The broader implications of Fox News Channel's new lineup

The broader implications of Fox News Channel's new lineup
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Fox News Channel’s new programming additions of Laura Ingraham and Shannon Bream at 10:00 and 11:00 in the evening, respectively, carry more significance than run-of-the-mill lineup changes. FNC has rhetorical objectives to achieve with these high profile appointments. 

It is noteworthy that both of these high profile hosts are women. It’s not an accident. FNC’s ongoing turmoil over allegations of workplace harassment has been disturbing even to loyal FNC viewers. Putting Ingraham and Bream in charge of their own, prominent time slots is an attempt to signal that company brass have fixed the internal culture. 

It could be true. Professional and distinguished women such as Ingraham and Bream, it can be reasoned, wouldn’t have agreed to these assignments in the wake of a toxic culture. 

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Of course, both women deserve these anchoring opportunities on their own merit. They are independently qualified and deserving. 

 

The Ingraham show brings reassurance to traditional FNC viewers that the channel is not looking to join the mainstream media any time soon, as some viewers feared earlier when Bill O’Reilly exited and Sean Hannity’s show appeared to be vulnerable. Ingraham is solidly right-leaning, as she has demonstrated on her successful national radio show. FNC viewers know Ingraham based on her guest appearances as a commentator and her occasional slots filling in for Bill O’Reilly. And she stands to benefit from audience flow generated from Sean Hannity’s highly rated program preceding her own.

Ingraham’s debut show didn’t disappoint the regular FNC audience, opening with a monologue in which she discussed America’s core values. She also conducted a lengthy interview with President Trump’s chief of staff, John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE. She tossed more red meat to the pro-Trump audience by interviewing GOP firebrand Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes talked about his concerns over Clinton campaign shenanigans, including the Democratic Party’s links to Fusion GPS. The sole pothole in the otherwise efficient, predictable hour had Ingraham wrapping up her Kelly interview by asking the buttoned-down general how he might dress up for Halloween. 

Bream’s show, “Fox News @Night,” also makes a statement for FNC, but in a different direction. It is billed as a late night news show, not another part of the FNC evening lineup of commentary and punditry. In this sense, the show can be a solid, journalistic bookend for Bret Baier’s “Special Report.” To help make that case, Baier himself joined Bream on the set to discuss the day’s news agenda. FNC needs to maintain and profile shows in the lineup that are news-driven, as opposed to hard-edged punditry. Bream, a bright and personable reporter and interviewer, can provide that journalistic thrust for the late night audience.

Bream’s opening show demonstrated that journalistic focus, featuring live updates from veteran FNC reporters Ed Henry, Jennifer Griffin and Kristin Fisher. Bream’s background as an attorney and Supreme Court correspondent was on display during her interviews regarding the Mueller special counsel indictments and the recent abortion controversy in Texas. That this is a hard news show provides viewers in the eastern and central time zones an alternative to late night local news programming.

FNC has lived through months of personnel and programming turmoil, but has somehow managed to maintain much of its ratings strength. MSNBC and CNN have demonstrated ratings growth in the Trump era, but little of that growth likely came from the FNC audience. The Ingraham and Bream shows are designed to be the final pieces in the puzzle for FNC’s reinvention. FNC needs stability. Barring another round of FNC musical chairs, this prime time lineup should be positioned for another decade of leading the cable news wars.

Jeffrey McCall (@Prof_McCall) is a professor of communication at DePauw University.