By:
January 11, 2022

Fox News has found a host for its 7 p.m. Eastern opinion show. It’s Jesse Watters. He’ll host a show called “Jesse Watters Primetime.”

Primetime?

Technically, “prime time” doesn’t start until 8 p.m., but I would expect Watters’ show to fit right in with Fox News’ other heavily partisan prime-time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tweeted, “Fox continues chasing Trumpist base viewers, names Jesse Watters as 7pm host in slot formerly held by news side anchor. (Martha MacCallum displaced to 3pm.) Watters’ big break came doing ambush interviews for Bill O’Reilly, has since trolled libs as weekend host and on the Five.”

Watters is no stranger to controversy. Most recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci called for Watters to be fired after Watters’ comments at a conservative conference, urging people to accost Fauci with ambush interviews over COVID-19.

Watters said, “Now you go in for the kill shot. The kill shot? With an ambush? Deadly. Because he doesn’t see it coming.”

CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote, “The installment of the flame-thrower Watters into the key time slot cements a strategy Fox initiated soon after President Donald Trump lost re-election: More right-wing commentary, less news.”

The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt wrote Watters getting the show is in “an apparent cementing of the conservative network’s shift even further right.”

It’s abundantly clear now: The 7 to 11 p.m. window on Fox News has nothing to do with “news.” It’s not journalism. It’s opinion with an agenda. It’s straight-up propaganda.

For years now, we’ve known that about Fox News’ 8 to 11 p.m. programming, but now we add another hour to that.

As Folkenflik alluded to in his tweet, the 7 p.m. hour was formerly hosted by MacCallum and was more about news than the prime-time lineup of Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham. But MacCallum was moved to the afternoons, while Fox News tried out a variety of hosts for a new 7 p.m. that placed an emphasis on opinions. Those who filled in included Maria Bartiromo, Brian Kilmeade and Ben Domenech. But in the end, Fox News went with Watters, who will continue in his role on Fox News’ “The Five,” but give up his Saturday night show “Watters’ World.”

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement, “Jesse’s versatility and hosting acumen has grown exponentially over the last five years, and he has developed a deep connection to the audience through two hit shows ‘The Five’ and ‘Watters’ World.’ We look forward to watching him expand his connection even further through this new solo weeknight hour.”

Watters said he was “thrilled” and “grateful.”

Watters’ new show debuts Jan. 24.

Speaking of Fox News …

Washington Post feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia has a new piece out about Fox News’ late-night talk-show host Greg Gutfeld: “Greg Gutfeld has risen to the top at Fox News — and that’s no joke.”

Aside from being “new,” the piece also could be described as rather generous to Gutfeld. Media Matters for America’s Eric Kleefeld called it “glowing.”

Roig-Franzia’s narrative seems to suggest Gutfeld is a funny guy — the network’s “court jester” — with conservative talking points. But if you watch his late-night show, Gutfeld comes off more mean-spirited, with an agenda more than just a right-winger who is teasing the left with good-natured pokes. It’s much more dangerous, dishonest and insidious than that. Gutfeld follows Fox News’ playbook of chipping away and delegitimizing real issues — systemic racism, for example. In other words, Gutfeld’s “comedy” show isn’t much different than many of Fox News’ other shows, except it mixes in a few cringe-worthy jokes.

To be fair, Roig-Franzia writes, “Far from mimicking the deadly serious voice of Fox News stalwarts, such as Hannity, Carlson and Laura Ingraham, ‘Gutfeld!,’ which airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on the East Coast, is banging many of the same topics, but with an irreverent tone.”

But irreverent does not equal less threatening.

Perhaps beside the point, I ask this with all sincerity: Despite its solid ratings, does anyone actually find this show funny? It’s one thing to do political comedy, but shouldn’t it at least be funny even if it is partisan? Roig-Franzia mentions that Gutfeld might be the right’s version of Jon Stewart, who hosted “The Daily Show.” (Trevor Noah is now host.) And while there very well might be a need for a conservative comedy show, Gutfeld falls short of “The Daily Show” because his show is missing two key things that “The Daily Show” has always had: cleverness and, most importantly, humor.

Oh, one other thing. In the feature, Roig-Franzia mentions Gutfeld’s former show “Red Eye” and writes, “‘Red Eye’ made him something of a cult figure, a performer with street cred in a heavily left-leaning New York comic scene.”

To which Politico’s Max Tani tweeted, “i feel like wapo could use some additional sourcing to back up the claim that greg gutfeld has ‘street cred’ among new york comics….”

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Super-serving richer audiences

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Academic and nonprofit critics of mainstream media have contended for several years that paywalls and rising subscription prices translate to catering to well-off audiences to the exclusion of the less affluent.

Turns out that editors and publishers on the inside don’t have much of a beef with that.

