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Fox News Channel confronts criticism from right-of-center viewers

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The aftermath of Election Day has left Fox News Channel in a curious position. The channel still catches flak from competing establishment media, of course, along with left-leaning voters and politicians who demonize FNC, even though many of them have never actually watched its programming. But now FNC is taking a barrage of criticism from right-of-center viewers, too, who perceive their preferred news outlet is in danger of joining the “mainstream (liberal) media.” Some Trump supporters at weekend rallies in Washington even engaged in anti-FNC chants.

Fox News Channel raised the ire of many Trump-supporting viewers last summer when “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace conducted a combative interview with the president. Wallace then became a pseudo-debater to Trump during the first presidential debate, seemingly providing cover for Democrat Joe Biden.

As election season rolled along, FNC drew more heat from Trump and his followers when Fox-sponsored polling consistently showed Biden with a healthy lead, a margin that didn’t play out on Election Day. On Election Night, Trump backers were angered when FNC was quick to call the state of Arizona for Biden, an early indication that Trump’s reelection was in serious trouble. Post-election FNC coverage has seen, among other things, anchor Neil Cavuto dumping out of a White House press conference at which press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was alleging voter fraud. The accumulation of perceived FNC slights resulted in Trump taking to Twitter late last week to bash the channel that so many of his supporters relied upon for election news.

The news side of any journalism organization should act independently of its opinion/commentary wing. The actual reporters should be trying to present information without ideological slant, going where the facts lead. While this perceived anti-Trump trend at FNC has angered many right-leaning viewers, it is actually a good thing that FNC’s news side wants to act independently of the op-ed side of things.

None of this is to suggest that FNC hasn’t made mistakes in news judgment or news agenda-setting. It is clear, however, that the news side is acting on its own and not taking orders from FNC’s prime-time opinion hosts such as Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham, both committed conservatives and supporters of the president. Whatever the political leanings might be in the FNC corporate hierarchy, yesterday or today, the reporting side of the operation has maintained a more measured approach and is exhibiting its journalistic independence.

FNC anchors who host news (not opinion) programs, such as Bret Baier, Shannon Bream and Bill Hemmer, made their careers as reporters, not commentators. FNC correspondents such as John Roberts, Mike Emanuel and Jennifer Griffin are seasoned journalists. None of these anchors or correspondents would stand for having their journalistic independence compromised by outside influences, including FNC ownership, the White House or social media.

The credibility of the news industry at large has suffered because news consumers sense that journalism outlets consciously blend ideology into what should be an objective presentation of news facts. Some newsrooms don’t even try to separate reporting from opinion, happily living out a “groupthink” designed to manage public opinion instead of informing it. Critics on the right and the left should be okay with FNC’s straight-news operation practicing journalism and not pushing preconceived ideological game plans.

Media observers are wondering how FNC moves forward in the current firestorm. FNC would be wise to simply do what it has done for the last 24 years: Focus on news during the day and let the right-leaning opinion hosts have at it in the evening. The FNC brand has survived the ebb and flow of national political trends. It also persevered through the sudden departure of long-time leader Roger Ailes and the subsequent loss of prime-time powerhouses Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly.

Sure, some disgruntled FNC viewers will take off to watch competing conservative channels such as One America News or Newsmax. Some may never come back. But those options have been around for a while and, to date, have remained niche outlets.

FNC still has a role to play in the news landscape, even when Trump leaves the White House. If lax mainstream media coverage of the Biden campaign is any indication, coverage of a presumed Biden administration will likely be just as casual. Look for FNC to establish itself as the main scrutinizer of Biden and his expected leftward-lurch initiatives on taxes, climate, health care and international diplomacy. In short, Fox News will still be Fox News. Viewers who are now telling FNC, “What have you done for me lately?” might still find time to watch.

Jeffrey McCall is a media critic and professor of communication at DePauw University. He has worked as a radio news director, a newspaper reporter and as a political media consultant. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_McCall.

Tags 2020 election Arizona Chris Wallace conservative media Donald Trump Fox News Channel Joe Biden Laura Ingraham Mainstream media Media bias media criticism news coverage Sean Hannity Shannon Bream US news media

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