Fight “Trump Fatigue” With Diverse Topics
Those tied tightest to Trump nationally have seen their ratings slide
The Trump media addiction is real, on both sides. And the numbers are proving it’s not a winning formula in 2021.
Despite the fact that we are four months removed from Donald Trump being in the White House, some news media folks can’t kick a bad habit.
I checked in on CNN.com on Wednesday evening and the majority of their top stories were somehow about a man who is playing golf every day, rather than dissecting what is happening in the country by the people who are actually, ya know, in charge.
Their Trump obsession hasn’t worked on TV either.
According to Nielsen, from the last week in January to April 25, CNN lost 792,000 primetime viewers, which is nearly half of its audience.
Meantime on the other side, no media personality tied themselves closer to Donald Trump than Sean Hannity, and with Trump out of the picture (relatively speaking), Hannity has seen his show take a hit.
As Outkick’s Bobby Burack wrote this week: “Though [Tucker] Carlson’s rise began in 2017 when he succeeded Bill O’Reilly as host at 8 pm on Fox News, he didn’t succeed O’Reilly as the biggest draw in cable news until this past fall. In the months leading into the 2020 election, Carlson was still in nightly, down-to-the-wire viewership battles with Sean Hannity. Hannity ultimately edged out Carlson for the 2020 win.
Since February, it’s rare that Carlson is not No. 1 in cable news, usually by a few hundred thousand. In April, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the only show to average over 3 million viewers, averaging 300,000 more viewers than The Five, April’s second-highest-rated program.”
Think about that, Hannity has seen his program fall from the No. 1 show to a clear No. 3. Sean still puts on a great show, but it’s clear the Trump fatigue is real, on both sides of the aisle.
As a result, what Tucker Carlson has navigated brilliantly on cable news is the ability to take issues that are undoubtedly important to a Republican-leaning voter, but do it while rarely invoking specific politicians, including Trump, and certainly not making it a Trump rally on TV. Carlson rarely brings up the former President’s name. Carlson brilliantly highlights the cultural issues that are impacting Americans every day, but unless a specific politician can add inherent value to the topic, he’s not looking to talk to the Beltway folks.
And it’s working.
To further this point: A new Morning Consult/Politico poll asked “If the 2024 Republican primary were being held today, for whom would you vote?”
Yes, as expected, Donald Trump was the leader with 48%, more than triple Mike Pence who came in second at 13%, followed by Donald Trump Jr., Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley and
There are two ways to interpret this data:
1) Trump more than tripled his nearest competitor.
2) More than half of Republican primary voters don’t want Donald Trump to be their candidate.
To point out the latter option is not to knock what Trump did for the Republican Party and the role he can play going forward, but simply to note that politics, and the news cycle, move quickly and you don’t want to be left holding the bag.
These are unique times for cable news and talk radio hosts. As this column has noted many times, what we have is local news to hopefully fill much of our content, which our national counterparts don’t have, can separate us. But as we dive into the national discussions, rather than making it purely political, which still may be exhausting to an audience still recovering from a wild 2020, taking an approach of Tucker Carlson’s, where it’s more driven by topics of cultural significance and doesn’t necessarily need a politico talking head to interpret, is smart, unique, important and relatable.
And based on the last several months of ratings, it’s clearly working.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.
6 Tips For Dealing With Publicists
I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
Especially for morning drive shows using the news wheel, ‘newsmaker’ guests are a part of the format. Beware of publicists that may be stealing bread from your station’s mouth. I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
No Local Pitches From Publicists
We are often told to keep it local. I generally agree with that statement, but working with a local publicist is a bad idea. Publicists usually get paid for any appearance. If this is a local business, you are stealing money from your station’s bottom line. Why isn’t the guest purchasing advertising from the station?
Depending on the market, the publicist may be making enough money that would be better used on a spot campaign on your station. I programmed a station with the news wheel with “newsmaker” guests every half hour. A local doctor was talking about the ‘innovative’ procedure his office provides. Post-show, I called in the morning show host and producer. I asked if they stole from the company. These guys said, “No!”
Then I explained that the doctor was just given 12 minutes of free advertising. The publicist got paid and the station got nothing. I also explained that that the host could have made money with endorsement spots. Now, that was never going to happen. I suggested that the host speak with sales about this amazing doctor. Of course, the doctor never met with the account executive. Lesson learned.
You Are Enriching Them, So Make Them Work for Their Dough
You booked a guest from a publicist. Make them work for the money. Have them provide all the information that you need. A picture of the guest for social media. The interview is on your time, not theirs.
I had a publicist ask if I could pre-record their amazing guest at 4 in the afternoon, I said no. I only do guests live except in extraordinary circumstances. Occasionally, I’ll do a hit with one of the weekend syndicated hosts on my station. He does a local show at the same time that I am on the air. So, that is fine. I would pre-record Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but almost no one else.
It’s Your Show. Ask the Guest Your Questions.
If a publicist provides a list of suggested talking points, shred them. Do not do the interview for the guest or publicist, do it for your audience. Ask the questions that are focused on your listener.
