Roger’s Catch-22

This week Quinnipiac University released a poll that found Fox News is the most trusted national tv news outlet:

FOX News offers the most trusted network and cable news coverage, 29 percent of American voters say, when asked to compare the major TV news outlets in a Quinnipiac University National poll released today.

Such is the internet that when Politico posted a story about the results, it quickly accumulated a whopping 12,000+ comments. Many of these didn’t touch on the most salient question: Why? Is it the ideological predictability of the competition that leaves Fox News a default favorite? Real Clear‘s Tom Bevan cited increasingly fragmented media along with the key role of independents:

As you might expect, Fox is seen as “most trusted” by a sizable majority of Republicans – and by almost no Democrats. But Fox is also viewed as “most trusted” by one-in-four Independents – the highest among any network. Conversely, look at the party ID of MSNBC. Not only do they rate worst of all networks among Republicans (2 percent), but they’re also are last among Independents (6 percent).

Mr. Bevan goes on to note Fox’s “solid reputation for its news coverage,” and contrasts that with MSNBC where even the “news” programs are “opinion-driven” (q.v. Thomas Roberts). But there has to be more to it than that. At Mediaite (of all places) we get keen understanding from Cable Gamer Joe Concha, whose first point is the low turnover: FNC viewers build up trust because the “on air talent have been in their living rooms for so long.” And that helps to build loyalty:

Fox somehow manages to portray itself as the underdog via an Us vs. Them mentality. Its core audience seemingly feels obligated to march along in the fight. Instead of familiarity of the many longtime hosts breeding contempt, it breeds a bond…All the big players on the air simply don’t leave, nor seem to be inclined to. Loyalty given. Loyalty returned.

Point to Mr. Concha. Fox Newsies ranging from Sean to Shep will talk about Roger Ailes at the drop of a hat, and it’s all positive—far more effusive than the palaver employees are usually required to say about their boss. Even Alisyn Camerota, after jumping to CNN, speaks well of her time at Fox and still has get-togethers with her one-time colleagues. Ailes is the Fox News secret ingredient, hiding in plain sight.

The great reporters have “a nose for news.” Brilliant investigators can sniff out a liar with a keen eye for micro-expressions (at least that’s how it works on TV). Roger Ailes has the touch for programming: not infallible, but often uncanny in its acuity. Glenn Beck was hardly a success on CNN, but Ailes spotted something, so he went and put him on at 5:00 pm Eastern. That’ll never work! It’s a horrible lead-in for Special Report and the lack of audience flow will sink the 6:00 pm numbers. In fact Beck smashed records for his time-slot, and Special Report became bigger than ever. When Beck left Roger Ailes had another crazy idea certain to be a disaster: five pundits, unscripted and off the cuff, on topics ranging from the day’s top news to what’s next on Homeland. The Five topped Beck and now beats every program at any hour, day or night, on CNN and MSNBC. And who’s the hottest star in cable news today? Ms. Megyn Kelly. Spotted by Fox, groomed for greatness under the tutelage of Roger Ailes.

So the puzzle piecefox-news-ads start to form a picture. A general mistrust of “mainstream media” has led to an audience affinity with the more independent Fox News. Viewers found they don’t have to switch to CNN for breaking news because FNC has built up its own exceptional cadre of correspondents who avoid the MSM cant and preconceptions. The more the audience watches, the more they like these people who seem to enjoy where they work and the people they work with. Familiarity breeds loyalty, as desperation leads competitors to fire shots at FNC. Those attacks reinforce the suspicion that those other guys (Brian Stelter, Rachel Maddow, and the rest) regard Fox viewers as gullible chumps. People don’t react well to being disrespected, and “Us vs Them” kicks in. They instinctively react by doing such things like boosting Bill O’Reilly’s audience to near-record levels.

Roger Ailes may have maneuvered FNC’s competitors and assorted haters into the greatest Catch-22 ever—where every knock is a boost, and the harder they strike the farther they fall.

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