Media | A new class of conservative news providers finds success
by Megan Basham
Posted 1/05/21, 07:32 pm
When Fox News called the swing state of Arizona early for Joe Biden on election night, upsetting President Donald Trump, smaller conservative media outlets smelled blood in the water. Jack Posobiec, the marquee anchor for the One America News Network cable channel, tweeted on Nov. 5, two days after the election, “If you are feeling unsatisfied with your current national news outlet and would like to make a change, @OANN is currently available right now for free livestreaming through the end of the election.” A few days later, The Daily Wire news site began sending email blasts offering 25 percent off a subscription to “replace the legacy media and join the Daily Wire.” And Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy openly outlined his company’s strategy to topple Fox News by courting disaffected Trump voters.
Based largely on its market position as the lone conservative-friendly outlet in broadcasting, Fox News dominated the cable news scene for nearly two decades. But viewership trends in recent weeks suggest Fox’s grip on the market could be slipping. Newsmax shocked industry experts when one of its programs beat Fox’s primetime show The Story with Martha MacCallum in the ratings among viewers ages 25-54 on Dec. 7. The Guardian reported that Fox’s favorability among GOP supporters dropped 13 points in the two weeks after the election.
Online, Steven Crowder’s Election Day livestream for The Blaze, a conservative news organization, racked up 8.2 million views on YouTube, making it competitive with all cable and network news programs. Meanwhile, The Daily Wire’s livestream reached 4 million, putting it in line with an average night of Fox’s 9 p.m. juggernaut, Hannity.
While mainstream news reports on the shift have focused on Trump’s rift with Fox, a closer look suggests other factors are also driving the change. Viewership numbers on election night showed plenty of conservatives had already decided to switch up their watching habits.
When 31-year-old sports and nutrition coach Jared Brannon explains what drew him away from Fox to the The Daily Wire, he barely mentions the president. Instead, he describes the lighthearted, humorous tenor of its podcasts and livestreams and its deeper spiritual perspective.
“They do a great job injecting God’s teachings into their discussions,” Brannon said. “They spent a good 20 minutes talking about the Bible on election night. They give me the news but keep me centered on the fact that God is in control. … I woke up hopeful and not filled with typical news blues.”
Popular Daily Wire host Andrew Klavan said Brannon’s observations line up with the company’s strategy to win over new audience members.
“The Daily Wire doesn’t believe that atheism is the default mode of intelligence,” Klavan said. “We have a lot of IQ points between us. And every single one of us is a believer in God, though from different perspectives.”
In recent months, the site has run commentary from California megachurch Pastor John MacArthur and Christian actor Kirk Cameron. On The Blaze, founder Glenn Beck at times opens his show with soaring spiritual rhetoric calling the nation to repentance. Another Blaze podcast host, Steve Deace, carves out a segment each week for specific theological questions and their intersection with politics and everyday life. Crowder is open about his faith in Jesus Christ and his own failings, and Daily Wire co-founder Ben Shapiro explicitly discusses his devout Judaism and how it shapes his ideology.
Blaze convert Jim Bucher said he doesn’t necessarily seek spiritual content from the outlet, but knowing that most of its hosts aren’t offended by evangelical Christianity and often share his Bible-based views gives them greater credibility. “Simply put, I trust them,” he said.
The question of trust has proved a stumbling block for other outlets in the battle over conservative audiences. Newsmax’s coverage of Trump’s accusations of election fraud caused the upstart network its own set of headaches. After guests on various Newsmax programs suggested that Dominion and Smartmatic voting services participated in rigging votes, the companies threatened lawsuits, prompting anchor John Tabacco to issue a lengthy on-air clarification, which it also posted on its website. It included an admission that Newsmax had no evidence to back up claims the companies were involved in election fraud despite suggestions from Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and other Newsmax guests.
But the new conservative media have not been afraid to criticize the president, either. At times, they have been harder on him than old guard voices such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Deace has slammed Trump for following policies recommended by medical advisers like Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Shapiro has been a fierce critic of Trump’s insistence he won the election.
“I used to watch Fox all the time,” Bucher, a 50-year-old Indianapolis finance executive, said. “But after the 2016 election, I realized that most of the voices there were no more capable of being critical of Trump than CNN or MSNBC or the networks were capable of being critical of Obama. The more I listened to Glenn Beck and Steve Deace, the more I felt they were being honest in their views, which coincided with mine, and not just pandering to an audience.”
Klavan doesn’t believe The Daily Wire or any other newer outlet needs a traditional cable channel to compete with established media: “I don’t know if it even matters to anybody what the technological aspect of it is. … What’s it to us whether people are watching us on a computer or a television set? All paradigms fall awfully quickly in the new world.”
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Megan is film and television editor for WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All. Megan resides with her husband, Brian Basham, and their two daughters in Charlotte, N.C. Follow her on Twitter on @megbasham.