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The TV fall-out of the Capitol riots

2021 began with a lot of hope, and hype.  Most people desperately wanted January 1 to be proof that we were turning a symbolic corner.  Things had to get better.

While January 4 ushered in a new reality in Georgia with two Democrats winning the run-off elections and thereby securing power of the Senate, just two days later, the Capitol was under siege.  But not by parachuting Soviet forces a là Red Dawn 1984 or by parachuting North Korean forces a là Red Dawn 2012.

No, this attack was much more domestic in nature.  And it made for some must-see TV.  On a day when TV ratings should have been low as most networks had scheduled repeat episodes before launching their new winter TV season, news networks recorded some record numbers.

According to the ratings, most viewers chose CNN over Fox News for the play-by-plays at the Capitol.  Even hours later during the primetime hours between 8pm and 11pm, CNN enjoyed almost double the viewers that tuned into Fox.  MSNBC also soundly “trumped” the President’s favourite network.

And in the hours and days that followed, despite Fox News covering the details of the riots and their fall-out, the network has remained steadily behind.  So it’s not so surprising that Rupert Murdoch’s TV empire is scrambling to win back viewers when even their most ardent Trump-tastic anchors can’t support what happened last week.

Of course, Fox News has never been able to keep viewers by reporting the facts.  Last fall during a slander suit against popular Fox host Tucker Carlson, a federal judge said that Carlson does not state actual facts.  Instead he engages in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.”

Given their falling ratings, it’s no surprise that Fox News is now stepping further back from the facts.  Last fall, they cut their research department.  And this week, the network moved one of their last primetime newscasts to mid-afternoon.  In its place, Fox News Primetime will be hosted by a rotating group of opinion hosts for more “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.”

Of course, other networks also air opinion shows.  They’re necessary to fill a full day of programming and to avoid a repeat of CNN’s past questionable “Breaking News” headlines such as the 2005 introduction of a new Coke product.  In fact, opinions should be welcomed and discussed.

But they should also be based on the facts.  Not opinions of the facts or “alternate” facts.  And with a show that has “News” in its title, I question the finding made by that federal judge in the Tucker Carlson case that “any reasonable viewer arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism.”

If that were the case, loyal viewers wouldn’t have claimed that Fox News was “the only network that tells the truth.”

Post-riot, some politicians have claimed that honesty is necessary to avoid more civil unrest like that of January 6.  Fox News should take note.  They have no business calling themselves “News” if what they’re reporting is just an opinion.