Fox News has long dominated the cable news industry by serving up red meat for conservatives. But now, after years on top, the "fair and balanced" network is slipping, and liberal MSNBC is catching up. According to Brian Stelter at The New York Times, Fox still has two million more viewers than MSNBC on any given night. But on average, the two networks are separated by just "300,000 viewers in the coveted 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers desire." And on the three nights following last week's election, MSNBC surpassed Fox in that demographic. "Were closer to Fox than we've ever been," said MSNBC boss Phil Griffin. What's behind MSNBC's ascension? Here, three theories:
1. Viewers were hungry for something unabashedly liberal
During President Obama's first term, MSNBC transformed from a "CNN also-ran to the anti-Fox," and subsequently went on to handily beat CNN in the ratings, says the Times' Stelter. The network is hardly timid when it comes to its liberal identity: On election night, host Rachel Maddow was flanked by four other liberal hosts and just one moderate conservative. Well, considering the prowess of conservative Fox News, says Taylor Marsh at her blog, "it's clear something had to be done, so NBC did it."
2. And for something smart
Obviously, "there are some hosts on MSNBC who resemble their Fox counterparts in their stridency," but the network's biggest star (Maddow) is "smart, thoughtful, and unfailingly polite to conservatives," says Paul Waldman at The American Prospect. And Up With Chris Hayes is "miles more substantive and interesting than any of the network Sunday shows." These programs simply "don't create the same kind of reality-denying bubble that so many on the right live in." MSNBC is thriving not just by doing liberal TV, but by doing smart TV.
3. Fox went too far
Many believe that "Fox News effectively became part of the Republican propaganda apparatus during the presidential campaign," says David Carr at The New York Times, "by giving pundit slots to many of the Republican candidates and relentlessly advocating for Mitt Romney once he won the nomination." Lulling the "conservative base with agitprop" didn't do wonders for Fox's reputation. But don't count Roger Ailes and Co. out yet, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. "Fox News should presumably be facing its greatest era ever: Obama is re-elected so many Americans who are anti-Obama will be thirsting for a credible news and opinion source." There's just one problem: "Fox News credibility — even among many conservatives."