Former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson sees a parallel between Fox News’ decision not to carry live coverage of Thursday night’s hearing into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and Fox’s decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden: its viewers want what they get nightly from the network’s hugely popular opinion hosts like Tucker Carlson—and not ‘news’ that runs counter to what they hear from hosts like Carlson. “Fox lost viewers. It learned its lesson.”
On Thursday, Fox News Channel was the only one of the broadcast and cable news networks not to take the hearing live. Fox shifted live coverage to its sister network, Fox Business, which drew just 223,000 viewers. MSNBC, in comparison, dominated cable news Thursday night with a total audience of 4.2 million viewers. Overall, the hearing drew a combined audience of more than 20 million viewers on broadcast and cable, with ABC’s coverage delivering the largest single audience: 4.8 million viewers.
Donaldson, who covered Watergate and famously tangled with several presidents, most notably Ronald Reagan, said Fox faced a dilemma: taking the January 6 hearing live in prime time would have meant replacing hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Carlson with a live event that would feel like counter-programming. Donaldson pointed to the network being the first to make the decisive call for Biden in Arizona—a news decision that angered the Trump supporters who are as loyal to Fox News as they are to the former president.
“What Fox discovered was, its viewers were antagonized. Angry. ‘How dare you do that to our man, Donald J. Trump? Surely he won Arizona.’ He didn’t,” Donaldson said in an interview on CNN Sunday morning. In the months after the November election, far right networks like Newsmax and One America News saw their viewership rise at Fox News’ expense—with one Newsmax show even beating its Fox News competition one night in December, a rare time slot loss for Fox, long the unchallenged ratings goliath in cable news. “Fox lost viewers,” Donaldson said. “It learned its lesson. If it wants to make money, it has to have Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson.”
“Let me tell you about Rupert Murdoch,” Donaldson told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “I think you know it. He’s after the cash, the money. I’m for the capitalist system, except for the injuries it can sometimes do to people. But, he uses Fox and he uses The Wall Street Journal and all these publications to make money.”
But as Acosta noted, even Murdoch’s New York Post and WSJ have published editorials since Thursday’s hearing urging Mr. Trump’s supporters to move on. “Trump has become a prisoner of his own ego,” wrote the Post editorial board. He can’t admit his tweeting and narcissism turned off millions. He won’t stop insisting that 2020 was ‘stolen’ even though he’s offered no proof that it’s true.” The Post editorial concluded that “Donald Trump lost in 2020. Joe Biden is a disaster as president. Both are true. The nation has been through enough pain and mismanagement for a generation. We need a fresh start.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in a piece published Friday, said “Mr. Trump betrayed his supporters by conning them on January 6, and he is still doing it.”