FOX News is ahead because it's the only alternative
The Michael Wolff USA Today piece on FOX News, like so many other articles on the conservative news network, goes right past the obvious.
The 2013 numbers are out, and once more, for 12 years running, Ailes' Fox News trashes everybody else in the cable news space, with an audience larger than CNN's and MSNBC's combined.
In 2013, MSNBC, aping Fox's political spin but on the left-wing side, sunk to third place in total viewership. CNN's prime time audience has fallen back to where it was in 1993.
Fox, on the other hand, had the top 14 shows, and the top nine in the choicest demographic, 25- to 54-year-olds.
Okay, but why is that?
Ailes is not only a programmer but a media marketer. His was an astute analysis of the largest and most stable part of the cable news audience, a kind of passionate couch potato (network news still commands that larger audience of catatonic couch potatoes). This was an older and less urban audience, which left its competitors to fight over a younger and more fickle audience. The loss of audience share to other news and entertainment options (from Jon Stewart to digital news) has been much more severe for CNN and MSNBC.
This is as close as Wolff comes to the real point in his depoliticized analysis.
Suppose that there were only one liberal cable news network and that no network news programs existed. Assume also that the internet didn't exist. The odds are good that this hypothetical liberal network, assuming it was more like CNN and less like MSNBC's clown show, would likely be neck and neck with FOX News.
The dirty little secret here is that FOX News is ahead because it's the only alternative there is to a liberal television news monopoly. And once we start talking about that, we also have to talk about the dominant political culture of news.
It's not that hard to draw a competitive audience if your competition is splintered among multiple outlets that offer the same basic worldview.