Fox News this week celebrated 15 years of being the most-watched cable-news network.
Since passing CNN in the ratings in January 2002, Fox News hasn’t looked back, maintaining a streak through two US presidential administrations.
With President Donald Trump in the White House, the network looks to continue its dominance.
The channel has seen its ratings surge. It was the most-watched basic cable network in January, outpacing channels like ESPN. Fox News additionally had 14 of the top 15 cable news programs.
In primetime, Fox News averaged 2.8 million viewers for the month of January — a figure that represented a 38% year-to-year increase.
Business Insider spoke with “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer on Monday, the day of the ratings milestone:
Oliver Darcy: Fox News has muscled its way through some turbulent times in recent months, with former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes leaving the network. How has it been working at Fox through all the recent changes?
Bill Hemmer: I’m very proud of my colleagues for keeping their eye on the prize. And we try, Oliver, every day to keep energy in the product. We can read the newspaper on the air, but it would not be very interesting. And I think that helps explain a lot of the viewership. Trying very hard to keep the energy and the product.
There’s another point I really want to stress to you. That is this: Six months ago we were talking about cord cutters and Trump TV. And since the election, you look at the viewership and the amount of interest that has been driven into are channel and some others, it has been exactly the opposite.
And I would argue that we are in the middle of the biggest cable-news bull market that we have seen in some time. Clearly outside of any war that has taken an ongoing story that has taken several weeks at a time. It’s anyone’s guess as to when it ends, if it ever does. And I think all of that is remarkable. No one predicted it.
Darcy: What’s your message to critics who don’t think Fox News has been tough enough on Trump? Gabe Sherman of New York Magazine recently compared you guys on Twitter to “state TV.”
Hemmer: I think we made a great new hire in Marie Harf from the State Department. She worked for President Obama for years. Voices like hers are critical to us in examining in all sides of the issues, taking in various viewpoints. People like her are really important to what we do. She is coming out of an administration that still has a lot of contrails in American government foreign policy. So we are going to rely on people like her to take us through this.
Darcy: You’re known as more of a calm and collected anchor. But some in the media have been a bit more frantic in the way they have covered Trump. Any message or advice for them?
Hemmer: I don’t have a lot of advice for my colleagues. They have a job to do, and I have full respect for the job which they are charged. Their style is their style.
I can only comment for myself and that is this: When you think about the events that have happened in five days. You had the UK prime minister visit on Friday. That story appeared as if it were over by Friday evening because of the immigration order that was passed. On Saturday, you had a conversation between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. It was barely talked about. I mean think about how significant that is. Coming after an election where you had Russian hacking accusations and conspiratorial theories about certain American government officials working with Russian government officials and then you have a conversation that got scant coverage because of another story that pushed it off the table. You had the immigration order from over the weekend. And now [Tuesday night] in primetime you are going to have a Supreme Court nominee that will be unveiled before the entire country.
These are extraordinary events that are having one after the other after the other. And I believe this is the pace in which Donald Trump works and lives. And as my colleague Dana Perino said, embrace the chaos.
Darcy: Are you worried the chaos might be bad for news consumers who may be struggling to keep up with the day’s events?
Hemmer: Peter Doocy was on the other day and said, “Every time I go to the gym I put my phone down for 20 minutes and I come back and something is different. Something has changed.” I think we are all used to that. I think we are moving at a different pace.
Is it bad? I would never put it in the category of bad. I am a news consumer, so I am always absorbing the events of the day. Is it a lot? It certainly is. But Oliver, you and I are not going to change the pace. We’re in many ways just trying to keep up with him. And I am not suggesting that’s a good or bad thing. It’s just different. And you must adjust to it.
Darcy: What do you make of outlets like Breitbart?
Hemmer: I don’t frequent that website, but I will tell you that I am reading a lot about Steve Bannon. He is an intriguing figure who clearly has influence and I want to know more about his thought process.
Darcy: Anything in particular you’re reading about him?
Hemmer: Well there was a piece in the New York Times I want to read, there was a speech that he gave at a meeting at the Vatican a couple years back. I am just trying to find stuff that is interesting where I can learn — I thought the Hollywood Reporter piece that came after the election that was done in his office in Trump Tower was very interesting. I posted it on my Facebook page.
