In his first minute onstage at CPAC on Friday, Steve Bannon identified one of his top targets of the moment, an entity he claimed is opposing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at its own peril: Fox News.
The host of the popular War Room podcast and longtime Trump hand started by ripping the conservative channel for announcing that Joe Biden had won Arizona on election night in 2020.
“Fox News illegitimately called it for the opposition, and not Donald J. Trump,” the Trump adviser-turned-talk show host told the crowd in National Harbor, Maryland, an audience full of diehard MAGA supporters.
Ten minutes in, Bannon went after the network again, rousing the audience to their feet as he called out Fox for not having Trump on since he announced his campaign in November. He called out Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp. founder who sits atop the media empire.
“Murdoch, you’ve deemed Trump’s not going to be president,” Bannon continued as the crowd roared with applause. “But we deem that you’re not going to have a network, because we’re going to fight you every step of the way.”
Far from random broadsides, Bannon’s screed against Fox News was the latest in what has become a hot war between MAGA world and the longtime conservative channel. Trump himself has gone off on Fox News before, often for coverage he has deemed unfair. But the current state of affairs — coming at the start of what promises to be a deeply contested GOP primary — is as strained as it has ever been.
The network hasn’t featured the former president on its airwaves since November. The face of CPAC, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, himself a close Trump ally, has also not appeared on the channel since allegations emerged in January that he sexually assaulted a campaign staffer. (Schlapp has denied wrongdoing). And in the halls of the CPAC conference, disdain for Fox News wasn’t an uncommon sentiment among those gathered.
Sandra Salstrom, a harpist from Houston, said she gets all the news she needs from Bannon’s War Room show, and enjoys tuning in to programs hosted by Charlie Kirk, another prominent right-wing commentator.
“I now have nothing to do with Fox,” said Salstrom, explaining she does not have a television at home, but used to watch the network while she was at the gym. “They disgust me.”
“I haven’t watched Fox in years,” said Andra Griffin of Manatee County, Fla., who said she stopped watching the network in 2019, and was completely “unplugged from Fox” by 2020. Instead, right-wing activists like Griffin have turned their attention to more alternative conservative networks like Newsmax, which had a heavy presence at CPAC.
Fox Radio skipped its usual booth on media row at CPAC this year. Fox Nation didn’t livestream or sponsor receptions as it has in years past. There were no primetime Fox News stars like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, or Tucker Carlson scheduled to speak on stage — a contrast to years past, where Fox stars were in heavy rotation on the stage or in the halls.
A spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The absence of Fox News at CPAC has fed larger questions about the role the Murdoch-owned network is gunning to play in the Republican primary. Trump’s likely 2024 rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has been featured across Murdoch-owned entities as he promotes his recently published memoir. The anti-Woke activist Vivek Ramaswamy launched his presidential campaign with an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. And former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has repeatedly appeared on the network, with her launch announcement covered live on TV.
All of this comes as Fox is facing a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which is asking for $1.6 billion in damages over the role the network played in covering conspiracies around the 2020 election. Recent depositions reveal that high-level network officials privately cast doubt on Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, even as on-air voices were backing Trump up on the false narrative.
While Trump himself has not been interviewed lately on Fox News airwaves – Semafor reported he is facing a “soft ban” by the network – he does continue to receive coverage and his campaign is referenced by hosts.
For his part, Trump has ramped up his attacks on the longtime conservative television channel, in recent days sharing multiple posts on his Truth Social platform critical of the channel and its owner, Rupert Murdoch. “Too many incompetent RINOS at FoxNews!” Trump posted on Thursday. A day earlier, Trump called Murdoch and other Fox executives a “group of MAGA Hating Globalist RINOS” who should “get out of the News Business as soon as possible.”
With Fox stars out of the picture, attendees at CPAC flocked to popular right-wing alternatives like Bannon’s War Room, which hosted its podcast live, along with Newsmax, OAN, Right Side Broadcasting Network and others.
William Marks, a software developer and manager from southern Maryland, said he still watches both Fox News and Newsmax, but believes the former is “moving further away from the conservative landscape,” a fault not of the anchors but of “the ownership,” he said.
Even with such defections, Fox News remains king of cable news and prime-time ratings. The top ten most-watched cable news shows are all on Fox News, with Tucker Carlson and the Five boasting over 3 million viewers according to AdWeek. And for conservative stars, Fox News’ evening shows are still the #1 spot for attracting attention for their cause.
“I love being back on Fox News and I have nothing bad to say about it,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who frequently appears on Fox News as well as Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.