Gretchen Carlson says she was sexually harassed by Fox News boss Roger Ailes, but the network is blaming her poor ratings on why the former “Real Story” host wasn’t brought back when her contract expired. So who is correct when it comes to Carlson’s ratings?
The 1989 Miss America winner filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes on Wednesday claiming the “Real Story” host refused the Fox News Channel CEO’s sexual advances, and was terminated nine months later “as a direct and proximate result.”
After an afternoon of silence from the Fox News team, Ailes issued a statement stating the lawsuit is, “A retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.”
Early Thursday morning, Carlson’s attorneys fired back at Ailes, calling his claims that the former anchor was fired due to poor ratings “demonstrably false.”
Lawyers Nancy Erika Smith and Martin Hyman said in a statement, “Ailes’ claim that Gretchen Carlson was terminated because of bad ratings is demonstrably false. The publicly available ratings confirm the allegation in the Complaint that at the time of her termination Gretchen’s total viewership was up 33% year to date and up 23% in the key demographic.”
So what’s the truth?
During the second quarter of 2016, “Real Story” was the No. 24 show in all of cable news in the key 25-54 demographic. The show was more successful in total viewers, finishing No. 14 overall, ahead of any program on rival network CNN, averaging 1.15 million viewers. Although this might seem like a successful program by most standards, it might not be good enough for Ailes, whose Fox News has dominated cable news ratings for years.
Carlson’s show lost to CNN in the key demo for the month of June and had the narrowest margin of victory over CNN of any FNC show for the second quarter of 2016. In the news-heavy month of June – with the White House race dominating discussion and boosting tune-in – Carlson averaged 185,000 viewers in the key demo compared to 191,000 for CNN’s “Newsroom.”
In the month of June, Carlson dominated her competition among total viewers, averaging 1.2 million compared to 789,00 for CNN and 564,00 for MSNBC. But with a ton of viewers comes little room for growth. Carlson’s program went up 22 percent compared to June 2015, while CNN grew 43 percent and MSNBC went up 114 percent in total viewers.
Additionally, “The Real Story” was the network’s lowest-rated program in both June and in the second quarter among the key demo. Carlson’s show has now lost to CNN more than any other FNC program since the network’s new lineup changes took effect back in October 2013.
“Real Story” has even seen an increase since Carlson’s final show on June 23, gaining four percent in viewers and nine percent in the demo with replacement hosts over the past two weeks. Numbers like those hardly indicate that the former host was indispensable to the show.
But how did the 2013 lineup changes impact things?
Carlson’s lawyers have stated that Fox moved her to a “challenging time slot,” but it was the same time slot, on the same network, that propelled Megyn Kelly to primetime stardom.
Back in 2013, FNC moved Kelly to primetime and pulled Carlson off “Fox & Friends” to fill Kelly’s old timeslot. Kelly’s program, “America Live,” performed 39 percent better than Carlson’s “The Real Story” in the key demo and 8 percent better in total viewers during their first year their programs were on during the 2 p.m. ET timeslot, respectively.
Meanwhile, “Fox & Friends” had a double-digit increase in both viewership and in demo once Elisabeth Hasselbeck took over for Carlson as co-host on the program. Hasselbeck’s first two and a half months on “Fox & Friends” saw an increase of 11 percent in viewers and 20 percent in the demo compared to Carlson’s final two and a half months on the morning show.
Carlson’s representatives did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for additional comment.
All ratings information in this story is from Nielsen Media Research.