Why MSNBC Is Beating Fox News in the Ratings to Close Out 2018

Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’ Donnell, and Chris Matthews speak during the MSNBC panel during the NBC Universal portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

If cable news ratings went by accuracy or honesty, Fox News would rank last in the business. The embarrassing Scott Pruitt interview scandal late in 2018 reminded everyone again that the network is not interested in informing viewers. Basically, everything broadcast on the channel (beginning with Fox & Friends) falls apart under scrutiny by fact-checkers.

But that’s not how ratings work, and Fox has been the network to beat for the better part of the past two decades. In fact, the last time MSNBC topped the right-wing network in weekday viewers was 2000. That changed in the final weeks of 2018, when MSNBC bumped Fox from atop the charts.

During a period when advertisers were again boycotting Fox News hosts, the news couldn’t be worse for Donald Trump’s favorite TV station. Here’s why Fox was losing out to MSNBC as the year came to a close.

Looking for news ahead of the government shutdown

In the ratings release by the network, MSNBC noted that it topped Fox in weekday viewers for the week of December 17-21. Those five days represented the last full work-week before Christmas and included the run-up to the government shutdown, which began the 21st.

When viewers wanted information during this time, they turned to MSNBC more frequently than they did Fox News. Given the number of lies Trump told over that period, it’s easy to see why viewers looked elsewhere for information. Fox has veered more and more toward state-media broadcasts, and this could be a sign the approach is falling flat.

In terms of raw numbers, Fox hadn’t trailed MSNBC on this level since 2000. Looking at the key demographic of viewers aged 25-54, Fox also lost out to its NBC Universal competitor. That hadn’t happened since 2001.

Programs up and down the MSNBC lineup — from The Rachel Maddow Show to Ali Velshi’s afternoon broadcasts and The 11th Hour With Brian Williams — won their time-slots for the week. Overall, Maddow’s show ranked as the No. 1 cable-news program for the five days.

If you think about it, there are several reasons why such a key audience segment wouldn’t turn to Fox for news.

Losing the War on Christmas (and marijuana, too)

Rachel Maddow had the No. 1 cable-news show heading into 2019. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Fox News long ago became a punchline for viewers below a certain age. You only need to take in some of the network’s broadcasts on topics of the day (including the legalization of marijuana) to understand why.

Early in December, Fox & Friends featured a segment with a law-enforcement officer telling the audience that marijuana was “killing people every day.” Those claims went unchecked by Steve Doocy and the gang, leaving the audience to sort through the nonsense on its own. But it was nothing out of the ordinary for on-air personalities like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.

The same holds for the “War on Christmas” Fox News has hyped for more than a decade. These days, most people see these “reports” as a transparent attempt to anger and frighten its aging audience members. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to learn much from Tucker Carlson and someone else debating why “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” should play on every radio station during the holidays.

In fact, it’s easy to see why people keep saying Fox News should take “news” out of its name. It just doesn’t have much to do with the product the network broadcasts every night.

When the government shutdown became imminent, people knew better than to watch Fox.

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