By:
November 13, 2020

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In Thursday’s newsletter, I talked a little about the future of cable news networks, specifically what they will look like when Donald Trump is no longer president. (If you missed it, you can click here.) Fox News might be the network most impacted, considering its viewers tend to be conservatives or right-leaning, and many are Trump supporters.

Just based on what we’ve seen from Trump over the years, we assume he won’t be able to stay out of the news once he leaves office, and will turn to a cable network to be his megaphone.

But will that network be Fox News? Trump has a hot-and-cold relationship with the network. He praises many of its primetime hosts who have shown to be strong Trump advocates and has a history of turning to Fox News and Fox Business when he needs a friendly interviewer or sympathetic ear. But he often criticizes the rest of the network, particularly when they report news he doesn’t like.

In fact, just Thursday, Trump tweeted, “.@FoxNews daytime ratings have completely collapsed. Weekend daytime even WORSE. Very sad to watch this happen, but they forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”

What set him off? Presumably that the daytime parts of Fox News that stick to facts are acknowledging what everybody except Trump and his inner circle won’t: that Joe Biden won the election and will be the next president.

So where will Trump turn when he leaves office?

There’s always the chance that Trump will throw his weight behind a place such as OAN. And CNN’s Brian Stelter has another possibility. Keep an eye on Newsmax TV. Trump has been giving Newsmax some attention on Twitter, and Stelter notes that Newsmax’s ratings have gone up — from averaging a puny 25,000 viewers over the summer to 437,000 earlier this week. A couple of their shows have attracted as many as 800,000 viewers. These are not huge TV numbers. But it’s a sign that its popularity is growing. The reason seems to be that much of Newsmax is all in when it comes to the conspiracy theories that the election was rigged.

Last Sunday, Stelter interviewed Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, who said, “(Trump is) very disappointed in Fox News.”

In an insightful piece about Newsmax, The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr wrote, “The network is upping its attacks on Fox lately, smelling blood in the water after many conservatives, including the president, criticized Fox News for being the first news outlet to call Arizona for Biden, leading to something of a rift in the cozy, long-standing relationship.”

Now, to be clear, Barr smartly noted on Twitter that there is still not overwhelming evidence that Trump has completely turned on Fox News. Barr also tweeted, “People have been watching Fox News religiously for decades. They’re unlikely to just stop watching because Trump is retweeting four-day-old tweets attacking it.”

In addition, Stelter wrote, “My two cents: Fox News still has a near-monopoly position. Its ratings are not noticeably suffering as a result of Newsmax’s ratings spike. While Newsmax averaged 437,000 viewers on Tuesday, Fox averaged 1.86 million. But there has clearly been a disruption in the pro-Trump TV universe. Newsmax is capitalizing. And Trump is funneling his fans to the channel. Will the ratings bump last?”

Axios’ Mike Allen reported Thursday that a source told him, “(Trump) plans to wreck Fox News. No doubt about it.”

Allen is reporting that Trump has told friends he wants his own digital media company. Allen wrote, “There’s been lots of speculation about Trump starting a cable channel. But getting carried on cable systems would be expensive and time-consuming. Instead, Trump is considering a digital media channel that would stream online, which would be cheaper and quicker to start. Trump’s digital offering would likely charge a monthly fee to MAGA fans. Many are Fox News viewers, and he’d aim to replace the network — and the $5.99-a-month Fox Nation streaming service, which has an 85% conversion rate from free trials to paid subscribers — as their top destination.”

Allen’s source told him that if Trump starts holding rallies again, “He’s going to spend a lot of time slamming Fox.”

We all knew that this presidential election was going to impact the future of the country. And that’s the most crucial thing. But now we’re finding out that it could impact the future of cable news as well.

A matter of trust?

New York Times’ reporter Adam Satariano wrote a piece that just goes to show you why we shouldn’t be at all surprised that conspiracy theories that Trump won the election have gained momentum among many Republicans.

Satariano notes that research from Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows a “long and steady decline in trust” that more conservative Americans have in the media. According to those studies, trust in the media among conservatives has fallen from 25% in 2015 to 13% in 2020.

Satariano writes, “The declining trust in news has been years in the making and coincides with rising use of social media as a main source of information.”

That, along with the political divide in this country, has created an environment where we can’t even agree on facts. Last week, a Politico poll found that 70% of Republicans don’t think the election was free and fair.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute, told Satariano, ““People on the right have lost faith in the news media. It has created an environment where a significant part of the American public feels alienated from established news media, but they still want information and seek it out.”

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Strong comments

NBC News’ Chuck Todd, left, interviews former National Security Advisor John Bolton on “MTP Daily” on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of NBC News.)

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week, criticizing Trump for alleging voter fraud with no proof and refusing to concede the election, saying “time is running out for Trump.”

