Even Fox News Is Sick Of Trump’s Campaign Rally Speeches
Those rambling campaign rally speeches the President loves to give aren't getting the kind of coverage they used to, not even from his favorite news channel.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, and for a considerable amount of time after he became President in January of last year, President Trump could count on the fact that his campaign rally speeches would get essentially universal coverage from all three cable news networks. While this was widely criticized during the campaign, the move was somewhat understandable from a business point of view given the fact that there were measurable up-ticks in ratings when Trump was on, and ratings are gold in the television industry. After the campaign, the networks continued to cover these rallies in no small part because it was inevitable that President Trump would say something controversial that would end up driving the news cycle for days to come, just as the President’s Twitter feed often does the same thing. Quite often, these Presidential comments were no doubt to the chagrin of White House officials who were hoping that other issues would be driving the news cycle, hence the joke that frequently gets shared among political pundits about how the latest Presidential comment has once against derailed “Infrastructure Week.”
With the 2018 midterms just about three weeks away, the President has been on the campaign trail a lot over the past week, and will likely continue to be there as much as he can. As Politico notes, those Trump rallies aren’t getting the kind of wall-to-wall coverage they used to even from the President’s favorite network:
President Donald Trump loves to brag about ratings, but he’s not getting them anymore.
As he’s ramped up his rally schedule ahead of the midterms, viewership numbers for the raucous primetime events have been roughly similar to — sometimes dipping below — Fox News’ regular programming, and the network has recently stopped airing most evening events in full.
During three Trump rallies last week, Fox News showed clips and highlights from his speeches but stuck largely with its normal weekday primetime programming. On Saturday, when “Fox Report Weekend” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” would ordinarily air, the network showed Trump’s speech from Topeka, Kan., in full. But on Tuesday, a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was particularly hard to find — it was not aired live on any major network, and even C-SPAN cut away for other news. And on Wednesday night, as Trump took the stage in Erie, Pa., at 7 p.m., Fox News stuck with its coverage of Hurricane Michael.
Since Trump took office, CNN and MSNBC have mostly declined to air his campaign rallies, though, like Fox News, they’ll typically carry any presidential speeches or comments to reporters.
Fox still provides livestreams of the campaign events online, but in a crucial period with the midterms less than a month away, some in the White House are worried that the president is losing a prime-time megaphone to his base.
One senior White House official was unsure why the network would decide to cut away from presidential rallies, saying officials planned “to look into that” and wouldn’t be surprised if White House communications director Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, was in touch with former colleagues about the trend.
The loss of national coverage is equally, if not more, concerning to the candidates on whose behalf Trump is traveling the country.
In 2017, when Trump rallied much less frequently, his events at times popped for more than 4 million viewers on Fox News — a number he hasn’t come close to in 2018, according to a POLITICO assessment of Nielsen ratings. This year, numbers have typically ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 million, per Nielsen, depending on a variety of factors, including day, time and whether there’s a big football game on another channel.
The biggest change is the sheer number of rallies. With so many, “they don’t want to give up so much primetime real estate,” said one person familiar with Fox News’ decision making.
Trump’s campaign speeches tend to follow a similar pattern, and this person said network officials’ fear was that too much repetition would lead to lower ratings. That could particularly be a problem during a busy news period like the first week of October, when Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was still up in the air.
“They’re going with the route they think will give the best ratings performance,” the person said.
Compounding the issue, Fox News can’t take commercial breaks while Trump is speaking — he often goes on for more than an hour — costing the network some of its best advertising slots. With so many rallies and little promise of a ratings boost, there’s not much incentive for the network to clear air time.
It can also be frustrating to plan an hour-long show knowing each block might be swapped for a standard presidential stump speech, said former Fox News host Eric Bolling, who left the network in September 2017 but whose program was often interrupted by rally coverage during his tenure.
Not too long ago, the president’s preferred network was taking jabs at competitors for declining to air the entirety of his remarks. “Trump rally live & only on Fox News, other networks ignore presidential rally,” read a chyron during a June appearance by Trump in Duluth, Minn., as CNN and MSNBC stuck to their standard shows. At least four more times between June and July, Fox News traded its primetime lineup for live coverage of the president’s rallies when other cable news networks chose alternative programming.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple comments:
It’s the dilution effect. As the midterm elections approach, the president has taken to barnstorming the country, stopping in different locales — about 10 since early September and more to come — to boost Republican politicians. At each stop, he burnishes the same set of talking points: Our trading partners are taking advantage of us; the media is dishonest; Democrats are awful obstructionists; all his friends are being treated very unfairly; and don’t we just love Fox News? Even Fox News viewers who’ll sit for the same Trump propaganda from the Carlson-Hannity-Ingraham crew every night are apparently tiring of the president’s shtick. Instead of live coverage, on recent rally nights, hosts have apprised their audiences of ongoing Trump rallies and advised them that they’ll cut to the action if news is in the making.
“I think it was the sheer volume of them,” a Fox News source told BuzzFeed reporter Steven Perlberg, who broke this story last week. “It’s hard to call something breaking news if happens with metronomic regularity.”
As Wemple goes on to note, this last observation has been true about Trump rallies for a long time. While the subject matter has changed based on what’s in the news, for the most part, what the President is saying at his political rallies now isn’t all that different from what he was saying last year, or what he was saying during the Presidential campaign. There are the inevitable attacks on the press and other perceived enemies of the President, the outright lies and exaggerations regarding either what the Administration has accomplished or some other matter, the outright lies that have been told about political opponents, the name calling of those same opponents, the attacks on the media, and, of course, the adulation of the crowd gathered to hear him speak, complete with chants about building the border wall or that oldie but goodie, “Lock her up!” It’s a familiar script that is no doubt tiresome for reporters who follow the President around on a regular basis and, apparently, has become tiresome even for the network that has become little more than just a propaganda network for the White House.
Just as the main reason that the three cable news networks were eager to carry Trump campaign speeches in the past, it appears that the main reason that even Fox News Channel is backing away from wall-to-wall coverage is basically a business decision. Apparently, these speeches are not as big a ratings draw as they used to be whether they air on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News Channel. More important, perhaps, is the fact that most of the rallies the President has been holding have been on weekdays in the evening when Fox, in particular, airs its most-watched and the most popular block of programming starting with Tucker Carlson and ending with Sean Hannity. These shows, of course, allow the network to sell commercial time based on the ratings they draw. Covering Trump speeches wall-to-wall means no commercial breaks and given the fact that the President tends to speak for at least an hour during these events that’s a not insignificant amount of revenue that Fox would be giving up. Given this, it’s not surprising that even Fox is less likely to give live coverage for a Trump rally during the week than it might on a Saturday night when viewership tends to be lower.
Given who we’re talking about here, one has to wonder how Trump himself is reacting to all of this. Throughout the campaign and during his Presidency, Trump has taken particular pride at claiming that he is a huge ratings draw, or at least he thinks he is. For example, Trump has claimed that his television shows The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice were massively successful when it came to television ratings. In reality, while The Apprentice was a Top 25 show in its two first seasons, it never came close to being the top-rated show on television.(Source) Celebrity Apprentice, meanwhile, was never a Top 25 show and only made it into the Top 50 in its first season, and both shows declined in their ratings as the years went along. (Source) The fact that everyone supposedly wants to hear what he has to say is apparently central to this man’s ego, so the fact that even his favorite network isn’t covering his speeches live anymore has got to hurt.