Trump-Friendly Newsmax A Sudden Competitor To Fox News

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This 2018 photo shows Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax. The network's rise in popularity has been astonishingly swift and could indicate the first serious threat to Fox News Channel's iron grip on conservative viewers in two decades. (Newsmax via AP)

Now that his formerly unknown network is suddenly very popular with fans of President Donald Trump, Newsmax television personality Grant Stinchfield is puffing out his chest.

“They don’t know what to do with all of us,” Stinchfield said on the air Monday night. “We’re killing it here on Newsmax with a tactic they’ve never tried. It’s called the truth, the stone-cold truth. And once you get a taste of it, you will never tolerate lies again.”

Newsmax’s burst, whether or not it lasts, has been astonishingly swift and could foreshadow the first serious threat to Fox News Channel’s dominance with conservative viewers in two decades.

“We’ve really cornered Fox from the right,” said Chris Ruddy, Newsmax founder and friend of Trump. “They’ve never had that.”

From the beginning of July to the week before Election Day, Newsmax averaged 58,000 viewers from 7 to 10 p.m. on weekdays. That jumped to 568,000 the week after the election, the Nielsen company said. In the same period, daytime viewership increased from 46,000 to 450,000.

For the same dates, Fox News had 3.6 million viewers in the evening, Nielsen said. Fox’s prime-time viewership during the two weeks after the election was up 50 percent over last year.

“We love competition. We have always thrived on competition,” Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said on an Election Day earnings call.

Ruddy traced much of Newsmax’s increase to Trump supporters angry at Fox’s election night call that Joe Biden had won Arizona — ahead of any other news organization. For the president’s backers it was an ill-timed sign of insufficient loyalty from their favorite network.

Trump, who criticized Fox throughout the campaign, has driven the point home with frequent tweets suggesting his followers check out Newsmax. He also recommended a smaller conservative rival, One America News Network.

“There’s a large part of the country that wants to have a voice. They are the same people who gave birth to what later became a very robust Fox News,” said Michael Clemente, Newsmax’s CEO until last April. Clemente is also a former Fox News executive. “Now, more than ever, they want to have their say, and have influence equal to their peers on the coasts. Their loyalty is to that voice and not to any place or another.”

Unlike Fox, Newsmax’s news operation is largely non-existent. Most of the company’s reporters attach to a website which quotes the Trump campaign’s voices. On Wednesday it reported stories about Trump’s press secretary calling restrictions on Thanksgiving gatherings “Orwellian,” and the president’s latest tweet claiming an election victory.

The television network is running a clever ad telling conservative viewers not to be “out-foxed.” Yet on Monday both Newsmax and OANN spent considerable time discussing an interview on Fox, where Trump lawyer Sidney Powell predicted her client would win by millions of votes.

Programming generally consists of news talk shows, and it’s not difficult to see where the loyalty lies.

“Trump is the most powerful person in the world,” said Greg Kelly, former personality at Fox’s New York affiliate and now with Newsmax. “Not because he’s president, but because he’s loved by so many people.”

When Newsmax’s Chris Salcedo asked Trump aide Peter Navarro a question about Biden during an interview Monday, Navarro quickly brushed him off.

“As far as I’m concerned, President Trump is going to have a second term,” he said.

Newsmax hasn’t declared Biden the president-elect, unlike other news organizations, including Fox. Its personalities spend considerable time claiming voter irregularities.

Ruddy concedes in an interview that Trump has an extremely narrow chance of overturning the results. Still, he said it’s up to the states, not media organizations, to declare a winner.

But if the chances are really that small, why should a discussion about them dominate Newsmax’s airtime?

“I think that people that are not pro-Trump or don’t like him think we should get past it,” he said. “But conservatives are quite anxious to hear about developments.”

He said he differs from Trump in believing the administration should be cooperating in a transition, even if the president holds out hope that the results would be overturned.

“I would tell him if I speak to him that they should engage in a transition,” he said.

The spotlight on smaller rivals comes at an extraordinarily tumultuous time at Fox. There’s always been tension between the news and opinion sides of the network. But this time it reflects in the story of election results, said Nicole Hemmer, a Columbia University professor and author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”

In some respects, the surge in Newsmax’s viewership reflects frustration by some Fox viewers, she said.

For Newsmax, a big question is whether its programming is compelling enough to hold viewers who are clearly sampling. Besides Kelly, former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer is Newsmax’s best-known personality. Both their shows aired twice a night; Ruddy said a new prime-time show will start next month and another is in the works.

“It’s going to be a challenge for (Newsmax) to grow their numbers in the way that Fox did because of the lack of a news operation,” Hemmer said.

The Wall Street Journal reported last weekend that Trump allies in Hicks Equity Partners had discussed acquiring and investing in Newsmax TV. Ruddy said it never materialized into anything. He said he’s not looking to sell, but will listen if an investor approaches with an open checkbook.

For conservative media, the overshadowing mystery is what Trump decides to do when he leaves office. Will he start a media organization of his own or join an existing one?

Ruddy professes no insider knowledge, but said he doubts Trump would want to start his own company because it would cut him off from access to other media.

He doesn’t think Trump would be interested in doing a daily show. Perhaps weekly, he said, and Newsmax would be interested in having him.

(Vosizneias / AP)

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