Tracking Talent: How the News Networks are Maneuvering in the Age of Trump

Between the Bush and Obama administrations, a lot of things in America changed – policies changed, technology advanced, and millennials grew up. One thing stayed the same, however: the dominance of Fox News.

For 17 years, the dominance of Fox News went unchallenged — until one week in May when, for the first time in over a decade, Fox News found itself trailing CNN and MSNBC for five consecutive days.

Since then, the cable news ratings game has become more competitive. In August, MSNBC found themselves the top network across all of cable for the first time in the network’s history, while CNN has continued to score daily ratings wins.

FNC has had a turbulent year-and-a-half, which kicked off last June when founder and Chairman Roger Ailes was pushed out amid claims of sexual harassment. This was followed by the departure of top talent Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, Greta Van Susteren and most recently, longtime Fox mainstay Bill O’Reilly.

Set on the backdrop of the Trump presidency, the top three news networks — MSNBC, Fox and CNN — have been maneuvering to hire hosts and commentators who can both attract audiences and keep up with the newsmaking administration.

CNN

CNN, the self-proclaimed “most trusted name in news,” was seemingly the first cable network to capitalize on hiring an explicitly pro-Trump host when acquiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

When Lewandowski resigned from the network in November, his void was quickly filled by the unabashedly pro-Trump commentator Jeffrey Lord. CNN’s own Anderson Cooper famously once said to Lord, “If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.”

Lord’s time at CNN came to an end last month after a controversial “Sieg Heil” tweet.

 

In recent weeks, however, the network has made moves to adopt more actively anti-Trump voices. CNN recently hired Playboy’s White House correspondent Brian Karem as an on-air contributor. Karem gained attention after criticizing the Trump administration during a White House press briefing.

MSNBC

Since the election of president Donald Trump, MSNBC has had the best ratings in its history.  The Rachel Maddow Show ended August as the most watched show on cable, according to Forbes. Maddow, along with MSNBC’s other primetime shows, have been criticized for their transparent liberal leanings.

In a seemingly concerted effort to combat this, MSNBC has recently hired more right-leaning commentators. MSNBC has employed Bush adviser Nicole Wallace, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, conservative columnist Bret Stephens and conservative commentator George Will. In August, MSNBC hired Peggy Noonan to be an on-air contributor. Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, formerly was a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan.  

Following her departure from Fox, Greta Van Susteren was hired as a host at the network, only to suddenly leave the network suddenly a few months later.

FOX

Just this past week, Fox News made major news in the personnel department. On Twitter last week, Fox News host Meghan McCain announced she would be leaving as a host of the Fox News program “Outnumbered”

The daughter of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), McCain is a frequent Trump critic, and took some time off from the show when her father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her departure from Fox News is now permanent. While the exact reasons for her departure are not known, McCain has been a vocal critic of Trump on her show and on social media.

Around the same time as McCain’s announcement, reports started surfacing that Fox News was going to hire Laura Ingraham as a primetime host. Since the departure of Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News primetime lineup has changed several times.

Brian Stelter and Hadas Gold reported:

“Putting Ingraham at 10 p.m. is an important bet by Fox News, and it comes with some risk. The network rarely shuffles its lineup like this… Ingraham is well known and well liked among Fox viewers. On her radio show and her Fox appearances, she channels the feelings of President Trump’s base and challenges Republican establishment figures.”

So far in September, cable news ratings in general are high. The battle between the three main cable news networks is ongoing. The role that pro and anti-Trump contributors will play in this battle is yet to be determined.

Brett Maney contributed to reporting. 

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