After eight years of Obama, Fox News got its shining moment—and blew it

No longer a factor.
No longer a factor.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
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This should have been a really, really good year for Fox News.

After eight years railing against the administration of Barack Obama, on Nov. 9, 2016, America’s conservative news network claimed its greatest victory to date: Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States.

But with the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency not yet completed, Fox News seems to be on the verge of falling apart in 2017.

How did we get here? Follow us back in time to last summer, when voters across the US were glued to the news as an increasingly caustic election season played out between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The national polls may have been leaning in Clinton’s favor, but Fox News was enjoying a huge audience boost, thanks in no small part to a GOP candidate who is notoriously obsessed with ratings.

Then, after nearly two decades in charge, the network announced executive Roger Ailes was out following a company-wide investigation into claims that he sexually harassed female employees.

The public allegations began with one-time anchor Gretchen Carlson, with whom the company ultimately reached a $20 million settlement deal.

Another longtime female anchor, Greta Van Susteran, also left abruptly that fall, after failing to renegotiate her contract.

In the wake of those departures, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of parent company 21st Century Fox, announced he would step into Ailes’ spot.

“Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country, Murdoch said then. “Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly.”

It was a blow, to be sure. Ailes founded Fox News more than two decades ago and is widely credited for overseeing its explosive growth over the years.

Yet by November, the multiple scandals had faded into the political background. With election day around the corner, Fox News had its best ratings month in four years, averaging 3.3 million viewers in primetime.

Then in the early hours of Nov. 9, the network called it. “Winning the most unreal, surreal election we have ever seen,” as chief political anchor Bret Baier said, Trump took the presidency. Cue the confetti.

But by January, it became clear that despite the huge win for its man on election night—all was not well at Fox.

The next major loss came when Megyn Kelly, perhaps the network’s most high-profile female anchor, left for a gig at rival NBC News. The Kelly File host had also accused Ailes of sexual harassment, and was reportedly involved in the company’s investigation into his conduct.

Kelly was one of the network’s most popular hosts among the crucial 25-54 age demographic beloved by advertisers.

And now, after all of that, Bill O’Reilly is out.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement.

“By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news,” the company said. “We have full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.”

In a statement, O’Reilly called the allegations against him “unfounded” and said it was “tremendously disheartening” that he should leave the network on these terms.

Fox News said it would move Tucker Carlson Tonight to the primetime spot formerly occupied by the O’Reilly Factor.

Whether Carlson will be able to deliver on the kind of ratings O’Reilly enjoyed for many years—and allow the network to retain its prominence as the US cable news “powerhouse” remains to be seen.

But at least Fox didn’t promote Jesse Watters.