The evolution of cable TV news — after Donald Trump

The evolution of cable TV news — after Donald Trump
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A mini-revolution of sorts is raging in the world of cable television news — it’s even been called a cable news civil war. And who else but Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE is right there in the middle of it.  

It turns out that some viewers who usually have their TVs tuned to Fox News day and night have become disillusioned with the channel. I saw a photo of a guy in Atlanta holding a sign that read, “Fox is Fake News.” They’re unhappy because Fox is actually reporting the election news fairly and accurately — and that’s not why they watch Fox.

They watch, as do viewers at CNN and MSNBC, to get their biases validated; to hear anchors tell them what they want to hear. That’s how cable news works: Throw red meat at the audience, get their juices flowing, and entice them to come back for more.


So why are Fox viewers disgruntled? Well, because the Fox News election desk said Joe Biden had won Arizona, a key battleground state — and it said so long before that became obvious to other networks. This infuriated the president, and so it was only a matter of time before it would also infuriate passionate Trump supporters who were watching Fox on Election Night.

That’s when more than a few of those Fox viewers changed the channel and found a friendlier place to get the kind of news they tune in for. They found Newsmax television, another conservative channel that’s much smaller than Fox — a place that even now hasn’t called Biden the winner of the election. 

And, since the Arizona election-night call for Biden, Newsmax’s audience has risen — substantially.

According to The Wrap, “Newsmax, a conservative commentary channel helmed by an ally of President Donald Trump’s, saw a ratings boost of 183 percent around the election as the president encouraged viewers to defect from Fox News.”

I suspect Fox has taken notice but no one over there is losing sleep over the defections — not yet, anyway. Fox is still the king of the hill when it comes to cable TV news ratings. 


The discontent with Fox was exacerbated on Election Night but it didn’t start on Nov. 3; the president hasn’t been happy with Fox for a while now. Having cheerleaders such as Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityJuan Williams: The GOP's losing bet on Trump McCarthy dings Biden after meeting: Doesn't have 'energy of Donald Trump' Jenner says she didn't vote in 2020: 'I just couldn't get excited about it' MORE and Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamDeSantis says he'll pardon people who violate mask laws Officer who responded to Capitol mob urges leaders to recognize 'courage' of law enforcement Officer who suffered heart attack on Jan. 6 knocks 'dangerous' Trump comments MORE embrace just about everything he does, apparently, isn’t enough. He wants the hard-news journalists to pick up pom-poms and wave them around for him, too.

He can’t figure out why Fox allows Democrats on their shows, or why Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceCheney: I can't ignore Trump because he 'continues to be a real danger' CDC director denies political pressure affected new mask guidelines Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' MORE asks tough questions of his Republican guests on his Sunday show. He can’t figure out why Fox isn’t his personal public relations firm, dispensing good news about him and ignoring everything else.

I don’t know why, after four years of Donald Trump in the White House, I’m still amazed that he has no idea what the role of the press is in a free country. Or maybe he does but just doesn’t care.

Sooner or later, this election will officially be over — and what will Donald Trump do then?

Since he needs airtime the way the rest of us need air, there’s a good chance he’ll go back to the medium that made him famous and launch something that he might call “Trump TV.” Maybe it’ll be digital, where he could charge a subscription fee — or maybe he’ll wind up on Newsmax, where he might do a daily or weekly show. That would stick it to his old friend and new nemesis Fox News, wouldn’t it?

But whatever Trump does when he leaves the White House, cable news won’t be the same. Sure, Fox in prime-time will still be throwing red meat to the crowd, telling its viewers exactly what they want to hear — mainly, that Biden is an addle-brained, borderline-socialist loser who stole the election Trump rightfully should have won. 

But what about CNN and MSNBC, the two left-wing channels that made a living out of bashing Trump day and night? What will they do when he’s no longer president?

Here’s my guess: They’ll figure out a way to continue bashing him. They’ll continue to portray him as a would-be dictator who was bent on destroying our democracy. They’ll call for Biden’s Justice Department to indict him, for something or other.

They will do all this not only because they truly detest the man but because bashing Donald Trump is good business, too. And beating up on Trump would make for better television than simply covering-up for four years of Biden’s inevitable gaffes.

That would be, well, boring, sort of like the (relatively) bland Biden himself. And there is no greater sin, in the world of cable television news, than boring your audience. There’s too much money at stake to do something stupid like that.

Bernard Goldberg, an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist, is a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” He previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.