Skip to main content

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks outside of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19, 2020.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One recent evening on Fox News, Tucker Carlson verbally attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, describing her as a “vacuous little totalitarian moron.” And then mocking her description of the fear she felt during the deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Binge-watching guide: More than 30 series and specials to help you get through winter

A lot of good it did him, although he may have felt like the tough guy he obviously isn’t, for a minute. Fox News is suffering a ratings decline. CNN easily led in U.S. cable news ratings during the impeachment of outgoing President Donald Trump, according to Nielsen Media Research, and continued to have an unusually strong lead over Fox into prime-time hours, with MSNBC in second place among the top cable news networks. In prime time CNN now often penetrates the top 20 most-watched TV in Canada, beating out scripted Canadian content.

With a presidency ending and another beginning, the fevered competition between all-news channels is indicating a new set of winners and losers. Since Monday, Dec. 28, and the end of a holiday-period news pause, Fox News viewership has declined 15 per cent compared to the same period a year ago. During a mind-boggling news cycle, CNN is way up, as are the ratings for MSNBC.

Tucker Carlson in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York.Richard Drew/The Associated Press

This has led to a shakeup in the Fox News schedule. John Roberts (forever known to Canadians as J.D. Roberts) gets to stop prowling the White House lawn in all weather and gets an in-studio slot from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., which he will share with Sandra Smith. Martha MacCallum, whose monotonous repetition of election-fraud questions was getting weird, is being moved to a 3 p.m. slot from her 7 p.m. slot.

But there is more than an on-air shuffle happening. There is schadenfreude. As Jon Klein, former president of CNN U.S. told The Daily Beast, “They are reaping the whirlwind of having gotten their audience hooked on the heroin of outrage, because as soon as someone comes along and is more outrageous those addicts will move over there.”

Those “addicts” are the ones turning, with Trump’s encouragement, to Newsmax and One America News (OAN), both of which are furthering a narrative about Trump not being directly responsible for the mob attack on the Capitol. OAN pundits say it was physically impossible to hear incitement from Trump and then march to the Capitol building. That has something to do with the physical distance between the site of the rally and the Capitol building. On Newsmax, its highest-rated host, one Greg Kelly, pushes the idea that Trump “did nothing wrong.” That seems to be based on some sketchy legal argument.

CNN moderator Jake Tapper speaks to the crowd attending the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 31, 2019.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Meanwhile, CNN is undergoing its own on-air shakeup. Jake Tapper will get an additional hour on weekday afternoons and Wolf Blitzer – who has looked overworked for months – will have one hour less in his Situation Room. Tapper’s Sunday morning State of the Union show will be co-anchored by Dana Bash.

It is typical for U.S. cable news outlets to change their lineups and reporting rosters as new administrations begin. But this is way more fraught than usual. “Fox on the run” crowed a Newsmax press release when the Fox News shuffle was announced. Fox News is bolstering its angry-opinion slate by replacing Martha MacCallum’s alleged “news” show with a rotating series of pundits. What will they be angry about, all these prime-time firebrands? Well, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom Carlson also called the “dumbest and most narcissist” in Congress, will do for now. It wouldn’t be the first time that an attack on a woman was used to jazz up declining ratings. Usually, mind you, we’re talking about fictional characters.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.