Sean Hannity's audience shrinks as Trump is hit with deluge of bad news.
Fox News hates to play defense because they know it makes for crummy ratings.
But the right-wing network has definitely been caught in a defensive posture in recent weeks as a mountain of new evidence has poured in from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe — at the same time that the White House is tripping over itself trying to explain hush-money payments that Trump's lawyer made to a porn star.
Then, right in the middle of all of this, the same administration unveiled plans to impose radical tariffs that even Republican members oppose.
For Fox News, this adds up to falling ratings — especially primetime ratings, where Sean Hannity has been caught losing badly to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in the 9 p.m. time slot.
In fact, Maddow this month has posted some of the biggest ratings of her career as she continues to methodically break down the Russia story. Meanwhile, Hannity's ratings have dropped during the same time period.
Last month, Hannity averaged 3.3 million viewers each night. But recently, he's lost nearly 400,000 viewers, averaging 2.9 viewers between the nights of February 27 through March 5.
By contrast, Maddow is now attracting 3.2 million each weeknight.
Previously, Maddow had been able, periodically, to top Hannity among viewers 25-54. But now her program outdraws Hannity among viewers of all ages. That represents a huge setback for the Fox News host.
On the night of March 2, Maddow had the top-rated program on all of cable television, not just cable news.
But it's not just Maddow's show that is surging — it's up and down the MSNBC lineup:
— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) March 7, 2018
The encroaching Russia storyline seems to be problematic for Fox News.
For most of the winter, Fox pundits tried to counter that mega-story by sponsoring a GOP-led witch hunt against the FBI. Hysterically implying that there's some kind of vast left-wing conspiracy fueling law enforcement in America, Fox News for months echoed every wild charge lobbed at the FBI by Republicans.
But none of the unhinged allegations have come to fruition. Not a single one. So while Fox News still presses those buttons, the energy and passion is missing — and viewers seem to be noticing.
As for the unfolding Stormy Daniels hush-money saga, Fox News has done its best to minimize the embarrassing Trump story.
On the night that news broke about Daniels' lawsuit, the only person who mentioned her name on Hannity's show was a Democratic guest — and the host quickly changed the topic. That same night, host Laura Ingrahm suggested the Daniels story of hush-money payments represented a distraction from other, more important issues.
Fox hosts seem completely lost on the Daniels story because there are no Democrats or liberals to blame for Trump cheating on his wife with a porn actress and then having his lawyer pay the woman to stay quiet.
These days, it's hard for Fox News to play offense. And it shows in the ratings.