On Thursday, Bolton joined Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily.”

When asked about Trump not conceding, Bolton said, “I think the Democrats, and with all due respect, many people in the media will try and lump Trump forever together with Republicans. I think he will be the Hooverville of the rest of the century if we’re not careful. I think we have to look to what the interests of the country and the party are, as opposed to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is pursuing his highest interest, which is Donald Trump. I think Republican leaders need to think of our bigger interest, which is the country and then the party.”

He added, “I think those steps that separate key party leaders and the party from Trump are valuable for the country and for the party, and they shouldn’t care what Donald Trump thinks.”

When asked about Trump’s future in the Republican party, Bolton said, “I don’t think Trump is a Republican. I don’t think Trump is a conservative. And I think when he walks out the door of the Oval Office, his influence will diminish considerably. He’s just not going to be as interesting anymore.”

Wait … what?

Kayleigh McEnany. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave a strange answer on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday morning when she was asked if Trump has considered allowing President-elect Biden to receive a daily intelligence briefing.

McEnany said, “I haven’t spoken to the president about that. That would be a question more for the White House, but I will say that all laws are being followed with regard to an expected transition, though we expect to continue on as the Trump administration. We will see how our litigation goes.”

A question for the White House? Doesn’t McEnany speak for the White House? Isn’t she the WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY?

CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid tweeted, “Wait, what?! White House Press Sec, who receives a six figure tax-payer salary for that job, deferred a question about intelligence briefings for @JoeBiden & @KamalaHarris to the White House (?!) during an appearance on FOX News where she appeared as a ‘Trump campaign advisor.’”

Reid actually hit on what happened. McEnany was, technically, appearing as a Trump campaign adviser and surrogate. Her answer to the above question was so she would not violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees (excluding the president and vice president) from engaging in certain political activities, including campaigning, while on duty.

McEnany took to Twitter to defend herself, tweeting, “When you enter government, you do not lose First Amendment rights. Hatch Act says to separate govt & political activity, which I diligently work to do. Reporters (who ironically have freedom of press embedded in the  1st Amendment), are complaining about my 1A right to speech!”

Still, the whole thing is murky and confusing and it looks rather silly when the White House press secretary is on TV and asked an important question and she says that you need to ask the White House.

Media advice

In her latest opinion piece, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin writes there are two revisions the media should adopt in their coverage of Trump and the election.

“First,” Rubin writes, “they should be candid that there is no legitimate legal theory that would change the result. This entire exercise is, at best, therapy for a loser president and, at worst, an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections.”

Secondly, Rubin writes, Trump’s refusal to cooperate with a transition to Biden is not the real danger.

“The media should focus on what is critical, namely the decapitations of the top leadership of the Pentagon and installation of unserious, politically extreme conspiratorialists who should not be trusted with national security matters (including the power to declassify material, make troop reductions, etc.).”

Media tidbits

  • Politico’s Playbook reported Thursday that New York Times’ reporter Maggie Haberman is working on a book about Donald Trump. (Haberman confirmed the news on Twitter.) Politico writes the book will come out in 2022 and “chronicle Trump’s early years in New York, his rise, his presidency and whatever comes next for the 45th president.” Penguin Press is the publisher.
  • Tonight’s lineup for “Washington Week” (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations): moderator Robert Costa with Ashley Parker (Washington Post), Evan Osnos (The New Yorker), and Rachel Scott (ABC). The panel will discuss the first week of the Biden-Harris transition, Trump’s refusal to concede, changes in the Defense Department and the latest frightening numbers about COVID.
  • Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the guest on Kara Swisher’s latest episode of her “Sway” podcast from The New York Times. As “Sway” describes, “Mr. Fetterman, the former mayor of a Rust Belt town, is 6-foot-8, with tattoos, a shaved head and a graduate degree in public policy from Harvard. He’s not your standard politician. And that’s helped him sell progressive politics to working-class voters and become a powerful voice of the left.”
  • NPR’s website, NPR.org, set audience records during election week. The site reached over 34.7 million unique visitors — the most ever for a week. Those unique visitors generated 158.9 million pageviews.

Hot type

The New York Times’ TV critic James Poniewozik with President Trump’s Show Has Been Canceled.

After spending spent five months investigating the Triumph Foods outbreak, interviewing more than a dozen current and former workers and examining thousands of pages of government records, Rachel Axon, Kyle Bagenstose and Kevin Crowe of USA TODAY and Sky Chadde of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting with ‘They Think Workers are Like Dogs.’ How Pork Plant Execs Sacrificed Safety for Profits.

Good insight from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Jim Acosta on what’s going on inside the White House at the moment with ‘Dejected’ Trump Continues to Waffle Over Waging Baseless Election Fight.

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

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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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