Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fox News raises Cain

APPARENTLY, ELECTIONS have more consequences than we already thought. The mantra you’ve heard for the last three years has again proven to be a pithy truth, one that the Republican Party and conservatives generally are on the pointy end of. The Big Decision Desk at Fox News conceded as much on Friday, when the network continued shuffling the deck of its reliably conservative on-air lineup — bringing back an old favorite.

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and part of the comic-relief tag teams that comprised the 2012 field of Republican contenders for the presidency, joined the Fox News crew on Friday as a contributor for Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network.

“Cain’s impressive resume makes him a valuable addition to the FOX News and FOX Business lineup,” Bill Shine, Fox News' executive vice president of programming, said in a statement. “As a political expert with business savvy, he brings an important voice to the nation’s debates.”

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Cain joins former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown as the latest addition to the network, which has shuffled its supporting cast in the wake of last year’s presidential election. ““Senator Brown’s dedication to out-of-the box thinking on key issues makes him an important voice in the country and we are looking forward to his contributions across all FOX News platforms,” Shine said in a Feb. 13 statement.

Brown, who got flattened in his senatorial reelection bid by Democrat Elizabeth Warren, debuted on Fox News’ “Hannity” program on Wednesday.

With Cain and Brown in the Foxhouse, the “fair and balanced” network has completed the latest shift in on-camera identities. Flawed election seer Dick Morris and political personality Sarah Palin® were kicked to the curb a few weeks back.

This may be the latest in Fox News’ bid to steal a march on the freewheeling program-hosting style of MSNBC — to, in effect, be the MSNBC for conservatives. The ratio of left-leaning and right-leaning commentators now on Fox is almost an identical reverse of that of MSNBC. Where Joe Scarborough and Michael Steele hold down the conservative fort on MSNBC, Dennis Kucinich does the same for liberal causes on Fox.

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PURE AND simple, this is a bid for relevance in post-election America. While Fox News still boasts the highest ratings of any cable news network — a position it’s held for 11 straight years — Fox has seen its lead deeply eroded since the 2012 election. The network experienced a decline in its viewers between 25 and 54, the gold standard of advertiser demographic cohorts. It was Fox’s worst prime-time showing in that coveted cohort since August 2001.

The runup to the election and the period just after that tell the story. Fox News suffered from its reflexive conservative associations with the Romney campaign; outrageous statements from rightward candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock; and a nominating convention that was, to be charitable, dull as boiled potatoes. Morris’ breathtakingly inaccurate election forecast and the sad on-air antics of wannabe Republican kingmaker Karl Rove also contributed to a lot of those coveted viewers tuning out. Maybe for good.

Fox may be watching MSNBC closely for a more long-range, deep-bench strategy. The Huffington Post reported Jan. 29: “To a seasoned watcher of cable news ratings, there were other surprises. [MSNBC’s] Rachel Maddow, for instance, came in 10th, beating [Fox’s] ‘Studio B’ and the 11 p.m. repeat of ‘The O'Reilly Factor.’

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“In January 2012, she came in 14th,” HuffPost reported. “It may not seem like much, but the top of the cable news field has been extremely stable -- and if Maddow were to continue creeping up the list, it would mean a real sea change. Overall, MSNBC -- perhaps powered by liberal euphoria over President Barack Obama's inauguration -- was the only cable news channel to grow its ratings from 2012.”

Programming changes aren’t unusual for networks, of course. But what makes this transition at Fox so unusual is the apparent willingness to sideline a media star like Palin or a D.C. insider like Morris, in order to bring on Brown, who strategically made noises like a moderate Republican while in the Senate, and Kucinich, the fire-breathing lefty from central casting. Oh, Cain’ll give Fox viewers what they want: more of the conservative red meat he served up on platters during the primaries last year. That’s guaranteed. But the others are relative outliers likely to shake up Fox’s loyal viewers. Kucinich in particular.

With Rupert Murdoch, the ├╝ber jefe of News Corporation (which owns Fox), recently tweeting in curiously moderate terms supporting some Obama White House initiatives since the election, it’s clear that Fox News is making second-term tweaks to better position itself amid a viewership, and in a nation, that’s more to the ideological left than it wanted to believe.

Image credits: Cain: Video grab from Cain 2012 Web site. Maddow: MSNBC. Murdoch tweet: Rupert Murdoch.

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