Fox News and CNN are 2 of America's biggest news sources - but they couldn't be more different. Here's how they've changed in the past decade.
- CNN used to be America's news "emergency room," but over the last decade it became clear that it wasn't enough to compete with Fox News and MSNBC.
- Fox News has continued on an upward trend ratings-wise, but it's success has been through its anchor's opinions, and since 2010 it's lost a few of its biggest stars.
- Here's how the two networks have changed in the last decade.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It's been a big decade for CNN and Fox News.CNN was launched in the 1980s. It made "news the star," and steered clear of politic bias. After defining itself with on-the-scene reporting during the Gulf War, for a long time, CNN was the nation's news "emergency room." People tuned in for breaking coverage of terrorist attacks or election results.Advertisement
But as American media became more politically aligned, it wasn't enough. Coming into the 2010s, CNN was struggling. In 2013, former NBC head, Jeff Zucker was hired to run the network. Despite providing more political commentary, by October 2019, CNN settled into third place in viewer ratings, falling behind Fox News and MSNBC for the 10th quarter in a row.
On CNN's political right, Fox News has continued its upward march in the ratings. Since 2002, it's been the most-watched cable news network in the country, in part because of the prescient plan put forth by its former CEO, Roger Ailes.But Fox News is a brand based on personalities. And in the last few years, it's lost them. Ailes, its leader, and Bill O'Reilly, one of its most recognized anchors, were both booted after numerous sexual misconduct allegations became public. Megyn Kelly moved to NBC. In 2019, Shepherd Smith, a rare Fox News straight news presenter, left as well.
The other elephant in the room is President Donald Trump. Since 2016, viewership at both networks surged thanks to his presidency. But he's also accelerated the polarization of political media, boosting Fox News when it praises him and turning CNN into a punching bag on the right for remaining nonpartisan.Here's how the two networks have changed over the last ten years.
CNN specializes in straight news and Fox News in opinion. But the trajectory of these two rivals is intertwined.
CNN began operating in the 1980s, with an aim of "making news the star."Advertisement
Fox News was the newcomer, having launched in 1996.
But since 2002, it's been the highest-rated cable news channel in America.Advertisement
CNN has always had a large editorial staff. In 2010, it had 4,000 employees, the most out of any of its competitors.
Fox News was the opposite.Advertisement
CNN had the ability to be on the ground, reporting. But its commentary felt forced. Its strength was in news.
While Fox News's actual reporting, according to Mike Hoyt, a former editor of Columbia Journalism Review, was "a small island in a vast sea of very conservative commentary."Advertisement
In February 2010, Fox amped up the feud when it lashed out at CNN's claim that said it was the most trusted name in news.
That was CNN's worst month in its recent history.Advertisement
In May 2012, CNN reported its worst ratings in a decade.
CNN's inability to compete was summed up Fox News' Tamara Holder.Advertisement
Holder was referring to a segment fought on Fox News for seven minutes, between liberal journalist Kirsten Powers and anchor Megyn Kelly, over alleged voter intimidation.
In mid-2012, CNN was experiencing one of its worst slumps ever.Advertisement
Fox News continued to rise. It finished 2012 with an average of 2 million prime-time viewers.
In January 2013, the former head of NBC Universal, Jeff Zucker, became president of CNN Worldwide. It's hard to miss the irony.Advertisement
But according to Cooper, Zucker was "the first president to actually watch CNN."
Zucker wanted to revamp CNN from a tired news station into something entertaining.Advertisement
He wanted to break up CNN's daytime programming, which ran together as an endless breaking news cycle.
It was Zucker who brought back the tagline "this is CNN" as he tried to strengthen the network's identity.Advertisement
He wasn't afraid to break from the brand, either.
Things were changing for Fox News in 2013, too.Advertisement
One of the reasons for this change was that Ailes was concerned about its aging demographic.
In 2014, commentators noticed Fox News was also putting more left-wing analysts on air.Advertisement
Another sign was former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's fall from favor.
Palin went on to start her own media organization.Advertisement
Across the divide, despite Zucker's changes, CNN's viewers were down to 515,000 in the primetime slot in 2014. Even if it was sitting higher than MSNBC it was even less than its 2010 low of 564,000.
In 2015, CNN's news judgment was mocked for choosing to cover the White House Correspondent's dinner over protests for Freddie Gray, a black man who died while being held by police.Advertisement
In 2015, Fox News saw a glimmer of the future when Megyn Kelly grilled Trump over his past sexist comments. Trump responded by refusing to go back on Fox News.
Fox News' management also reportedly killed a story about Trump's alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, because Murdoch wanted Trump to win.Advertisement
Then in 2016, Trump was elected president.
For CNN, Trump provided a focus for all of its breaking news talent.Advertisement
Yet CNN was heavily criticized for being one of the first major news outlets to give Trump a platform.
For Fox, it started as a mutually-beneficial relationship.Advertisement
Fox News and Trump seemed to be intertwined, and any claim that it wasn't "mainstream media" was hard to swallow, considering its popularity and its positioning close to the president.
The changes were made even starker with the departure of Ailes.Advertisement
Former Fox News contributor Bill Kristol told The New Yorker the network had become more propagandistic.
Things continued to change for Fox News in 2017. Megan Kelly and Bill O'Reilly were out of the network.Advertisement
A revolving door between Trump's administration and Fox News became more and more pronounced.
One key figure who helped keep the revolving door spinning was former Fox News executive Bill Shine, who was Trump's director of communications for eight months.Advertisement
Across the way, CNN was hiring more Trump supporters to defend Trump's views.
In 2017, the networks clashed when Fox News distorted comments made by CNN host Jake Tapper.Advertisement
This clash between networks was becoming intense.
These clashes showed that CNN was no longer defining itself by sitting in the middle of the political spectrum.Advertisement
Fox News didn't just attack CNN. It effectively attacked all media that didn't have a right-wing bias.
And in doing this — despite losing Ailes, Kelly, and O'Reilly — Fox News continued to thrive.Advertisement
But in 2019, Trump's relationship with Fox News began to sour.
Even Carlson, a stalwart Trump supporter, criticized Trump for pressuring Ukraine's president to interfere in the 2020 elections.Advertisement
In October 2019, Shepard Smith resigned, and the network's news focus seemed even more precarious.
Changes at CNN had become more noticeable, too.Advertisement
By October 2019, CNN had settled into third place for viewers, falling behind Fox News and MSNBC for the 10th quarter in a row.
CNN also put on 20 of its own events to debate issues.Advertisement
After 2020, Zucker told the Washington Post, he wanted CNN "to be a big and important part of the conversation."
While for Fox News, Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son and Fox Corp's CEO, is reportedly already looking at a future after Trump.Advertisement
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