MSNBC Replaces Fox News as the Trump Network? Not Quite.

February 24, 2016, 5:28 PM UTC
Photograph by Ethan Miller/ Getty Images

As Donald Trump has moved from being an entertaining side show to the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, it’s been fascinating to watch how the attitudes of different news outlets have changed towards him. Fox News (FOX), seen by many as being solidly in Trump’s corner, had a very public falling out with him over a debate, and now some see MSNBC (CMCSA) as cozying up to the candidate.

The most tangible sign of this attitude, some media watchers say, is the friendly relationship between Trump and the Morning Joe talk show, where co-host Joe Scarborough appears to be a fan of the real-estate tycoon’s campaign, and recently featured a long interview with Trump’s wife Melania.

For some, this relationship between Trump and the network got uncomfortably close earlier this week, when an audio recording was leaked of what appeared to be an unscripted, off-air conversation between Scarborough (a former Republican congressman), his co-host Mika Brzezinski (daughter of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski) and Trump.

At one point Brzezinski asks, “You don’t want me to do the ones with deportation?” at which point Trump says: “That’s right, nothing too hard, Mika.” The Morning Joe co-host later told Huffington Post media writer Michael Calderone that she was talking to her producer about the deportation questions, not Trump, but the impression was still created that the MSNBC show might be getting a little too close to the Republican candidate.

It’s not just the Morning Joe show that has been seen as siding with Trump. MSNBC has also had Trump on a number of other shows, including multiple appearances in a single day, and recently hosted a special “town hall” show exclusively with Trump. The town hall was criticized by some media watchers and liberal-leaning news sites as being too accommodating toward the candidate and avoiding many of the tough questions around his campaign and policies.

While the front-runner in a campaign is almost certain to get a lot of attention, there is a view in some circles (including some within the network itself, according to a CNN report) that MSNBC has been going a little overboard.

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In crass media terms, having a lot of Trump coverage could be seen as an attempt to attract viewers and thus boost ratings numbers, rather than a biased political choice. But if that’s what MSNBC has been trying to do, it doesn’t seem to be working—at least not yet.

According to a report in Politico, Fox News got better ratings on the night of the MSNBC town hall, despite the fact that the O’Reilly Factor featured a guest host taking Bill O’Reilly’s place. And CNN’s (TWX) first hour of a three-hour town hall of its own got about 30% more viewers than MSNBC’s town hall did.

Fox News, for its part, appears to have tried to repair its relationship with Trump, although the Republican candidate has said that he won’t appear for a Fox debate hosted by Megyn Kelly, the anchor he has had a very public battle with for the past few months. The conservative-leaning news channel seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place with Trump—it wants to have him because he is makes good TV, but many Fox supporters in the conservative camp apparently can’t stand the Republican candidate.

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