It was a great year for Fox News, by most measures. The network posted a net profit of over $1 billion in 2012, riding the crest of a year of partisan coverage which dominated the news cycle over the course of the year. Fox News was the number one cable news network in operation for its 11th consecutive year, up 11% in prime-time with an average viewership of 2.07 million viewers.
But does good for ratings equal good for the Republican Party?
Fox News' big year ended in a crippling defeat for the GOP on November 6 and an unprecedented wave of surprise and anguish for Republicans, many of whom believed Romney was going to win in a “landslide” until the very last minute. You can partially blame Fox News for that: on election night, rather than conceding victory, Karl Rove was busy melting down on-air, while Dick Morris was plugging the “landslide” line until the evening of the election. Both have since been unplugged by Fox — at least temporarily.
MediaMatters calls this “poll trutherism”: the rejection of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of one's opinions. Republicans even set up their own non-mainstream polling source, Unskewed Polls, which in the weeks up to the elections predicted a double-digit GOP victory and later claimed that Obama stole the election. Fox News reported that information as genuine, which was then taken seriously by Romney staffers.
Note that in the all-crucial 25 to 54 year-old demographic, Fox was only ahead by one point. The real strength of Fox's viewership leads come from older Americans.
Fox News' viewership is almost purely conservative. A study in May found that Fox News viewers were the worst-informed of any news channel. Conservatives watching Fox News were able to answer just 0.71 out of 4 domestic politics questions correctly.
As pundit Conor Friedersdorf commented, “It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you're a rank-and-file conservative, you're probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn't accurately inform you about Election 2012. “
Conservatives weren't forced into this echo chamber, either. It has been developing for years. In 2008, Hannity's America ran a program titled “Obama & Friends: History of Radicalism.” In August 2012, News Corpse was able to compile a list of eight flat-out lies and gross misrepresentations either parroted or made up by Fox News made in just two months.
The Romney campaign eagerly jumped on board the Fox News train, apparently not realizing that it was contributing to the formation of a dangerous blind spot. Here's just a partial list of Romney staff and advisers who appeared, generally with their relationship to the Romney campaign undisclosed, on Fox News during the election cycle. That list includes such luminaries as former diplomat and Romney foreign policy adviser John Bolton, and active Romney surrogate Pete Snyder. Thirty-two other Fox News contributors campaigned for Republicans in 2012.
Movement conservatives find themselves at a loss to explain how Romneymentum never materialized, despite the right-wing media's never-ending cavalcade of pro-Romney coverage. Meanwhile, as Fiedersdorf observed, “[H]int: the Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find,” referring to Nate Silver, whose predictions were proven right despite widespread right-wing mockery.
After the November 6 blowout, political insiders widely saw Fox News as having hurt the Romney campaign. It was one of the loudest voices urging Romney and other Republicans not to cooperate on the debt ceiling, fiscal cliff, health care, or pretty much any other issue. It hyped Benghazi conspiracy theories and suppressed guests who dared to suggest otherwise.
A 2010 poll found that Fox News' average viewer is 65 years old. One imagines that age hasn't dropped dramatically in the past two years, as it has been aggressively challenged by MSNBC in the ratings game. The country is gaining more minorities, and conservative white voters are increasingly being driven into smaller enclaves.
Its insular, fact-challenged coverage is not equipped for helping the Republican Party evolve into competitiveness in the 21st century, and almost certainly represents a huge handicap.