The latest in a bunch of thought-provoking reports from the Reuters Institute for Journalism at Oxford asked 246 news leaders in 52 countries, “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: Journalism these days is increasingly super-serving richer and more educated audiences and leaving others behind?” 47% agreed, compared to 28% disagreeing and 25% with no opinion.

That’s one of many findings in the Institute’s annual Trends and Predictions report released Monday. Other headlines were that revenue started on its way back up in 2021 and that publishers are reducing reliance on Facebook and Twitter, turning to more use of TikTok and Instagram.

The affordability issue surfaced just last week with the announcement that entrepreneurs Ben Smith and Justin Smith plan to launch a new digital journalism venture targeted to a global market of 200 million English-speaking, college-educated, professionals. Elitist to be sure, though Smith and Smith countered that there had not been a significant new player in that space for at least 40 years.

Locally, metro papers are typically now charging $400 to $800 a year for print plus digital subscriptions. Paywalls are tightening and digital-only subscriptions, once introductory rates burn off, are not cheap either. So limited access for those on a tight budget seems inevitable.

The situation prompted a book last year by scholar (and occasional Poynter contributor) Nikki Usher titled, “News for the Rich, White and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism.”

CNN+ adds another big name

CNN+, the streaming network expected to launch sometime this spring, has made some high-profile hires in recent months. The list includes Kasie Hunt moving over from NBC News and, in a really surprising move, Chris Wallace leaving Fox News after 18 years to join CNN’s new service.

On Monday, it announced another notable hire. Audie Cornish, who left NPR’s “All Things Considered” last week, is going to CNN+ to be an anchor and a correspondent.

In a statement, Cornish said, “There are fresh stories to be told and new ways to tell them. CNN has a dynamic system of reporters and storytelling channels. I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

Cornish will be based in CNN’s Washington, D.C., bureau and will start in February.

Exchange of the day

Fox News’ Peter Doocy and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have a back-and-forth in which Psaki smoothly explains the science and facts of COVID-19. Here’s the clip.

Sunday Night Baseball

Former major-league pitcher David Cone, shown here throwing out a ceremonial first pitch in 2019. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Following up on an item I wrote about last week, ESPN has come to a decision about its “Sunday Night Baseball” announcing crew. Karl Ravech will handle play-by-play duties with analysts Eduardo Perez and David Cone.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez, who has been a “Sunday Night Baseball” analyst since 2018, will join Yankees announcer Michael Kay for an alternate broadcast somewhat similar to the ManningCast for “Monday Night Football” featuring Peyton and Eli Manning.

ESPN will have 25 “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts, while the alternate broadcast — to be called “Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod” — will appear on ESPN2 eight times.

Media tidbits

Symone Sanders. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

  • Symone Sanders, the former spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, is joining MSNBC as an anchor. Sanders, who left Harris’ office in December, will be based in Washington and host a new weekend program on MSNBC as well as hosting a show on Peacock’s The Choice. She also has worked in the past for CNN, as well as being press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders. She told The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum, “I’m a young woman, a young Black woman from the Midwest. Yes, I do politics, but I’m also a consumer of pop culture. I watch the news, I check Twitter, but I’m also into ‘Real Housewives.’ I’m interested in reaching what I call the nonpolitical group chats, the discussions that are penetrating outside of Washington.”
  • Veteran political commentator George Will is joining NewsNation as a senior contributor. In a statement, Will, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of The Washington Post, said, “NewsNation meets a national need for news delivered without political agendas, clenched fists, and raised voices. It offers news leavened by a sense of the complexity and grandeur of American history: this nation was not made by flimsy people, and it is not flimsy.”
  • Ramin Setoodeh has been named co-editor-in-chief of Variety, a move that will put him alongside Cynthia Littleton. The two will co-run the newsroom and all of Variety’s editorial platforms. Littleton has been co-editor-in-chief of Variety since October 2020. Setoodeh has been Variety’s executive editor. Here’s more from Variety’s story on the announcement.
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Finnegan with “Michael Parks, former Los Angeles Times editor and foreign correspondent, dies.”
  • For Poynter, Mark Jacob with “Chicago is witnessing a local news rebirth.”
  • Gayle King celebrated her 10th anniversary on “CBS Mornings” on Monday. King was wearing yellow, as she always does on her CBS anniversary.
  • The Washington Post is launching a new programming series available exclusively to Washington Post subscribers. The series kicks off on Jan. 18 with Pulitzer Prize-winning national investigative reporter Carol Leonnig talking to legendary Post reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Bernstein will talk about his new memoir, “Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom.”
  • The Washington Post’s Douglas MacMillan, Josh Dawsey and Elizabeth Dwoskin with “A year into his social media exile, Trump is working to get back online.”
  • Wait, the Golden Globes were Sunday night? Variety’s Jordan Moreau has the winners.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Correction: The Washington Post series kicks off on Jan. 18.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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