For countless Americans, the U.S. government shutdown presented a harsh reality -- but then what has cable news ever had to do with reality?
The Obamacare-fueled tussle that grinded government to a 16-day halt is over, after a deal struck by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., allowed for the funding of federal agencies through mid-January. Federal parks are beginning to reopen Thursday morning. Ditto for museums and monuments. The government, for the time being at least, will not default on its financial obligations, and federal employees get to go back to work.
It’s all good news -- unless you hear the Fox News Channel tell it. Pundits on the conservative cable network fumed on Wednesday night as a deal to end the stalemate drew near and it became apparent that the obstructionist tactics of Republican hardliners had achieved nothing. The deal “doesn’t look like a win for the American public,” according to Megyn Kelly, as Media Matters pointed out.
Bringing the argument back to Obamacare, Sean Hannity sparred with Juan Williams, calling the Affordable Care Act “the biggest technical screw up in the history of man.” Forget Chernobyl or the Titanic. Humanity’s greatest tragedy is apparently a piece of legislation aimed at lowering the uninsured rate.
“Premiums will skyrocket for the American people,” Hannity bellowed. “Jobs are being lost." Williams responded that he was “so sorry to see you in this rage.”
Hannity also spoke with hardline Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who not only worked overtime to shut the government down but also voted against the bill to reopen it. The bill is “a classic instance of the Washington establishment selling the American people down the river,” Cruz said.
That Fox News would provide Cruz with a forum to air his grief is not surprising, but it does reveal an interesting dichotomy. The shutdown has been bad for Republicans, and tea partiers in particular. Obamacare will go forward, and the party’s approval rating is at an all-time low. And yet, almost paradoxically, the whole snafu has been great for Fox News. Viewership was up for the week of Oct. 7, as TV Newser reported, pushing the network into the top five for all of ad-supported cable television. The network has also benefited from a new primetime lineup and personalities like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who gave “Fox & Friends” a double-digit boost.
Fox News saw a similar ratings jump during the 2012 presidential election, beating out its competitors, CNN and MSNBC, on election night -- despite its dogged support of the losing candidate, Mitt Romney.
Since the election, Fox’s viewership has ebbed and flowed throughout the year, but it’s in no danger of losing its dominance in the cable-news wars. You might say the network lives a kind of charmed life, virtually impervious to the whims of political allegiance and the fickle fluctuations of Washington theatrics. Is it any wonder that it prefers a nonworking government?
Fox News is owned by Fox Entertainment Group, a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. (NASDAQ:FOXA). CNN is owned by the Turner Broadcasting unit of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX). MSNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA).