Although a comedy show, The Daily Show is very effective in pushing news items into mainstream discourse. The latest Nielsen report for May shows that its ratings, along with that of The Colbert Report, are soaring while that of Fox News is slumping. What is worse for Fox is that Stewart is beating them handily in the much coveted 18-49 year old demographic, while the average age of a Fox viewer is 65, which is even older than that of the Golf Channel. This is a double whammy for Fox in that not only is its present audience dying off faster than its rivals, but the younger generation is being tutored in how Fox News manipulates the news and are unlikely to become its future audience even when they become old.
Fox News‘s hysterical propaganda shtick makes it an easy target for a comedian and so it should be no surprise that it is a frequent (but not exclusive) target of The Daily Show‘s barbs against the media. While Stewart does not disguise his contempt for the Fox‘s third-raters that use up most of Fox‘s air time (Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, and their incredibly ignorant and vapid morning trio), there used to be a kind of respectful teasing relationship between Bill O’Reilly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier of Fox News and Stewart.
Now that the latest rating are out, that is likely to change. Be prepared for Fox to mount an even greater full-court attack on Stewart in an effort to counter his show’s growing influence. What they did recently gives a taste of what to expect, except that I expect it to become even more hysterical, since that is Fox‘s standard operating procedure.
I have said repeatedly that you should be very wary of picking a fight with a stand-up comedian (a breed of people of whom the good ones know how to think on their feet and respond effectively and ruthlessly with hecklers), especially one who has a large staff of writers at his back and his own highly rated TV show. Below is the kind of thing that Fox News can expect if they up the ante.
If Fox does decide to pursue this, it will be a stupid strategy and they will lose because satirical political humor of The Daily Show variety is always more fun to watch than the bluster of a Fox. Even those media commentators moderately sympathetic to Fox News‘s ideology will find themselves laughing along The Daily Show‘s audience.
There is a way for Fox to recover and that is to become a real news network and stop being a propaganda outlet that is almost cartoonish in its style of message delivery that only appeals to the true believers. But that is unlikely to happen unless the Murdoch scandal really blows up in the US and results in the network being sold to a new owner who brings in new management with a new outlook.