With Fox News in flux, MSNBC is courting conservatives

Liberals will have some new company.
Liberals will have some new company.
Image: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
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Liberal outpost MSNBC is encroaching on Fox News’s conservative territory, just when it can hurt the Rupert Murdoch-run TV network the most.

MSNBC is shaking up its news lineup with voices that dissent from its characteristic liberal leanings. Nicolle Wallace, George W. Bush’s former White House communications director, will get her own MSNBC show next month. And New York Magazine reports that conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt is in talks to join the cable-news network as well.

Wallace and Hewitt would add to MSNBC’s increasingly centrist schedule, which now includes anchors like Brian Williams and conservative voices like former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, in addition to the primetime progressives like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes that the network is known for.

NBC News executive Andrew Lack, who oversees MSNBC, has been pushing the cable network to adopt a straighter approach to news since 2015, even as ratings soar amongst liberal programming.

These latest hires come as the premier cable-TV mouthpiece of right-wing America, Fox News, contends with leadership and lineup shakeups of its own that are reshaping its future. The channel’s ratings have stayed strong throughout, but the timing could allow MSNBC to corner a piece of the conservative audience that drove Fox News to the top of the cable-TV news ranks.

In the past year, scandals have forced out Fox News boss Roger Ailes, who built the cable-news giant into what it is today, leading anchor Bill O’Reilly, and, most recently, co-president Bill Shine. Another ratings driver, Megyn Kelly, also left Fox for NBC News earlier this year.

The changes have Fox’s fans reeling along with its long-time anchor Sean Hannity, who is now one of the last of the old guard.

What’s more, the conservatives who are Fox’s bread and butter appear to be losing faith in it. A Harris Poll taken at the beginning of the year, before O’Reilly and Shine’s departure, and released today (May 2), showed that support for the Fox News brand dipped 5.4 points among conservative-leaning Americans from 2015 to 2017, for a score of 67.4, out of 100 on the brand-equity index.

Fox still has the strongest brand equity among the networks tested, however.

Support for cable-TV news fell overall amongst this group. As the chart shows, MSNBC still has a long way to go in proving itself to conservative viewers, who don’t appear to think very much of the network, yet.

But there may be no better time than the present for MSNBC to change that narrative.