Fox News Channel is a go-to news source for many conservatives and independent voters. The network has been vilified by progressives, and even the Biden Administration has hinted that Fox News offers disinformation on a wide variety of topics. However, Fox News was built on the slogan “Fair and Balanced,” and, if viewers compare the network to other media outlets, there are more news segments in which both sides of the political aisle are represented.
The network just celebrated twenty-five years of being on air. On October 7, 1996, Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born media entrepreneur, teamed up with Roger Ailes to launch a competitor to CNN and another newcomer, MSNBC. Murdoch owns a media conglomerate called News Corps, which owns The Wall Street Journal among other news networks and publication companies. Murdoch appointed Roger Ailes as the Chief Executive Officer at that time. Ailes would remain at the helm of Fox News Channel until July 2016. He passed away in May 2017.
Today, the CEO of Fox News Channel is Suzanna Scott. Scott has been with Fox News since the network’s inception. She is considered one of the most successful businesswomen in the United States, according to Forbes. She was named CEO in 2018, and she is credited with turning the network around after the founding CEO, Roger Ailes, was enmeshed in a scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment. Scott is the first female CEO of any news network, and she, along with Jack Abernathy and Jay Wallace, are credited with the current success of the network.
Rupert Murdoch is still the executive chairman of Fox News Media, who currently “owns” the network.
The Beginnings of Fox News Channel
Rupert Murdoch was already a powerful influence in the news media industry. His global news media conglomerate – News Corporation, Ltd – was founded in 1979. He also owned HarperCollins as well as The New York Post. Murdoch wanted to reach conservative viewers through the channel. At the time Fox News was established, for many years, the only cable news channel was Ted Turner’s CNN. In July 1996, MSNBC was launched, and Murdoch was working to get his conservative channel up and running.
Murdoch said in January 1996, when he announced the upcoming launch of his news network, that there was “. . . (an) appetite for news – particularly news that explains to people how it affects them . . .”
In order to draw in a conservative audience, Rupert Murdoch hired a former Republican media consultant, Roger Ailes. Ailes had worked at CNBC prior to coming over to Murdoch’s new enterprise. Ailes had begun his career in production for smaller television companies. He entered the political side of things when he had a spirited debate with then-President Richard Nixon, who believed that television “was a gimmick.” Ailes impressed Nixon so greatly that Nixon hired him to be his Executive Producer for television.
Ailes worked in the political campaigns of Ronald Reagan as well as George H.W. Bush. His political experience as well as that of working in television made his appointment as founding CEO of Fox News the fitting choice. Ailes would begin working to get the channel launched in February 1996; he often worked fourteen hour workdays with staff prior to initial rehearsals in order to get the programming ready for the public.
In a time when cable was at its height, the 90s and the 00s, Fox News was a hit among cable subscribers. When Fox News was launched in October 1996, more than 15 million subscribers had access to the channel. By the 2000 presidential election, Fox News was available in 56 million homes across the United States. The channel’s viewership increased by a whopping 440 percent – the greatest increase among the three cable news networks available at that time.
It was only in the aftermath of the January 6 protests at the Capitol Building that Fox News saw a dip in its ratings. However, this was a short-lived decrease; the decreased ratings only lasted for three days. At the end of November, Fox reported that during the year 2021, the network had 1.3 million viewers. In fact, MSNBC and CNN were third and fourth in the ratings ranking. ESPN was number two in viewers behind Fox News.
Rising to Prominence in the 2000s
When Fox News initially launched, the channel had no affiliates in Los Angeles or New York City. Some reviewers who wanted to watch the initial launch had to go to the studio in Manhattan where filming was taking place in order to watch the premier of the network.
Ailes’ acknowledged that the initial issue with getting the network launched had to do with “obtaining carriage” – which is television production speak for getting approved for distribution across cable and satellite networks across the country. In order to get cable companies to carry Fox News, Rupert Murdoch paid companies; the tradition prior to this had been for cable companies to pay networks for the privilege of carrying a channel (think HBO or MTV).
While this move made the channel available to millions of cable subscribers upon launch, Ailes knew that he had to provide captivating programming that would not only draw viewers, but keep them returning.
Daily programming involved a morning talk show, Fox and Friends, which is still highly popular today. The show airs from 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. Monday – Friday, and a weekend version casts three co-hosts who regularly appear on other Fox shows. Two of the original hosts of the morning talk show still appear on the Monday – Friday broadcast: Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade. Originally, the pair was matched with E.D. Hill; today, the pair host the show with Ainsley Earhardt, who has been on the morning show for five years.
