Impeachment Hearings Give Fox News Its Highest Ratings In 2019

Nov 20, 2019
Originally published on November 20, 2019 7:52 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified today that he was acting at the direction of the president when he urged Ukraine to launch investigations that may have been politically inspired. And he said Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were, quote, "in the loop." All the major TV networks carried it live.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Republicans have suggested that the public is not interested in the impeachment hearings. Here's what Congressman Devin Nunes of California told two witnesses yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

DEVIN NUNES: Well, Ambassador and Mr. Morrison, I have some bad news for you. TV ratings are way down - way down. I don't hold it personally. I don't think it's you guys.

SHAPIRO: To fact-check whether the inquiry has people turning off their TVs, we are joined by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Hi.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, what do the ratings say?

FOLKENFLIK: Ratings show pretty good business for TV stations. About 13 million people watched the combined six major news television networks last week. That's not including audiences for PBS and NPR. But that's a decent-sized - maybe dropped slightly on Friday but basically held steady. You saw them come back yesterday.

It was interesting what Nunes said. You know, he was complaining about this drop. And, yes, it was a little lower yesterday morning. But according to the ratings estimates, they actually shot back up when the Republicans were able to interview their witnesses later in the afternoon - back up to about 13 million people. So, you know, it seems as though they did fine. Fox News has been outstripping - yesterday - all of the other channels in terms of attracting ratings. This is a network where a lot of pundits have said it's boring. You don't need to watch. It's not telling us anything of substance. People have a hunger for it - Fox reporting this afternoon that they had an audience shooting up 42% compared to what the audience was last year in the same timeslot.

SHAPIRO: In an age when people are getting constant news via tweets and headlines all over the place, do TV ratings for an impeachment inquiry like this actually matter?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you've hit on something important - that those numbers - you know, if you say maybe 15 million if you include PBS, NPR; that's back of the envelope - doesn't necessarily reflect everyone. It's less than 5% of the nation. But people do tend to believe testimony and statements they see with their own eyes, hear with their own ears more than just something written on a page. And you do have the many tens of millions of other people who are catching long excerpts or even snippets online through social media. I think it does matter that people do have a hunger for it.

SHAPIRO: The stakes are high. The politics are important. The national consequential events are significant. But I also have to ask because you're our media correspondent, do the hearings make for good TV?

FOLKENFLIK: I think some of it's been pretty compelling. I mean, as Audie suggested, Ambassador Sondland today dragged in pretty much every major figure of the administration in terms of knowing about it - President Trump, Mick Mulvaney - the White House chief of staff, or at least acting chief of staff - Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and so on. You know, it's like "Perry Mason" or "Law And Order," "The Good Wife" or "Suits," I guess, depending on your generation, what you watch.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And, of course, President Trump is obsessed with television. We know that he watches it all the time. What about his connection to these hearings through the TV?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, first, you know from the continual tweets and statements from Trump's Twitter account that he and his aides are continuing to disparage the hearings, even as they're claiming they aren't watching or that he isn't watching. And that's just simply not the case. You saw a picture of him circulated on the Internet today from news agencies showing talking points. And then they appear instantly and - or not instantly but a few hours later in the mouths of Republicans. That's important too.

But I think it's also important to note that Ambassador Sondland was asked to confirm and did confirm that Trump pushed for the Ukraine president to launch an investigation of Burisma and the Bidens. And, really, what he was doing was pushing for him to appear on TV to doing it for Trump. If it's not on TV, it didn't happen.

SHAPIRO: NPR's David Folkenflik, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.