Newsmax, the niche conservative news channel that has long played David to Fox News’s Goliath, has seized on Tucker Carlson’s shock dismissal from its rival network and declared itself the true TV home for right-wing Americans.
So far, the strategy is showing some promise.
Viewership of Newsmax remains far below that of Fox News. But its audience at certain hours has doubled, and in some time slots tripled, in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Carlson’s exit — an abrupt spike that has turned heads in conservative circles and the cable news industry.
On Monday evening, Eric Bolling’s 8 p.m. Newsmax program drew 531,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. One week earlier, it had 146,000. On Tuesday, Mr. Bolling’s audience grew to 562,000 viewers, equal to about 80 percent of Anderson Cooper’s CNN viewership that evening. Newsmax’s other prime time shows also experienced big jumps.
The sharp rise in viewership can be timed almost to the minute of Fox News’s announcement on Monday that it was parting ways with Mr. Carlson, in part because of private messages sent by the anchor that included offensive and crude remarks.
Executives at Newsmax quickly sensed an opportunity.
Starting on Monday, Newsmax programming has aggressively pushed a narrative that Mr. Carlson’s dismissal represented a capitulation to the left by Fox News and the Murdoch family.
One pundit mused on-air that Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chairman of the Fox Corporation, was “much more liberal” than his father, Rupert Murdoch. Andrew Napolitano, a Newsmax pundit who was fired by Fox News in 2021 over a harassment allegation, said that Fox News dismissing its top-rated anchor “is like the 1927 Yankees firing Babe Ruth for his table manners; I don’t get it.”
Anchors and guests harped on a recent appearance by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, in which she called for Mr. Tucker’s firing. “A.O.C. speaks and now Fox listens,” grumbled the Newsmax anchor Chris Salcedo. “These really are end times.”
By Thursday morning, the network was inviting viewers to vote in a poll: “Is it right for Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson?”
“Fox has been moving to embrace more of an establishment position,” Newsmax’s chief executive, Christopher Ruddy, said in an interview on Thursday. “They want to renounce some of the Trumpisms and populist MAGA stuff that Tucker was echoing.” Mr. Ruddy said he preferred to “embrace all sides of the Republican Party.”
Over all, Newsmax remains a ratings minnow. On Tuesday evening, “Hannity” on Fox News drew 2.1 million viewers; “The Ingraham Angle” attracted 1.6 million. Fox News has pointed to Nielsen data showing that in the first three months of the year, it was the highest-rated network across all of cable TV. And the network has bounced back from losing stars like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.
But the absence of Mr. Carlson, its biggest prime-time star, has been felt.
On Tuesday, Fox News lost to both CNN and MSNBC in the 8 p.m. hour among adults 25-54, an exceedingly rare defeat for the network in the key demographic for cable news advertisers. The “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade, sitting in for Mr. Carlson, fell short to Mr. Cooper on CNN and Chris Hayes on MSNBC in that coveted demographic, although he was first in total viewership.
Newsmax’s surge comes shortly after Fox News paid $787.5 million to settle a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology firm. Evidence in that case showed Fox News executives were deeply concerned by Newsmax’s growth after the 2020 election, when former President Donald J. Trump denounced the Murdoch-owned network for its projection that Joseph R. Biden Jr. would win Arizona.
At the time, Newsmax saw a burst in viewership, even recording higher ratings than the Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum one evening in December 2020. (Ms. MacCallum was switched to a different time slot not long afterward.) But its audience eventually shrank. And despite Mr. Trump’s complaints, Fox News continued as the undisputed ratings king of cable news, powered in part by Mr. Carlson’s increasingly provocative program.
So would Mr. Ruddy consider hiring the now-former Fox anchor for Newsmax?
“We would definitely be open to having a conversation with him,” Mr. Ruddy said, though he speculated that Mr. Carlson may follow the likes of Joe Rogan and pursue an independent podcast. “He’s one of the most influential and significant voices in conservative media, and he shouldn’t be ignored.”