Fox’s wall-to-wall coverage of the House’s impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump is bumping up against its opinion hosts’ attempt to minimize the proceedings. In at least one case, viewers were asked to turn it off.
“My advice?” Greg Gutfeld, a host on Fox’s “The Five,” said. “Skip it and show up next November and give these clowns a hearing they’ll never forget.” Like competitors CNN and MSNBC, Fox has covered all of the testimony, even as Tuesday’s session stretched past 11 hours and broadcast networks cut away. That set up an extraordinary game of chicken between Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat chairing the House investigations committee.
Fox recorded its top ratings of 2019 last week with the opening of the hearings, the Nielsen company said. “If you’re like most Americans, you didn’t watch today’s impeachment charade,” Fox’s Sean Hannity said a half hour after Tuesday’s hearing concluded. “Here’s the big takeaway: another huge dud. Americans are tuning out in a big way.”
An hour later, Laura Ingraham said that “Tylenol PM has nothing on Schiff.” She said the “impeachment farce” was mind-numbingly dull. Similarly, “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy said Americans were ignoring the hearings.
“The American public, they want us to watch it all,” said Doocy’s morning show colleague, Ainsley Earhardt. “They want us to give them the summary and tell them what happened. It’s hard to follow all of these players and all of these individuals.”
Fox notes that its news operation, not the opinion hosts, has been covering the hearings. News anchor Chris Wallace, for example, has specifically contradicted the contention that people don’t care by pointing to ratings and saying Tuesday, “a lot of people are engaged and are watching this.”
Gutfeld has been a particularly harsh critic of the hearings, saying last week that Fox may be required to air the proceedings, but viewers aren’t required to watch. “The media is shoving this down your throat, with blanket, abysmal coverage, and then they scold you for not genuflecting before their altar of solemn news,” he said last week. “This is historical, they tell you. No, it is hysterical.”
His colleague on “The Five,” Jesse Watters, said he tuned in to CBS for the hearing Tuesday afternoon and saw that the network had “dumped out” on coverage and was airing a daytime drama. “What’s the difference between this and a soap opera?” he said.
CBS cut out of networkwide coverage for part of Tuesday afternoon’s session, the first broadcast network to do so, saying it was giving local affiliates the option to air it and streaming it online. Later as the hearing stretched into the evening, CBS, ABC and NBC all left the hearing to air typical programming.
Each broadcast network, along with the cable news outlets, returned to live hearing coverage Wednesday with Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony. Tuesday’s hearing stretched into prime time, ending with a lengthy summation by Schiff that became an argument for impeachment itself and a refutation of various talking points expressed by Trump’s supporters. It was the first, and likely only, time that Schiff would have the chance to deliver unedited remarks to the roughly 3 million people who routinely watch Fox’s nightly opinion lineup.
As he talked, a chyron printed on Fox’s screen pleaded with viewers to stick around: “Tucker Carlson is Next,” the message read. “Impeachment Hearings Wrapping up Now.” After adjournment, Carlson’s traditional hour-long show had been cut in half.
“We are out of time, sadly,” Carlson said at the end. “Stolen by Adam Schiff.”