ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Democrats may be ascendant around much of the nation. They control both houses of Congress, a majority of governors' mansions and, of course, the White House. But as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, times could hardly be better at the cable channel that liberals love to hate.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: How has the Fox News Channel fared in age of President Obama? Quite well, thank you, says Bill Shine, Fox News's senior vice president for programming.
Mr. BILL SHINE (Senior Vice President, Programming, Fox News): There were a couple of people who basically wrote about our demise come last November, December and were, I guess, rooting for us to go away.
FOLKENFLIK: Ratings estimates from Nielsen show audience levels are up, crazy high for a news channel, and among the highest of all basic cable channels. And Shine says that's because Fox has taken a skeptical eye to the new administration.
Mr. SHINE: With this particular group of people in power right now and the honeymoon they've had from other members of the media, does it make it a little bit easier for us to be the voice of opposition on some issues?
FOLKENFLIK: Let me answer that for him: Sure it does. For your listening enjoyment, exhibits A, B and C.
(Soundbite of TV show, "The O'Reilly Factor")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Host, "The O'Reilly Factor"): Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. Is the economy taking President Obama down already?
(Soundbite of TV show, "Hannity")
Mr. SEAN HANNITY (Host, "Hannity"): Trillion dollar deficits for years to come. This is all so they will empower his socialist agenda.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Glenn Beck")
Mr. GLENN BECK (Host, "Glenn Beck"): It is your country. And you know what? If you want it to be socialist, well then good. Let's debate that out in the open.
FOLKENFLIK: That would be the Fox triptych of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. O'Reilly is often in full populist swing. Hannity is newly freed from liberal co-host Alan Colmes. And Beck, recently arrived from CNN Headline News, has more than doubled last year's audience in his time slot.
Each is largely right of center - in Beck's case, largely right of right of center. And he sounds very suspicious of those in power these days.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Glenn Beck")
Mr. BECK: And unless we hold them responsible for their actions, unless we actually say, enough. Unless we say, you play by the same rules that we have to play by - unless that happens, we have an out-of-control government that will steamroll us.
FOLKENFLIK: Beck's a self-deprecating and often buoyant guy, but his depiction of the country is pretty bleak and conspiratorial. Beck broods on the air about whether FEMA is somehow setting up concentration camps - a notion that few take seriously and that even Beck has told viewers he can't prove. But Beck does associate himself with one group of politicians from an earlier era, and in so doing, Beck tells me, he has bonded with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
Mr. BECK: I become more and more libertarian every day. I'm more and more against both of these parties. As every day goes by, I just become much more like the Founding Fathers. I just wanted to be in a place that understood that. And I think Roger does. I know Roger does.
FOLKENFLIK: Count Victor Navasky among those who's utterly unsurprised about the success of Fox News under an Obama. Navasky is the publisher emeritus of the left-of-center magazine The Nation.
Mr. VICTOR NAVASKY (Publisher Emeritus, The Nation): For many years, we had a bad joke: If it's bad for the country, it's good for The Nation.
FOLKENFLIK: Navasky and the rest of the political left saw the election of President George W. Bush as a bad thing pretty much right out of the box. And Navasky says The Nation's circulation doubled after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Mr. NAVASKY: It's a rallying point for people who feel that they're not represented at the highest levels of power.
FOLKENFLIK: Navasky says he watched Fox News for years because O'Reilly and others are terrifically entertaining, and he says he welcomes the channel's conservative check on a Democratic administration. But he also says the other side sometimes don't get much of a fair hearing - even, at times, in news coverage.
Mr. NAVASKY: It is a credibility problem if you don't - if you distort, omit or otherwise demagogue against the opposition.
FOLKENFLIK: But Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace says the channel's coverage just seeks to take a contrarian look at a popular president.
Mr. CHRIS WALLACE (Host, "Fox News Sunday"): For instance, on Fox News you've seen a lot of coverage raising the issue: Are we headed down the road to socialism?
FOLKENFLIK: Newsweek had a cover article posing much the same question. But on Fox News, it often seems more a cudgel. Yet Wallace says the administration is getting a fair shake, and shows it by giving full access. In the meantime, even if Fox's most famous figures feel as though they're on the outside looking in, there are a lot of viewers keeping them company.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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