The guest is getting free air time and the publicist is getting paid. If the guest and booker don’t like that? Who cares. I don’t do my show for them. I also never tell any guest about the questions that I could be asking. If there is a news story that is related to the guest, I am asking about that first. Being topical is your job.
The Emails Often Look Like the Endcap at Walmart
Here is what I mean: Publicist offers someone very cool. You contact them. The guest that the publicist offered is unavailable or ‘already’ booked at the time you need. So, the publicist highlights other potential guests that are not that appealing.
Just like the endcap at Walmart, the email looks appealing. Unfortunately, it is only to get you to open the email.
I received an email offering a really top guest that would be perfect for my show. I called the publicist and she told me that her guest was open at my time. Awesome. I thought that I had a good score.
I booked 3 days ahead and the publicist let me know that the guest was unavailable the afternoon before the interview. Since the guest was never confirmed, I didn’t promote it.
When to Cut Ties With a Publicist
If the guest slinger only provides people who are only wanting to sell stuff on your show? Move along. Obviously, all guests need to plug their stuff. We all know this.
About a decade ago, New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was booked on The Dan Patrick Show. Part of the reason was he was going to plug Qualcomm. Well, Matt Harvey didn’t want to speak about anything but Qualcomm. It was a sales pitch and nothing else.
Publicists should have their clients prepped so that they are booked to talk about their expertise and will get a chance to plug their book or service.
How to Get Guests Off the Talking Points
In the ’90s, I produced The Barbara Carlson Show in Minneapolis. The great actor Karl Malden was booked to promote the Oscars.
Let’s say that Karl was not in the mood to discuss anything but the Oscars. So, Barbara wasn’t going to let Karl get away with it. She buttered him up, telling Karl that he had a sexy nose. Then Barbara asked Karl if he had snorted cocaine at those amazing Hollywood Parties.
80-year-old Karl lost his cool. She got him off the talking points. It became an interesting interview.
The publicist was really mad about this. It was really good radio. It’s always about good radio and not pleasing some guest that is a one-time hit. Please the audience. Make memorable radio.
We all use publicists. Realize that you are their meal ticket. I am always surprised that I don’t at least get a holiday card from the publicists that I use on a regular basis. Don’t be naïve about these people. Hey, we all must make a living. They are a tool for you to use as you please.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.
Samantha Rivera Is What Every Live Reporter Should Strive For
Moxie. It’s a great word and it is not used enough these days. Maybe it’s not applied enough because not enough people have it, or not enough people show it. Samantha Rivera has moxie.
That is no patronizing remark, it is an unquestionable fact if you ask me, so do not even go there.
Samantha Rivera is a sports reporter for CBS News Miami, but she hit the jackpot in Las Vegas during a live shot at game two of the Stanley Cup Final.
What did she do you ask?
She did her job, with a flourish, strength, and without even breaking eye contact with the camera.
It’s the age-old story; a jersey-wearing nitwit sees the camera, the mic flag, and decides to bust in on the live shot.
Samantha Rivera’s live shot. And as we all have seen by now; she was not having it.
I am no play-by-play champion, so I recommend watching for yourself if you haven’t already. In this instance, watching an act of capability and composure takes extraordinarily little time.
Look, I still like sports and I still understand the motivation some fans have when they’re at a game or at a bar or even on the street outside the arena.
And as one of the inaugural season ticket holders for the Florida Panthers, a former South Floridian, and a guy who shares a first and a last name with the Panthers GM (I came along first, I checked), it’s not like I wasn’t keeping tabs on the game anyway.
But back to the fans, let us remember something: fan is short for fanatic or fanaticism.
Sports fans are much like those with strong political leanings, although in my observations sports fans usually have a little bit more on the ball and they possess a greater knowledge of the facts involved.
But we need to remember something else as well: reporter is short for somebody with a job, a job that has to get done, often in a challenging environment.
When the journalist meets the village idiot, for all our sakes the journalist has to win.
And Samantha Rivera won. And it was a victory we all should appreciate. News and sports coverage remained that one degree smarter as a result of a professional doing her job and doing it well.
We were spared a black eye, a dose of ridicule, and a round of catcalls because Samantha Rivera stepped up to the plate and went to bat for herself and for all of us really, and she did it at hockey game.
A great moment has gone viral, everybody is covering it and CBS Miami has an exceptional story to tell. They even got to interview their own reporter, a reporter who was the story.
This is one of those times when a reporter making the news is a good thing.
No idiot is calling a colleague a reprehensible name and getting fired here.
A professional’s personal life is not sending their career over a cliff in this scenario.
This time the reporter is seen pushing back against wrongful interference and emerging victoriously.
No big fight, no injuries, no penalty box.
Of course, there is at least one mutant out there still looking for high-fives for the half-second of screen time his shoulder and a third of his face got.
A live shot is not a “free swim” for the moronic, that lesson was reinforced in of all places, Las Vegas.
Live coverage is fun because it’s challenging but what I think should be called to attention here is how well Samantha Rivera handled things and did the job all while keeping a “take no shit” attitude.
I believe it’s a good representative look for a reporter.
That’s the way it’s done, the way it needs to be done and all the praise this pro among pros is getting is just.
Samantha Rivera now has the only shot she will ever need for her reporter reel.
So, in this case, it was a good thing that what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.