Is this a real vacation or one of those “O’Reilly vacations,” like when your old, sick dog mysteriously disappeared one day when you were a kid and your dad said he’d gone to take a vacation in heaven with Jesus?
BREAKING: Laura Ingraham announced on tonight's show that she would take next week off and be replaced by "a great lineup of guest hosts" pic.twitter.com/Ucoa4D45O2
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) March 31, 2018
Fox insists that Ingraham’s vacation was pre-planned. Elsewhere, her young nemesis wished her well and/or spiked the football. It’s subtle!
Have some healthy reflections this Holy Week. https://t.co/bjSLmj3gyH
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 31, 2018
Fox’s strategy with her vacation, I assume, is “wait and see.” Get her out of the spotlight for a week, let her enemies get distracted and lose interest, then bring her back once the air has gone out of the boycott balloon. Some Democrats are anticipating that and demanding that their side keep up the pressure…
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) March 31, 2018
…but in Trump’s America, the news cycle changes every 47 minutes. Half the cabinet might get fired before Ingraham returns. Trump could pardon Mike Flynn, get indicted for obstruction, then pardon himself. David Hogg will probably find himself in feuds with half a dozen other prominent right-wing commentators. Life moves fast. And as Mediaite notes, Ingraham reliably draws top-five ratings in cable news. She isn’t someone who’s easily expendable.
…Is she? Nothing against her, but if the past year has proved anything it’s that Fox can turnover in multiple major timeslots and not lose ratings momentum. O’Reilly was their bedrock for 20 years, got canned seemingly overnight, and FNC has kept on chuggin’ with Tucker at 8 p.m. Megyn Kelly left, Hannity moved to 9, and Ingraham swooped in at 10 to great success. The only member of the competition who’s managed to muscle in on Fox’s ratings stranglehold is Rachel Maddow, fueled by the left’s appetite for anti-Trump programming, but Maddow isn’t scoring at the expense of the newbies Carlson and Ingraham. She’s wrestling with Hannity, another old mainstay.
Point being, because Fox’s right-wing audience has nowhere else to go for news, each host’s effect on ratings probably only matters at the margins. It’s far more important that the pro-Trump viewpoint be represented in primetime than that it be represented by any particular anchor. (Hannity may be an exception to that because he’s so well-known to viewers and is so, so, so pro-Trump. If all you want is MAGA talking points, literally no one can do it better.) What would happen to ratings at 10 p.m. if Fox suddenly swapped out Ingraham for Mark Levin or Tomi Lahren? Not a lot, I’d guess. That’s no dig at her, just a reflection on the nature of Fox’s popularity.
To the extent that dumping Ingraham would be risky, it has less to do with ratings than with pissing off viewers who would see it as another capitulation, particularly to the deeply despised gun-grabbing movement. They sacrificed O’Reilly partly to end a left-wing advertiser boycott. If they sacrifice Ingraham too, they’ll be seen as weak when they’re supposed to be leading the fight against the likes of Media Matters. It sounds like what they’re doing instead is working with advertisers behind the scenes to accommodate them while the political heat is on in return for keeping their business. Ads aren’t being pulled off Fox, just rearranged so that they air during other shows. In the meantime, no doubt smaller companies that are less likely to be targets of political pressure are being given sweet deals to run ads during Ingraham’s primetime and risk a backlash. She, and they, will be okay. I think?