trump presidential politics have not been the ratings boon the Trump era was for pretty much every news outlet. It was expected, and many outlets tried to head it off in various ways — either outright explaining that “things would be different” after Trump or making staffing changes to maximize those who became a big name during the Trump era.
But the impact was bigger than I think anyone really anticipated. The “Resistance” era of news coverage is officially over, though many still cling to the hope that being sufficiently anti-Trump during the Biden administration will still be able to get those hyperpartisan viewers that kept them afloat from 2015-2020. Ratings have cratered almost across the board, but none so much as CNN.
If you want to talk about a smoking crater, the “most trusted name in news” is… apparently not anymore. Fox News has been largely dominating the ratings across the board, but MSNBC is coming in second place more often than not, leaving CNN behind both openly partisan networks.
I say “both openly partisan” because CNN is living a lie. They are very partisan, and despite how down-the-middle they want to pretend to be. Jim Acosta, Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and Brian Stelter alone proved they were more willing to be anti-Trump than actual journalists. One major story at CNN was retracted, and others were quietly edited or just pigeon-holed when different facts came up. They offered contradictory takes during COVID-19 that appear to be largely based on reporting whatever was the opposite of what Trump was saying at the time.
And despite how “sufficiently resistant” they were during the Trump years, the viewership they picked up during that time was not loyal.
The drop CNN is experiencing is profound. On Friday, not one program broke 900K total viewers. Prime averaged less than 800K overall.
For comparison, the network averaged 2.74 million viewers in January, so we're talking about more than two-thirds of the audience – gone. https://t.co/a4f14QXStm
— Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) May 10, 2021
A simple Google search of “CNN ratings” further verifies that this isn’t a one-off event. It’s been happening consistently, getting worse each time, since January. Perhaps this is the floor, but I am not entirely convinced.
So why is everyone leaving the network and going to either Fox or MSNBC? There are probably multiple reasons, but a lot of them boil down to this: If people want partisan news, they’ll go someplace that caters to their worldview. That’s why MSNBC has grown alongside Fox News (though Fox is taking the lion’s share of the key demographics).
CNN will point to Fox News and say it’s about misinformation, fake news, and blind loyalty to Trump, but that’s not quite accurate. Fox News took a major ratings hit from Trump supporters in the aftermath of the very early call in Arizona on election night. And the network itself has not been as incessantly pro-Trump as, say, Newsmax or OAN — both of which have also seen a rise in their audience numbers.
CNN’s behavior during and after Trump has been, essentially, a lie. They rarely operate as a news outlet anymore, instead going all-in on remaining as anti-Trump and anti-Republican as possible in the vain hope that the Trump-addicted audience that sustained them over the past several years will come back. But that audience isn’t there anymore. They have gone to their ideological homes.
But, the number of cable news watchers is also down significantly. If CNN wanted to grab those who used to watch news but don’t anymore, they could focus on making themselves a down-the-middle outlet fairly representing (but also challenging) both sides equally. In theory.
Of course, like communism, that idea only works in theory.