Amid ongoing ratings struggles, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace are fighting for their jobs as their boss Rupert Murdoch has swooped in to take a more hands-on role at the network in recent days, multiple network insiders told The Daily Beast.
In fact, according to people familiar with the situation, Scott’s days at Fox News may shortly be coming to an end, following a tumultuous few months in which the conservative cable news giant’s ratings have sagged following the November election. A not-insignificant portion of the network’s conservative viewership have abandoned Fox for Newsmax, a rival pro-Trump channel that openly disregards factual reporting. To make matters worse, Fox has also suffered historic ratings losses to CNN and MSNBC, despite an intensely dramatic news cycle.
In response to a request for comment for this story, a Fox Corporation spokesperson said: “Your premise is wrong. It is wishful thinking by our competitors.” But when pressed for a statement of support for Scott from Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch none was forthcoming.
Scott may be taking the brunt of blame, insiders said, for the network’s ratings issues. Additionally, last month, more than a dozen current and former Fox News women—both behind and in front of the camera—told The Daily Beast that the CEO has yet to be held accountable for her role as a prominent enabler for late founder Roger Ailes’ alleged serial sexual misconduct; and that she helped foster a misogynistic workplace culture that allegedly objectifies female staffers and ignores or silences their complaints of misconduct. The New York City Commission on Human Rights also confirmed last month that it is currently investigating Fox’s corporate culture. (Prior to the publication of that Daily Beast article, Fox News attempted to get a statement of support for Scott from Lachlan, but it wasn’t forthcoming even after the story ran, according to people familiar with the matter.)
““Rupert [Murdoch] re-taking the reins is a sign of the gross mismanagement to date.””
— A Fox News insider
Rupert Murdoch, who turns 90 in March, is returning to the United States after spending most of last year in the United Kingdom, and reversing Fox’s ratings decline is his top concern, according to a person familiar with his thinking. He had been waiting to receive the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine—which he has received in recent days—before coming stateside.
The media mogul is now playing a more active role in decision-making at the network with his son, Lachlan. Part of their increased involvement, sources said, included the overhaul of Fox’s daytime lineup, which was announced Monday and included moving news anchor Martha MacCallum out of the early primetime 7 p.m. slot in favor of more opinion-based programming at that hour—an obvious attempt to appeal to a hardcore conservative base.
The Murdoch pair are said to be “disenchanted” with Scott and Wallace, with the poor ratings being the main topic of conversation. “I mean Rupert got involved with the shuffling of the lineup so that’s never a good sign for someone in charge,” a current Fox staffer told The Daily Beast. “What is the point of having a manager running your business if you have to run the business yourself?”
“Fox News has been absent a leader with the exception of [Fox Corporation’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer] Viet Dinh running the operation between the network and the White House,” another insider told The Daily Beast. “Rupert re-taking the reins is a sign of the gross mismanagement to date.”
Knowing that her job is on the line, Scott has remarked to more than one Fox executive that she “doesn’t care if they get rid of me because I’ve got enough money now to never work again,” according to a person who has spoken with her. A Fox News spokesperson vehemently denied Scott ever made the remark.
According to multiple insiders, there is speculation that David Rhodes, a former Fox News vice president could return to replace Scott. Two people familiar with the matter said Rhodes, who has also led Bloomberg and CBS News, is often mentioned as Lachlan’s top pick to take over the network CEO role. According to a current staffer at Fox News, the Murdochs “like Rhodes a lot,” adding that they felt that Scott was “always a temporary solution.”
Rhodes has privately pointed out that his personal politics, which lean libertarian, are significantly more conservative than the beliefs of his brother Ben, a top national-security policy aide to former President Barack Obama. He is currently based in London, heading up a new opinion-centric TV channel for the Murdochs’ News UK.
Wallace, meanwhile, has been in hot water ever since Fox’s decision desk accurately called Arizona for Joe Biden on election night—a matter of much internal consternation, often seen as a key reason a chunk of Trump-loyal viewers deserted the network for Newsmax.
Chris Stirewalt, the network’s political editor who oversees the team that made the projection, has been missing from Fox’s airwaves since mid-November. And the network has attempted in recent weeks to pull back fleeing viewers by leaning hard-right where it can, often using news broadcasts to amplify the pro-Trump punditry delivered by Fox’s opinion hosts and commentators.
The network’s aforementioned lineup reshuffling is also an attempt to appeal to a viewership more interested in the ravings of right-wing culture warriors than in factual news reporting. Beyond moving MacCallum into a less-viewed daytime slot to clear room for more opinion programming in the evening, Fox moved news anchors Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer out of their solo-hosted shows and into a rebooted version of late morning broadcast America’s Newsroom.
“This new powerful lineup ensures FOX News Media will continue to deliver outstanding coverage for our viewers who depend on the most trusted names in the business,” said Scott in the network’s press announcement.
MacCallum, in particular, has been viewed as the face of Fox’s ratings struggles, particularly after her stunning December 9 loss in the key demographic ratings to Newsmax host Greg Kelly, an unwaveringly pro-Trump TV personality.
Following Election Day and through mid-December, MacCallum saw her ratings drop 44 percent compared to pre-election, while Kelly’s show in the same hour experienced an astronomical 486-percent surge in viewership.
“Since Roger [Ailes’] departure, the network hasn’t had real leadership or an organizing principle, and it shows,” Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy opined in a statement to The Daily Beast.
But MacCallum’s show was hardly the only Fox program to suffer a marked ratings decline following the election. In fact, every weekday hour experienced double-digit decreases from the election through mid-December. The precipitous drop was also striking as it capped off a 2020 that saw the network once again finish as the most-watched basic cable network while setting a record in cable news viewership.
And the new year hasn’t brought Fox News much positive ratings news either. Adding insult to injury, Newsmax once again beat the network in head-to-head ratings on Tuesday, this time topping Fox in the key demographic (viewers ages 25-54) during two separate hours.
And following the deadly insurrectionist Capitol riot—incited by the network’s most loyal viewer, President Donald Trump himself—Fox News has been trounced in the ratings by both CNN and MSNBC, marking the first time Fox finished third across all dayparts to those networks since September 2000.
In fact, since Dec. 28, despite the historical news cycle, Fox News’ total viewership is down 15 percent compared to this time a year ago, according to Nielsen data. By comparison, CNN is up an astonishing 150 percent and MSNBC has increased its audience 89 percent over the previous year.
“They are reaping the whirlwind of having gotten their audience hooked on the heroin of outrage because as soon as someone comes along and is more outrageous those addicts will move over there,” Jon Klein, former president of CNN/US and current chairman of TAPP Media, told The Daily Beast.
“They don’t care where they get their fix from,” he added. “So whoever ends up running Fox News is going to have to wrestle with that conundrum.”
—Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.
Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott’s Job Is in Jeopardy, Insiders Say The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Daily Beast.