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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

‘Fox & Friends’ has plenty of Atlanta friends

fox-and-friends

Fox News has been beating up on CNN for years now – even in CNN’s hometown of Atlanta. But here’s an interesting factoid Fox News passed on to me earlier this month: Atlanta is the biggest market in the entire nation for its morning show “Fox & Friends.”

Last month, “Fox & Friends” averaged 1.1 million viewers nationally, triple CNN’s “American Morning,” from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays, and up 20 percent year over year. Locally, it drew 62,000 viewers in Feburary, more doubling its 2007 average. Though it’s far behind WSB-TV, it has closed the gap with the local NBC and Fox affiliates (and beats WGCL-TV by a healthy margin.)

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said host Gretchen Carlson (above, in the middle), who has been on the show since 2006. “We get tons of emails and communication from Georgia.”

Michael Castengera, a media consultant and senior lecturer at the University of Georgia, is a bit baffled: “It must have something to do with Southern conservatism. And Fox knows how to play up emotional appeal.”

The hosts, for instance, don’t bother to hide their distaste for current health care reform and how the Democrats are trying to get the bill through without Republican support. “They’re shady,” host Steve Doocy said last Wednesday. “They’re doing this in a sneaky way.”

The three hosts, who have a loose and chipper chemistry befitting a morning show, mix serious news with dollops of pop culture, depending on the day. Last Tuesday featured reality and sports star Bruce Jenner, “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks and “Diff’rent Strokes” actor Todd Bridges (below) in between debates about health care and terrorism.

“Fox & Friends” cycles through several topics per hour, reflecting the fact most folks only catch the show for a few minutes each morning while shepherding the kids to school and prepping for work. And much of it is ad-libbed. “It’s much more scripted on broadcast morning shows,” said Carlson, who has worked on CBS’s “Early Show.” Media Matters, a liberal media tracking firm, follows “Fox & Friends” religiously, posting clips almost daily questioning what the hosts are saying. “They tend to trivialize the news,” said Media Matters spokeswoman Jess Levin, citing an example of last Tuesday’s “Alice in Wonderland” parody the show did about health care reform (see below). “Anyone seeking actual news would be well advised to change the channel.”

Bill Shine, Fox News senior vice president of programming, was nonplussed: “I don’t pay that much attention anymore. When I do, it’s, ‘Okay. Whatever!’ ”

“I don’t read that stuff,” Doocy added, “because they misquote or edit selectively so they can make some point.” (Media Matters said that’s what Fox News does, too.)

Carlson, a Stanford University grad who studied abroad at Oxford University, said she was flattered when Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” in December accused her,a Stanford University grad, of “dumbing down” the news by Googling words “tsar” and “ignoramus” on the air.

“He spent six minutes promoting our show,” Carlson said. As for “dumbing down,” she said “the art of television and writing is taking the complex and make it palatable to your viewer. Why did I Google? We were having fun. That was self deprecating.”

As for Fox’s dominance in Atlanta, CNN released a statement:

“Even Fox has acknowledged that their morning show is an entertainment program so it’s pointless to compare it to CNN’s American Morning. CNN remains committed to its mission: providing the most hard news in the morning.”

I spoke to each of the hosts. Here are highlights from the interviews.

Fox-and-friends-screen-grab-low-res

Brian Kilmeade:

On the success of Fox News: “We’re part of the success of the network and vision of Roger Ailes. We benefit from a great prime time and from him hiring great people.”

On joining Fox News early on: “It was like joining the Yankees before they were Yankees. You could tell this place was driven and had a sense of purpose. I remember when we weren’t even on in New York and folks thought we worked for Channel 5 or Fox Sports. Now things have gone totally crazy!”

More on the Fox News philosophy: “They drilled into us that it’s not about us. It’s about the audience. This comes across when people come up to me. They don’t look at me in awe. They feel like they know me. They know I coach soccer. They know my daughter just turned seven. They know how my wife cooks. We are able to make the news No. 1 over three hours but we do offer opinion, too. You can’t go three hours without letting in your real personality.”

His favorite topics (besides sports, his original specialty): “Clearly the war on terror. Al Qaeda. Interrogation tactics. The war. I love the election stuff, trends, momentum.”

On Gretchen: “She has the smartest crispest delivery.”

On Steve: “He keeps it conversational. He knows television. He knows where the cameras are. He knows the timing. He knows when graphics are off. I’ve never seen a guy know so much about everybody else’s job.”

On Media Matters and the other critics: “I don’t really take it personally. I’m amazed some of the things they write. It makes me laugh out loud.”

Gretchen Carlson

On being cognizant of the viewer: “We are constantly aware of viewers’ attention spans. We want to make sure if we are talking about a specific photo or video, we reference it in language as well because people might be listening on the radio or in the bathroom. People are too busy to sit and watch us for hours.”

The difference between broadcast and cable morning shows: “It’s not the environment on broadcast news to be so relaxed. We can be self deprecating, making funny mistakes. We have much more time to fill. The audience knows we’re human. We make mistakes just like they do. But we still give them the news. There’s nothing we can’t touch.”

On guests: “I can’t tell you how many times people come on the show and tell us after the segment is over, ‘That is the most fun I’ve ever had on TV!’ That happens at least once a week. A lot of them are used to a much more stilted television environment.”

On Brian: “He has a wonderful comedic value to his personality. He has a way of bringing levity to the show when it’s most needed.”

On Steve: “He has tremendous wit, very quick minded.”

On her center-seat position on the show: “It has a lot of meaning for me. My No. 1 goal on a daily basis is to make sure I’m fair and balanced. I come from a serious journalism background. I just believe that’s our responsibility to provide a viewer both sides of the story.”

