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Trump’s audience doesn’t match Biden’s; president hails CNN

David Bauder
AP Media Writer

New York – Up is down, down is up. President Donald Trump thanked CNN Tuesday for its Republican convention coverage, while Fox News heard complaints from some viewers that it wasn’t showing enough.

Trump’s tweet that he was “very appreciative” to CNN for showing the vast majority of the Republicans’ opening night program was also likely a coded message to Fox, the network of choice for many of the president’s fans.

A screen displays President Donald Trump as he speaks on stage during the first day of the Republican National Committee convention, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte.

The numbers illustrate why he cares: 45% of people following coverage of the convention’s last hour on the top six networks Monday were watching Fox News Channel, the Nielsen company said.

Overall, 17 million people watched the final hour of convention coverage on all networks Monday, down from 19.7 million who saw Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s first night last week. Fox’s audience was up 238%, but Democratic convention viewership beat Republicans on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC.

While MSNBC and CNN combined had just under 10 million viewers for Biden’s first night, they had 3.6 million for Trump, Nielsen said.

CNN and MSNBC showed virtually all of the Democrats’ prime-time program last week, and it was clear Monday that for consistency’s sake, they would try to do the same for Republicans.

“I commend them for it,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. “It’s a very difficult editorial call.”

Conventions represent one of the best opportunities for a party and candidate to make their case to voters, he said. It’s more concentrated this year without the physical conventions, and with the parties programming a tight two hours each night, there are fewer opportunities for TV analysts to break in.

MSNBC was more aggressive breaking in with fact checks, questioning the claims of a nurse who praised Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and a Missouri couple that stood outside their home with guns when a Black Lives Matter protest moved past.

“We hope that we don’t have to keep doing this all night,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said after the first fact check.

Fox kept its prime-time opinion stars, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, on the air for the first hour and a half of the convention Monday. Like Hannity did last week with the Democrats, they dipped in and out of showing what was going on at the convention – and, in fact, showed more of the Republicans than of the Democrats last week.

But Fox didn’t show all of it. And the network had a lot more people watching Monday than the week before, and a lot more people who cared about seeing what was going on with the Republicans than they did with Democrats.

It led to some odd moments. For instance, Fox’s Brit Hume was telling Carlson about how the Republicans wanted to showcase more women – at the same time CNN and MSNBC were carrying Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniels’ speech live.

Similarly, Hannity told viewers that “the media, the mob, they won’t be covering large parts of the RNC that we’ll be showing.” While he was not showing the convention, CNN and MSNBC were.

“Enough with Hannity, Hannity, Hannity,” tweeted Steve Walsh, press secretary to a Republican congresswoman from Missouri. “Please just show me the convention!”

A Fox representative said the network’s coverage plan for Republicans is the same as it was for the Democrats.

A week after Trump said in an interview that it was “pretty boring” when Democrats used pretaped segments during their convention, only three people who talked for the GOP on its first night – McDaniel, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott – spoke live.