Shepard Smith's recent, abrupt resignation isn’t the only crisis Fox News is facing these days. Aside from allegations that conservatives simply will not tolerate any dissenting voices amid a chorus that worships Donald Trump, the right-wing cable news outlet is struggling as it tries to fight the public opinion battle over impeachment. The unfolding inquiry in the House is by definition a political fight, not a legal one, which means the messaging wars surrounding it are paramount as both sides try to rally public support. To date, Democrats are clearly winning that battle, as polling consistently shows widening support for impeachment.
“This is war,” Laura Ingraham recently declared on her prime-time program, as the impeachment battled heated up. But it's a public opinion war that Fox News is losing, and badly.
It's often been suggested that if President Richard Nixon had a Fox News-type of propaganda outlet during the Watergate scandal, that he could have survived. And the assumption has been that that's the role Fox News would play for Trump during a true crisis. But it's less than a month into the impeachment saga, and I'm not sure Fox News is going to save Trump in the end. Because not even a cable television channel can save a president if he's basically been overseeing a criminal enterprise run out of the Oval Office. (I don't think Senate Republicans would vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial, but I do think the drawn-out impeachment saga could effectively end Trump's presidency.)
The short answer is Trump has handed Fox News a losing hand to play. It’s a profoundly bad hand that’s making it difficult for the propaganda channel, as well as the right-wing echo chamber, to coalesce around a semi-coherent defense.
Ten months ago I wrote a piece suggesting that in the end, Fox News would not be able to protect Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, and once the damning facts spilled into public view, Rupert Murdoch's cable channel wouldn't be able to control the narrative. And as it turns out, I was wrong. With the help of Attorney General William Barr, who brazenly lied about the contents of the Mueller report, and a press corps that eagerly fell for Barr's lie, the Trump White House and Fox News were able to muddy the waters on Russiagate, and effectively portray Mueller's damning report as a draw. To date though, Trump and Fox News have had no so such luck duplicating that messaging success with regard to the Ukraine scandal.