On the critics: “You have to develop a very thick skin and focus on your job. My dad taught me that no matter how much you try, not everyone will like you. TV is such a brutal environment. As you mature, you eventually let that go right off of you. When I was younger, I let things bother me more.”

Steve Doocy:

On Atlanta being so popular: “When I did a book tour, my Atlanta visits were very well attended. So it makes sense.”

On the early days of Fox News, when Steve did weather: “We didn’t get coverage in New York until 18 to 24 months in. But that changed everything. Back then, it was, ‘Give us 15 minutes, we’ll give you the world.’ ” Eventually, Fox News loosened up the format and turned it into “Fox & Friends.”

An early memory re: CNN: I remember Brian was in downtown Atlanta with a bullhorn. I think we had a Fox News billboard across the street at the time. It was a very funny three hours.”

On 9/11: “The last segment I did before the planes hit was with Mr. Peanut. Then we became a very serious program for in excess of a year.”

On the critics online: “I don’t read that stuff because they misquote or edit selectively so they can make a point.”

His philosophy: “We take the news seriously. We don’t take ourselves seriously.”

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18 comments Add your comment

TrafficHeadache

March 19th, 2010
7:00 pm

“I don’t read that stuff because they misquote or edit selectively so they can make a point.” That’s Fox News’ way of whining that the mainstream media is liberally biased because they don’t kiss up to the network, villify Obama or glorify G.W. Bush. As for misquoting or selectively editing as well as skewing to their own pandering tastes, Fox News is just as guilty.

Jim H.

March 19th, 2010
7:36 pm

Is CNN still around?…….I havent watched them in years (seeing as how Fox News 3:00 AM show beats CNN’s and MSNBC’s combined ratings in prime time, I dont think too many other folks watch them either).

Mel in Midtown

March 19th, 2010
10:26 pm

Faux News? One of the problems in this country is the divisiveness between left and right – much of it fed by Faux News. They may tell you that it’s entertainment, but Joe Sixpack thinks it’s really the news. Sad…sad…sad…

atlBOY

March 19th, 2010
10:27 pm

i remember i was very impressed when i saw their serious news side when 9/11 happened. their morning show news coverage was excellent!

Chuckie D

March 19th, 2010
11:32 pm

Hey Mel,

Get a grip—If Fox is “faux news” I suppose you think CNN is of Pulitzer Prize offerings? Did you not see that The Cartoon Network beat both CNN and MSNBC in ratings this week? You and your type look down upon “Joe Sixpack” in your condescending attitude because as I see you are Mel in “Midtown” and you are better than anyone else, huh?

Lighten up Francis!

Pops The Frog

March 20th, 2010
1:43 am

Chuckie,

Ease up on Mel. You have to remember that Mel is part of the “tolerant” left….Yeah, tolerant of those, and only those, that think in lockstep with their own…..

scott

March 20th, 2010
10:33 am

Media Matters was founded by Hillary Rodney. Look for another objective source than them or the Huffington Post.

Mel. numerous organizations and surveys show just as many Democrats or Indies watch Fox as folks who identify themselves as republican.

By the wayMel, Bush did win in 2000 and it was legit.

Neil

March 20th, 2010
9:08 pm

If the show is sooooooo popular in Atlanta how come you couldn’t find one person from Atlanta who watches it to quote in this story?

The Ghost of Mike Vick's Dogs

March 21st, 2010
2:28 am

What a shocker the state that:
-has voted for two democratic Presidential candidates by majority
(John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton)
-hates gays
-has a church on every corner (highly segregated by race and neighborhoods I may add)
-a corporation heavy city
-and a bunch of old fogeys who still won’t let adults buy beer on Sunday’s…

Wow what a shocker people in Georgia watch Fox News in the morning.

Joe the Plumber

March 21st, 2010
10:15 am

Fox News – Foul and Bias.

D0n

March 21st, 2010
9:08 pm

ONLY WHITE REP. WATCH FALSE NEWS GO TO HELL RACIST.

wishmirandawashere

March 21st, 2010
10:14 pm

Me thinks alot of liberals might be jealous of Gretchen’s (one of my fav top 10 female names BTW) good looks. I was think though 1.1 million. Wow if they were on MSNBC drawing 1.1 million they would on top of the charts.

AJ

March 22nd, 2010
11:03 am

All cable news has issues. If you like CNN, you hate Fox. If you like Fox, you hate CNN. Or if you’re someone who wants to hear all sides and wants true “fair & balanced” news, you hate them all! Fox, CNN & MSNBC – none of them present news in an unbiased fashion. If a news network did, that’s the one I’d watch. Until then, I watch none. I’m sure I won’t be watching cable news for a LONG LONG time! Thankfully there are many other ways to get my news besides cable.

[...] and Friends Profile… The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Rodney Ho profiles Fox and Friends… Fox News has been beating up on CNN for years now – even in CNN’s [...]

S. Simmons

March 23rd, 2010
10:47 pm

When I want Democrat Party talking points and unsupported allegations of bad behavior on the part of tea party protesters, I’ll turn to CNN. They parrot the DNC, which is fine, but it is not hard news. Dana Bash supposedly witnessed our congressmen being screamed at with racial epithets, but this “reporter” didn’t go up to the person, ask them questions, get their name, anything? Don’t put that coward in a war zone. She’s no reporter.

S. Simmons

March 23rd, 2010
10:48 pm

To “The Ghost of Michael Vick’s Dog”: Atlanta is the most gay-friendly city IN THE NATION. Suck on that!

Ummm

March 24th, 2010
12:25 pm

S. Simmons – that’s a joke, right? I’ve never met so many homophobic people in one place!

DB

March 25th, 2010
7:43 pm

HEY THIS IS A RED STATE SURE FOX NONSENSE HAS PLENTY OF SUPPORTERS HERE IN ATL