To watch Fox News cover the reelection of President Barack Obama on Tuesday, one would not get the feeling that anyone at the network is particularly devastated by the results. Granted, as the evening unfolded, Fox pundits offered no shortage of spin, reminding us time and again that the narrow margin by which Obama won the popular vote by no means constitutes a “national mandate.” But aside from Karl Rove’s demonstrative reluctance to give up on the key battleground state of Ohio, Fox News’s willful readiness to accept four more years of Barack Obama was surprisingly Zen-like.
In fact, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Fox News called the race for Obama at 11:17 p.m., a minute before CNN did the same. Just as Gov. Mitt Romney looked almost relieved during his brief concession speech, Fox News proved on Tuesday that it, too, might secretly see an Obama win as the best of all possible scenarios.
Of course, there’s a reason why Rupert Murdoch’s mammoth mouthpiece for the Republican Party has a vested interest in keeping Obama in office: Obama’s presidency has been a boon for Fox News ratings. And as Murdoch’s News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA) prepares to split itself into two pieces, it needs that boon now more than ever.
That Fox News would benefit from an Obama White House had been apparent since the beginning of the 2007 campaign season. The network first carved out its position as the top-rated cable news outlet during the Bush years, but viewership skyrocketed with the onset of Obama’s bid for the presidency. Six months after his inauguration, Fox News was still enjoying a 35 percent spike in ratings compared with the same period the year before. At the same time, ratings at its rival networks, MSNBC and CNN, were sliding. Even as Fox News’s viewership declined slightly in 2010 and 2011, it was still by far the most-watched cable news network, a trend that continued throughout the 2012 election season.
For the last four years, Fox’s pundits have dedicated virtually all of their airtime to vehemently attacking Obama’s policies, as if the country were on the verge of a Bolshevik revolution. And just as the Clinton years gave Rush Limbaugh a raison d’être in the 1990s as he carved out his talk-radio kingdom, Obama’s first term has allowed Fox News to successfully position itself as the last, best hope for American conservatism. A Romney win would only have added an unknown variable to that success. Why rock the boat when you’re No. 1?
In an earnings call with analysts on Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch reported that News Corp. shares jumped 2.4 percent this quarter, largely on the strength of its cable network unit. Cable programming is a vital driver of News Corp.’s bottom line, and it will only be more vital to the company going forward. As Murdoch announced in June, the company is separating its less successful publishing business from its media and entertainment business, with the separation set to be finalized sometime next year. When that happens, cable programming will account for an estimated 63 percent of News Corp.’s operating profit, according to a research note by Alice Bennett, an analyst with Commonwealth Bank.
That puts cable at the forefront of Murdoch’s moneymakers. News Corp., the world’s second-largest media conglomerate, needs Fox News. And Fox News needs President Obama.