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Small networks boosted as Trump supporters reject Fox

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Nov 18, 2020 - 02:18 PM

NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of Donald Trump supporters, disbelieving the presidential election results and increasingly frustrated by the conservative Fox News, are turning — often at the president’s urging — to smaller, right-wing channels OAN and Newsmax, which still refuse to call the race for Joe Biden.

“Democrats planned a coup on the president on the United States,” One America News Network (OAN) anchor Christina Bobb insisted Monday. “And Biden still lost!

“Trump is getting a second term,” she added.

Ten days since Joe Biden was declared president-elect by all the major US news stations, OAN has refused to cave.

“We have not called the election for Biden because we believe it’s a very close race,” Chris Ruddy, the founder and CEO of Newsmax, the other strongly conservative channel on the rise, told AFP.

The approach has hit the nail on the head for Trump supporters disillusioned with Fox News, which they believe was wrong to make the outgoing president’s defeat official and failed to support him enough.

OAN president Charles Herring told AFP that his channel has been among the top 10 most-watched across the entire US cable industry for the past several weeks.

And Newsmax crossed the threshold of one million viewers for the first time in its history last week.

Simultaneously, Fox News has been beaten several times by rival CNN since election night on November 3, a rare event, although its audience numbers remain strong.

Herring told AFP that former Fox viewers have written to OAN to express their frustration over the network’s apparent leftward turn.

Trump himself has encouraged followers to switch to OAN and Newsmax, saying he considered “the biggest difference” between the 2016 election and 2020 was Fox’s stance.

More and more top-tier Republicans have accepted invitations to speak on the two small channels, including Trump, who has already given them interviews.

‘An echo chamber’ 

But there’s a key difference between Newsmax and OAN, according to Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor at Temple University.

Newsmax is closer to Fox News in its editorial approach, he says. “They seem to be a little more willing to play fast and loose with the truth, but they have some sense of journalistic standard.”

Ruddy said that once the results are confirmed and Team Trump’s legal appeals are through, if Biden is still declared the winner — of which there seems little doubt — “Trump should concede and there should be a smooth transfer of power. We hope that’s the case.”

On the other hand, “it’s not even clear that I would categorize OAN as a news network,” said Arceneaux, even if the channel styles itself as one.

He views OAN as “a place for far-right leaning conspiracy theories, an echo chamber.”

By design, OAN has “created a completely different reality for conservatives who can’t come to terms that Trump lost,” said Chris Pocock, a former producer at the network.

For Arceneaux, the problem isn’t so much the channel’s content as it is that elected Republican officials seem to agree with it, which gives OAN legitimacy.

As a result, there is a risk of seeing the two major US parties “having completely different conversations about different sets of facts,” Arceneaux said. “It’s very difficult to see how you have a healthy democracy in that context.”

“The key is going to be whether or not (the two channels) can make it stick,” said Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University. “That remains to be seen.”

Newsmax and OAN, which are small in today’s media landscape, are going to have to invest, McCall warned, if they want to face off with Fox, which has revenues of several hundred million dollars a year.

According to several US media reports, Ruddy was recently approached by the investment group Hicks Equity Partners — which has close ties to the Republican party — over a possible purchase.

But the Newsmax founder, himself a close Trump acquaintance, said there had been “no formal” offer.

In the background is also Trump’s desire, which he has mentioned several times, to own his own news channel, either by creating it or buying an existing one.

“I would welcome the president to have a show on Newsmax,” said Ruddy, “but I wouldn’t want to have the whole network named after him or be about him.”

Could Trump TV someday become a reality? Citizen Media, a small company in Illinois, already registered the name in June.

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