So I am just trying to pick up things here and there. Look, I don’t think with anything you and I are talking about, you can’t conquer it in one article. You need to pay attention and you need to be dedicated to your research and you need to be wide open to varying views of opinion.
Darcy: White House press secretary Sean Spicer seems to prefer new media outlets that lean conservative. And both Alex Jones and the Gateway Pundit are trying to get correspondents inside the White House. Does that concern you at all?
Hemmer: I honestly don’t have information on that at all. I think what will be interesting is who gets the four Skype seats. That seemed to be one of the headlines of the first briefing.
I think Spicer is a fast talker and I think the benefit is the benefit is he will get to more questions. And if that’s the case Oliver, I think that’s good for the process.
Darcy: Are you worried about any emerging outlets, like those online, eclipsing Fox?
Hemmer: I can remember vividly just 20 years ago — 15 years ago? — when we were all told that satellites were going to knock cable out of the business. And the cable companies lined the country with fibre optics and that all argument was stopped in its tracks.
I think we will have always have competition, but I think rumours of our death and demise are greatly exaggerated. I would just go back to my opening comment with you. Six months ago you could read all kinds of articles about cord cutters and Trump TV and the opposite has occurred. So for those who are making predictions of our demise, I think it’s overstated. It takes time to move with these things.
Look, Trump has done a lot toward driving an audience to a good portion of what we do now. I don’t think that’s open for debate. I think what it proves, Oliver, is the amount of curiosity in what he is doing is enormous. It comes from the right, it comes from the left, it comes from people who voted for him and those who despise him. There is genuine curiosity in how he is going to proceed as president. And I think over the past 12 days that example has been set clearly for us in the amount of viewership that we see in the ratings every afternoon. It’s an extraordinary time.
Darcy: What do you make of Trump’s understanding of TV?
Hemmer: When the news came out that he was going to name the Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday night, I said, ‘Just like the Apprentice.’ And I’m not saying I’m right, but clearly he’s been influenced by his exposure to his time at NBC. He understands the media and how it operates. More so, I would argue, than any president we have ever had.
And I want to add one thing. And I don’t know if this is true or not. But I read this and it stuck in back of my head. When he did his work with the World Wrestling Entertainment. He understood how to interact with an audience. He was very good at it. I think he learned immediately how he can say something and get a reaction and response from the audience. Trump has a mastery of this.
And in many ways I think the more things he does in a day. Whether it’s a tweet, or a press conference, or a executive order, or a statement, or a meeting with business or union leaders, the more he does that, the more he forces the other side to react to him.
And I would argue that so far it has been difficult for Democrats to pin him down because he is moving all the time. And as long as you are a moving target you are more and more difficult to hit.
Darcy: That makes it more difficult for the press to pin him down as well, right?
Hemmer: Oh we are scrambling. To keep up — I wouldn’t say keep up. But look, we are changing the pace by which we work.
But I would say, Oliver, we work really fast. I mean, we hit the door in the morning at 110 miles an hour and if you are not moving at that speed around here, your colleagues at Fox will blow right by you. And I learned that when I came here 11 years ago. I still believe that is the case.
But Trump is moving at an even faster pace. We do not see a commander in chief moving this quickly on these issues. Does that present a challenge to us? Yes, you must pay attention in order to keep at his pace.
Darcy: When Rupert Murdoch took over for Roger Ailes, there was a lot of promise the network would invest a lot more in news. But Tucker Carlson, an opinion host, was tapped for 9 p.m. Do you see any signs the network still plans to invest more in news? Still hopeful Murdoch plans to do this?
Hemmer: A thousand per cent. You can find that in your daily conversation with him. He is always pushing for the next angle of the story. And I think the heart of Rupert Murdoch is — he is a newsman at heart. He’s a reporter. And reporters ask a lot of questions and they take your shoes and turn them upside down and they shake them a little bit trying to figure out if there is a different way at looking at the news. I have found that in every conversation I have had with him, it’s wonderful to see. And he is the right man for the job at the right time.
Editor’s note: Questions in Q&A edited for clarity.
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