At his widely panned press conference on Wednesday, his first in 10 months, President Joe Biden forecast that Fox News Channel would likely continue to broadcast for some time while its cable news competitors such as CNN and MSNBC will be “not very much in the mix in the next four to five years.”
The prediction came after the president veered off topic while answering a question about school closures. Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo News fed Biden a softball question about whether “Republicans will weaponize this narrative” that Democrats allowed public schools to remain closed over COVID-19 concerns. “Could school reopenings or closures become a potent midterm issue for Republicans to win back the suburbs?” he asked.
Biden acknowledged that “it could be” an issue in this November’s elections but called the charge “outlandish,” although multiple studies show that the strength of teachers unions and the percentage of voters who supported the Democratic Party affected school closure decisions more than the severity of COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
Biden then careened into a discussion of his own unfavorable poll numbers before predicting the future of cable news networks.
“One of the things I find fascinating that’s happening — and you all are dealing with it every day — and it will impact on how things move — is that a lot of the speculation in the polling data shows that the — that the cables are heading south; they’re losing viewership. You know?” Biden asked.
He then clarified that the Fox News Channel seemed far more durable than competitors like MSNBC or CNN. “Well, Fox is okay for a while, but it’s not gated,” he said, apparently referring to the fact that it is available on basic cable — as are its competitors. “A lot of the rest are predicted to be not very much in the mix in the next four to five years,” he said.
Biden quickly clarified that “I don’t know whether that” speculation is “true or not,” reiterating, “I’m no expert in any of this.”
The ratings would seem to bear the president out. In 2021, Fox News celebrated its sixth year as the number one channel in all basic cable, not merely cable news. FNC’s 2021 primetime ratings nearly equaled the audience of rivals CNN and MSNBC combined.
CNN’s viewership plunged precipitously over the same period. CNN attracted an average audience of 548,000 viewers in the first week of January, down from 2.7 million during the same time last year. During that time, the network “lost 89 percent of its primetime viewers among its key demographic and 91 percent of viewers ages 18 to 49,” according to the New York Post. Biden seemed uncertain whether the American people chose one of the numerous cable news outlets in order to discover the truth or to weed out coverage that challenges their pre-existing political views.
“The American public are trying to sift their way through what’s real and what’s fake,” he said. But he then contradicted himself, saying that American viewers choose cable news networks “to get reinforced in their views, whether it’s MSNBC or whether it’s Fox, or whatever.” He said that viewers “put themselves in certain alleys,” because little of the Fox audience watches MSNBC and vice-versa. He said Americans had “self-identified perspectives based on what channel you turn on — what network you look at — not network, but what cable you look at,” he said, apparently drawing a distinction between the Big Three networks of ABC, NBC, and CBS and cable news outlets.
“It’s never quite been like that” in the past, he said.
Polls show Americans consider themselves fact-starved and want the news media to convey information instead of providing “context.” A total of 67% of Americans endorsed the “idea that the more facts people have, the closer they will get to the truth” in a poll taken by the Media Insight Project last year. They said that reporters’ decision to “amplify the voices of people who aren’t ordinarily heard” is “overdone” and rejected the notion that “a good way to make society better is to spotlight its problems.”
“Anyway,” the president said, abruptly stopping himself before moving on to the next question.
You can watch the full press conference below: