Newsmax Challenging CNN—But Defamation Suits Threaten Its Future

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Right-wing network Newsmax has seen a notable rise in its ratings in the weeks since Tucker Carlson was ousted from Fox News, Nielsen data shows—even consistently challenging CNN—though the network could face a big challenge with upcoming defamation lawsuits like the one against Fox that resulted in a $787.5 million settlement.

Key Facts

According to Nielsen, the total number of viewers for Newsmax’s The Balance with Eric Bolling—which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern time, the same time slot as Carlson’s former show—shot up from 130,000 viewers on April 21, the date of Carlson’s final show, to 531,000 on April 24, the day Carlson was fired, and 562,000 viewers on April 25.

Fox’s ratings declined in the wake of Carlson’s ouster, going from 3.1 million tuning in to Carlson’s time slot on April 17 and 2.6 million for his final show, to 1.1 million by April 28.

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Ratings for Bolling’s program have remained higher consistently since, along with Newsmax’s other primetime programming—the network’s Prime News program at 9 p.m. went up from 121,000 viewers on April 21 to 350,000 viewers on April 25 and 269,000 on May 5.

Newsmax surpassed CNN—which had been consistently third in the ratings after Fox and MSNBC—in total primetime viewers on May 12: Newsmax drew 467,000 viewers at 8 p.m. for Bolling versus 421,000 watching Anderson Cooper on CNN, and Newsmax’s programming at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. was viewed by 68,000 and 34,000 more viewers, respectively, than programs at the same time on CNN.

Bolling also beat Cooper in the ratings on May 16, 17 and 18, and Newsmax’s 7 p.m. time slot bested CNN on May 16 as well.

CNN’s primetime ratings have still remained higher than Newsmax’s on average, Nielsen data shows, but the difference between the two has narrowed: CNN’s average primetime viewership the week of April 24 was 593,000 viewers to Newsmax’s 334,000, while by the week of May 15, CNN was averaging 355,000 viewers versus 308,000 on Newsmax.

Newsmax faces two defamation suits—similar to the one that ultimately cost Fox News an historically high settlement—but the timing for both remains undecided.

Crucial Quote

Former President Donald Trump praised Newsmax’s ratings in an interview May 16, saying they were “going up like a rocket.” “I looked at the numbers … and that’s a fantastic thing for a conservative movement, frankly,” Trump said.


Newsmax’s success over CNN comes as the third-place network had already been struggling with its viewership well before Carlson’s ouster, facing falling ratings since its most-watched anchor Chris Cuomo was fired from the network in December 2021. The rise of Newsmax is likely more attributable to Fox viewers decamping to the network in the wake of Carlson’s departure. The week of May 15, when Bolling beat Cooper in the ratings on three occasions, marked Fox’s lowest average ratings in Carlson’s former time slot since he was fired, with 1.35 million viewers tuning into the network at 8 p.m.

What To Watch For

Newsmax faces two defamation lawsuits from voting machine companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, which both allege the network defamed the companies by pushing election fraud conspiracy theories involving their machines on-air despite knowing they were false. Both lawsuits, which were filed in 2021 in Delaware state court, remain pending and have not yet moved toward a trial, though the court has denied Newsmax’s motions to dismiss the cases. Dominion’s lawsuit “supports the reasonable inference that Newsmax either knew its statements about Dominion’s role in the election fraud were false or had a high degree of awareness that they were false,” Judge Eric M. Davis—who also oversaw Fox News’ defamation lawsuit from Dominion—wrote in his opinion rejecting Newsmax’s motion to dismiss. Newsmax has denied defaming the voting machine companies and said following Fox’s settlement that it “stands by its coverage and analysis of the 2020 election,” and like Fox has alleged its claims were neutral reporting on newsworthy events protected under the First Amendment.

Big Number

$1.6 billion. That’s how much Dominion is asking Newsmax to pay in damages if the voting company succeeds in its defamation suit. The Smartmatic suit also asks for the court to award an unspecified amount in damages, and the complaint alleges Newsmax’s falsehoods about the company has cost it at least $1.2 million in out of pocket expenses. The $1.6 billion figure is the same amount Dominion asked for from Fox News, which ultimately led to a settlement of $787.5 million. If Newsmax has to pay a similar amount, it could be much more consequential for the comparatively smaller network, experts noted to the Daily Beast. Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy valued the company at more than $200 million in late 2020. (Newsmax has already settled a separate lawsuit brought by Dominion executive Eric Coomer for undisclosed terms that similarly accused the network of defamation for election fraud lies about Coomer that it spread on the network. The settlement included Newsmax admitting on-air in April 2021 that it spread false claims about Coomer.)


Bolling previously worked as an anchor at Fox News before going to Newsmax, but was fired from the network in 2017 over sexual harassment allegations. His program Fox News Specialists was canceled following an investigation over accusations he sent photos of male genitalia to female colleagues, which Bolling denied. He joined Newsmax as an anchor in July 2021.

Key Background

Fox News announced on April 24 that Carlson and the network had “agreed to part ways,” a shocking decision that came days after Fox’s Dominion settlement. Carlson’s ouster has angered his fans on the right, with supporters accusing Fox of leaking information to the media in order to smear Carlson’s character and Donald Trump, Jr., saying that the move “changes things permanently” for Fox. That viewpoint was echoed on Newsmax, which the New York Times notes “aggressively” pushed the narrative that Carlson’s firing was an instance of Fox News and the Murdochs acquiescing to the left.

Surprising Fact

The last time Newsmax’s viewership surged as Fox News’ stumbled was in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Times notes, when the network pushed Trump’s narrative that the election was “stolen” and the election fraud conspiracy theories that now form the basis of Dominion and Smartmatic’s lawsuits. The relatively niche network beat Fox News in the ratings one evening in December 2020, the Times notes, though viewership then went down again following the post-election period. In Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox, the voting company alleged the network pushed fraud claims involving the company’s machines despite knowing those claims were false in order to stop viewers from decamping to Newsmax or rival right-wing network One America News.

Further Reading

Tuckered Out? Fox News’ Prime-Time Ratings Slump In Days Following Tucker Carlson’s Firing (Forbes)

Newsmax Ratings Climb After Tucker Carlson’s Exit at Fox (New York Times)

Fox News Settles Dominion Defamation Case For $787.5 Million, Dominion Lawyer Says (Forbes)

Fox News Defamation Settlement: Here’s Where Dominion And Smartmatic’s Other Lawsuits Stand Now (Forbes)

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