When Joe Biden is sworn in as president on January 21, cable news viewers can witness one of the most dramatic U-turns in history.
After four years of slavishly promoting the president, Fox News is expected to hit the brakes within seconds of the inauguration ceremony.
Suddenly, the person in the White House is not a Republican. More than that, the network can no longer rely on the will of the president or his aides to call Fox News at any time of the day or night.
The right-wing television channel, and its great hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, will spend the next four years as an opposition party. The network has done this before, of course, the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency weren’t that long ago, but Biden presents a different challenge.
“Of course, we can expect him to be relentlessly negative, but it’s challenging on some levels, because he’s a 78-year-old white male, a pretty subdued story,” said Heather Hendershot, a professor of film and media at MIT who studies conservative media. and right.
“In the past they attacked Hillary Clinton very hard not only because she was liberal, but there was obviously some underlying sexism and misogyny there, and obviously the fact that Barack Obama was African American was central to the right wing attacks against him, as either implicitly or explicitly. even on Fox News. “
That is not to say that the Biden administration will escape attack, even if it dodges the worst.
Kamala Harris will be the first black vice president and could become a target for Fox News anchors. If the Democrats win the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate will split 50-50 and Harris will cast the swing vote.
“[If that happens] she will be front and center as a runoff in Congress over and over again, ”Hendershot said.
And every time that happens, it’s a way of tangentially attacking Biden: da [Fox News and other rightwing outlets] a kind of ‘red meat’ to attack Kamala Harris, because she is a woman and a person of color ”.
Biden states has nominated “the most diverse cabinet ever announced in American history,” with Janet Yellen set to be the first woman to be Secretary of the Treasury, while Lloyd Austin, if confirmed, will become the first secretary of Black Defense.
Pete Buttigieg, an occasional guest on Fox News, will become the first openly gay cabinet secretary as transportation chief.
Fox News has already been targeting another diverse group of Democrats: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and other non-white female members of Congress.
Matthew Gertz, principal investigator for Media Matters for America, a media watchdog, said that is a topic that has continued to dominate, even since Biden became president-elect.
“A lot of what we’re seeing right now is less a focus on Joe Biden himself and more on this idea that he will somehow be a puppet for other figures who find it easier to attack, be it Kamala Harris or Bernie. Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ”Gertz said.
“That’s an angle that they followed quite a bit during the campaign, and it’s something that they have focused on during the transition as well.”
Fox News is credited with helping fuel the growth of the Tea Party movement in 2010, which was the initial vehicle for fringe rightists to gain greater influence in the Republican Party.
The attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi in 2012 became a long-running story on Fox News, even as the administration was authorized. by a Republican-controlled House committee – of any crime.
“We have seen to some extent how this will play out. Looking back at 2009, 2010, the early years of the Obama administration included a host of incredibly heated and conspiratorial Fox News comments. I think it’s likely to be an area they are happy to return to, ”Gertz said.
“It’s likely a source for the scandal we saw during the Obama administration, basically a return to coverage of Benghazi, where the network takes a news event and spends months and months and years and years studying it closely and telling its audience that the Democratic administration is the source of horrible actions. “
Obviously, the shift from supporting one president to opposing the next is unprecedented.
More liberal cable news networks will have experienced something similar when Trump was elected in 2016, although CNN and MSNBC were never the same quasi-propaganda teams for Obama that Fox News has been for Trump.
Still, the more liberal news organizations saw a surge in popularity and a boost in viewership numbers after Trump won.
MSNBC and CNN watched double digit growth in audience figures after Trump’s victory, while Atlantic, New Yorker and ProPublica everyone saw a boost in readers. Fox News declined to comment, but a spokeswoman pointed to Nielsen’s ratings that show the network is consistently the most-watched cable news channel.
Hendershot said Fox News could see a similar benefit from its more left-wing rivals once it opposes the White House.
“The politicized media, be it magazines or opinion, smaller like the [left-leaning] Nation or the [conservative] The National Review, or larger ones like Fox News, tend to prosper financially the more opponents they are, ”Hendershot said.
“They will have to increase their opposition, by virtue of the fact that Biden is president, and at the same time they can have their cake and eat it too, in the sense that they do not lose Trump as history because he will continue to promote himself, so inaccurate, like the real president in exile. “
“So they can do very well financially and politically, because not only can they attack Biden, they can hit Kamala Harris very hard, and they can also keep working on the Trump story, trying to satisfy that base, because Trump is not going to leave.”
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