Could it be that the nation’s infatuation with Fox News is slowly, slowly coming to an end? Looking at long-term cable ratings, you might surmise that on its way to the Tea Party, Fox has indeed jumped a shark or two.
Nothing is simple when it comes to stats or cable news, but consider: Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren have each hit their lowest point in a year or more with the key 25- to 54-year-old demo, according to the latest Nielsens. This twelve- to sixteen-month measurement is more detailed than a “year to year” comparison, which can make a show look strong or weak depending on what particular month you start from. But as a CNN press release happily notes: “May represents The O’Reilly Factor’s worst performance since January 2009, Hannity’s lowest delivery to date since taking over the time period in January 2009, and [Van Susteren’s] On the Record’s lowest since May 2009. Fox Report with Shep Smith had its lowest demo delivery since December 2008.”
O’Reilly, for instance, had some 625,000 viewers in the 25-54 age range in January 2009, built to a peak of one million by November, and dropped, to 693,000, by May 2010. Hannity and Van Susteren had similar rises and falls. Glenn Beck did not hit a twelve-month-or-more low point. But as Eric Boehlert of Media Matters points out, Beck’s numbers have fallen since his high in January, and “after twelve months of hype, Beck has not significantly grown his TV audience.”
And, by any measure, if you look at total viewership for all of Fox News, some audience-shedding is also evident. “In total day total viewers, FNC was down 6% year-to-year (while MSNBC was up 3% and CNN was down 16%),” writes Mediaite.
It’s true that Fox dwarfs MSNBC and CNN in raw audience numbers and that it’s still the number-one cable news channel, with the top eleven shows in both total viewers and the 25-54 group; O’Reilly, Beck, and Hannity still lead the pack, in that order. (Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the nearest non-Fox hosts, are number twelve and fourteen, respectively.)
But comparing Fox ratings to themselves over a long period does show a trend that calls into question the Fox News Free-Market Theory of Journalistic Evidence: We must be right, and our version of reality must be the truest, because we have the most people watching—in other words, the market is the ultimate Decider. But that audience is currently decreasing—ergo, the market has also decided that Fox is less right and its version of reality less true than it was in the past.