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How Fox News Is Adapting To The Biden Era

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Everyone's adjusting to the new realities of the Biden era, including cable television. Fox News is on especially uncertain terrain right now. After two decades dominating cable news ratings, right now it sits behind CNN and MSNBC. The network's most popular hosts spent the last four years amplifying the message and lies of Donald Trump, who left office with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. Well, now Fox is making changes, and NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us to discuss them. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So recognizing that we're less than a week into the Biden age, how is Fox News adapting so far?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look. Inside Fox News, after so much of its programming had focused so hard and for so long in the Trump years on things that proved not to be true, false claims and lies from former President Donald Trump and his allies, I've talked to reporters who were hoping - and other journalists who are hoping for a re-emphasis on facts and on reporting. And instead, we found the opposite - gearing up for more opinion, especially more conservative opinion, than ever with really no acknowledgement of the role that Fox has played so centrally in promoting lies and even rhetoric that helped propel the riots of January 6.

Take one of their top news anchors, Martha MacCallum. She was shifted from 7 p.m., a prime evening slot, to 3 p.m. in the afternoon. And that is being shifted to a major opinion hour and, let's be clear, a conservative opinion hour. Among those auditioning is Maria Bartiromo, an anchor who none the less made - has made a lot of unfounded and unhinged claims. Here's one from earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNINGS WITH MARIA")

MARIA BARTIROMO: A new report says that some far-right protesters have discussed posing as members of the National Guard to infiltrate the inauguration the way Democrats infiltrated two weeks ago and put on MAGA clothing.

FOLKENFLIK: Now, I want to underscore again the idea that Democrats infiltrated the demonstration that turned into a riot at the Capitol is complete bull. So you're seeing that. And at the same time, even in those shows that are still news shows, you're seeing them infused with a lot of clips of incendiary commentary and perceived outrages from their own opinion shows. So even the real estate that still is reserved for news, which is less than it was, is having a lot more incendiary commentary pumped into it.

SHAPIRO: And in addition to the schedule changes, you've reported that Fox News laid off about 16 staffers. And is it fair to say that the people who lost their jobs tended to be less opinion-focused and more grounded in hard news?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, that's right. I would say also that Fox would say, look; this is part of restructuring that goes on, particularly as new administrations come in. It's about finances and deployment of troops. And you'll see a ton of coverage on their website. Nonetheless, the people that you saw walk out involved a lot of reporters and editors.

And I want to single one out in particular, a political director for Fox News. His name is Chris Stirewalt. He helped oversee political coverage. If you think back to election night, Fox News was the first major outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden, which helped set the stage for his win. And that was uncomfortable for Fox. So again and again, you heard anchors in that night and days that followed ask Stirewalt whether Fox's decision desk had made the right call. Here we can hear a clip of anchor Bret Baier, Stirewalt and Martha MacCallum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRET BAIER: And you're still positive on Arizona.

CHRIS STIREWALT: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Arizona is doing just what we expect it to do, and we remain serene and pristine.

MARTHA MACCALLUM: Even though those numbers did come in a little bit stronger for President Trump than you had anticipated.

SHAPIRO: So, David...

FOLKENFLIK: Again and again, those questions posed. They accepted it grudgingly.

SHAPIRO: What does this mean in terms of Fox positioning itself relative to outlets to its right, like Newsmax and OAN?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's seeing that it wants to turn more to the opinion rather than to the news side. You know, it wants to fend off these conservative rivals who go farther right. We used to describe Fox as the place where the tail wags the dog. Right now it's almost as though the tail is eating the dog when it comes to opinion versus news there.

SHAPIRO: Finally, just in a couple of seconds, I need to acknowledge with you a milestone in broadcast news. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw announced his retirement after more than 50 years today.

FOLKENFLIK: Tom Brokaw has been a defining presence. He was mocked early on. He proved to be the workhorse of the network, a defining figure for a half-century.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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