NEW YORK – Up is down, down is up. President Donald Trump thanked CNN Tuesday for its Republican convention coverage, while Fox News heard complaints from some viewers that it wasn't showing enough.
The president's tweet that he was “very appreciative” to CNN for showing the vast majority of the Republicans' opening night was also likely a coded message to Fox, the network of choice for many of his fans.
And if that was the case, the message was received.
Fox stuck with the Republicans' program on Tuesday night to a greater extent than it had the night before. That was particularly true of Sean Hannity, who broadcast his show from a specially built perch overlooking the Rose Garden at the White House.
Monday's ratings illustrate the importance of Fox to Trump's re-election efforts: 45% of people following the convention's last hour on the top six networks were watching Fox News Channel, the Nielsen company said. Overall, 17 million people watched that hour, down from the 19.7 million who saw Democratic candidate Joe Biden's first night last week. Democratic convention viewership beat Republicans on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC.
Hannity, who infrequently showed the Democrats' virtual convention speakers last week and usually criticized them when he did, had few interruptions Tuesday.
“Wow!” Hannity said in praising presidential daughter Tiffany Trump. “What a difference from a week ago — radical socialist convention versus America goodness, greatness, American exceptionalism.”
Competing television networks protested what they saw as the White House's favoritism toward Hannity in letting Fox build him sets that are more elaborate than arrangements for others, The New York Times reported.
CNN and MSNBC showed virtually all of the Democrats’ prime-time program last week, and it was clear that for consistency’s sake, they would try to do the same for Republicans. That continued Tuesday, although MSNBC's Rachel Maddow worked in more fact checks.
“I commend them for it,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. “It’s a very difficult editorial call.”
Conventions represent one of the best opportunities for a party and candidate to make their case to voters, he said. It’s more concentrated this year without the physical conventions, and with the parties programming a tight two hours each night, there are fewer opportunities for TV analysts to break in.
Yet Fox's attempt to do so Monday led to some social media protests, including from Trump campaign aide Brad Parscale.
“Enough with Hannity, Hannity, Hannity,” tweeted Steve Walsh, press secretary to a Republican congresswoman from Missouri. “Please just show me the convention!”
The Trump team's use of presidential trappings was a flashpoint in Tuesday's coverage, when the president conducted a citizenship ceremony for five new Americans in the White House shortly after the broadcast networks started their coverage at 10 p.m. ABC, CBS and NBC eventually pulled away from it to debate its propriety.
Trump “has always broken boundaries,” former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on ABC. “I don't know if anybody's buying it,” colleague Yvette Simpson said.
But fellow ABC commentator Sara Fagen said the setting wouldn't matter to most viewers. “I thought it was very effective,” she said.
“Beautifully done and great to watch,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum said of the naturalization ceremony. “A very moving moment at the White House.”
Fox showed the ceremony in its entirety and skirted the issue, moving directly into a speech taped by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, itself a subject of controversy.
Unlike Monday, when the convention ended early and left networks with six minutes for commentators to fill — always a dangerous prospect for the parties — the Republicans used up all of their prime-time window Tuesday, ending with first lady Melania Trump's speech.