Fox and Friends isn’t the only popular show on the Fox New Channel. When the network launched, one of its longest running and most watched shows included Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor, which held the prime viewing spot for over a decade (the Factor was preceded by The O’Reilly Report.. Following Bill O’Reilly was outspoken conservative Sean Hannity paired with liberal Alan Colmes in Hannity and Colmes. Colmes would leave the show in 2009, continuing on with his own talk show on a Fox radio station. Colmes passed away in 2017. Sean Hannity would praise his former partner, who often took Hannity to task on a host of conservative talking points on the show.
Shows such as Sean Hannity’s and Alan Colmes’ fulfilled the Fox News’ slogan of “Fair and Balanced.” Although critics say that Fox News never offers varying viewpoints, Fox News Channel continues to invite liberals and progressives on the air.
Other popular hosts over time have included Glenn Beck, who hosted a show carrying his name between 2009 and 2011. Beck was an outspoken critic of the Obama Administration. He is known for his theatrics on air. Beck was known for his often highly controversial remarks. (In 2009, he called then-President Barack Obama a racist.) Press releases at the time relate that the decision for Beck to move on from the channel state it was mutual for both the network and for Beck; the network is involved with other Beck projects although he is no longer a part of the television line-up.
Megyn Kelly is another host who was with the network for a number of years, but she left in 2017 to host a show on a rival network. Kelly only stayed at NBC for a few years; she would eventually end up hosting a podcast and hosts a talk show on Sirius XM.
Perhaps the one event that boosted Fox News was one of the most tragic for the United States. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Fox and Friends correspondents were covering other news items when the first plane flew into the North Tower. The news channel’s cameras actually captured some footage with their cameras that morning.
As the second plane hit the South Tower and the Towers fell, correspondents were on the streets of Manhattan capturing all the happenings as they took place.
Although some could credit Fox News with being at the right place at a horrific time, cable viewership surged among all channels available. However, Fox News was able to garner a higher viewership than rivals CNN in January 2002. Fox News would retain a lead in ratings throughout the remainder of the decade.
One of the most popular talk shows on the channel is The Tucker Carlson Show.
Tucker is known for inviting guests of varying political beliefs to come on his show. He is known for debating his guests, and, in the tradition of Bill O’Reilly, battling until he gets the last word. He presents proof of his claims, and, although it rarely happens, Carlson will apologize if his guest can prove his theory wrong. Carlson’s ability to obliterate his leftist guests is referred to as “getting Tucked.”
Carlson’s show continues to be one of the highest rated on the network. Carlson has a spin-off program on the recently launched Fox Nation app, which requires a monthly subscription.
The Ingraham Angle was another popular show that began broadcasting in 2016 during the contentious Clinton vs. Trump presidential campaign. Laura Ingraham’s conservative talking points drew a great deal of ratings. Ingraham has continued to beat fellow female host Rachel Maddow in the ratings on a regular basis, and she signed a contract at the end of 2020 renewing her contract with the network for several years.
Fox News Channel’s History of Fair and Balanced Reporting
Fox News began as a channel that offered both conservative and liberal viewpoints. As the network has evolved, competitive news channels as well as Democratic politicians denounce the popularity of the channel. Some politicians – and some health officials during the pandemic – have stated that the channel peddles “disinformation.” However, Fox still calls on progressives and liberals to come aboard and talk on various talk shows. While the network later changed its original slogan to “We Report. You Decide.” the initial purpose of the channel has not changed.
During the Tea Party movement, which was a conservative movement that promoted fiscal conservatism as well as a more populist and Constitutionally-inspired government, Fox News was often identified as a loudspeaker for the movement. However, this characterization is not quite accurate. Hosts such as Glenn Beck were greatly associated with the movement, while many commentators and pundits simply reported on the movement itself without promoting the ideas of the Tea Party itself. Branding itself as a Tea Party mouthpiece would not behoove the company, as only ten percent of Americans in 2013 identified as a supporter of this political movement.
Some point to a donation by News Corporation’s $1 donation to the Republican Governors Association. However, this is Rupert Murdoch’s company, not the network itself who made the donation.
Fox News Channel today is owned by Fox News Corporation, and the Murdoch family still owns the network. There appears to be no waning in popularity of the network, particularly with a slew of hosts whose ratings regularly defeat the competition. The importance of the network in politics continues to be relevant as it has been in other election cycles; it is among one of the few networks who present all sides of the issue.