MSNBC’s Biden Interview Loses in Ratings to Newsmax’s Trump Rally Coverage

Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

MSNBC’s much-hyped interview with President Joe Biden this past weekend was only the third most-watched hour on cable news among its time slot, trailing both Fox News’ early evening programming and Newsmax’s live coverage of a Donald Trump rally.

According to Nielsen, MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart’s wide-ranging sitdown with the president attracted a total of 732,000 total, including just 62,000 in the key advertising demographic of adults ages 25-54. The broadcast was heavily advertised as Biden’s first televised sitdown following his fiery State of the Union address.

Capehart’s pre-taped conversation with the president, which aired during the MSNBC host’s Saturday 6 p.m. show, did include a number of newsmaking moments. Biden, for instance, said he regretted referring to Georgia student Laken Riley’s accused killer as “an illegal” during his speech, confessing he should have used the term “undocumented person.”

President Biden Says He Regrets Using the Term ‘Illegal’ at SOTU

The president further claimed he has a “red line” for Israel’s actions in Gaza, and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “knows what [he] meant” when he said in a hot-mic moment that they were going to have “a come to Jesus meeting” about the war. “You can’t have another 30,000 Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after [Hamas]. There are other ways to deal with Hamas,” the president told Capehart.

Despite headlines generated by the interview, though, MSNBC still finished behind both Fox News and, perhaps more remarkably, its MAGA competitor Newsmax, which had gone all-in on Trump’s campaign speech during the same hour. (In fact, both the president and his presumptive GOP opponent held dueling rallies in Georgia on Saturday.)

During its 6 p.m. coverage of the ex-president’s rally, Newsmax averaged a total of 898,000 viewers, with 63,000 in the key demographic. For comparison, on the previous Saturday the right-wing channel only pulled in an 180,000 viewers overall, with a minuscule demographic pull of 12,000 viewers.

Trump’s speech featured him blasting Biden’s “angry, dark, hate-filled” address, mocking the president’s lifelong stutter, and further vilifying immigrants. Having met with Riley’s parents before taking the stage, Trump exclaimed that “migrants are hurting people” and “some of these people are monsters.”

While the Trump speech brought Newsmax a ratings boost and a win over a much larger cable-news network, it still wasn’t enough to top its chief rival. Fox News’ weekend news show anchored by Jon Scott drew 927,000 total viewers (with 114,000 in the key demographic), largely keeping with the program’s average numbers.

Though the highly promoted presidential sitdown only managed a third-place finish, it at least gave Capehart’s show a modest boost. Last quarter, The Saturday Show with Jonathan Capehart averaged 602,000 total viewers and 55,000 in the key demographic. Additionally, the Biden interview marked the highest ratings for The Saturday Show this year and drew nearly 40 percent more viewers than CNN in the same time slot.

Even before cord-cutting and streaming caused a precipitous drop in cable viewership, weekends have always been a dead zone for cable news, especially for MSNBC. The network addressed this late last year by completely revamping its weekend lineup, a move that has produced some early results. At the same time, compared to last year, the network saw double-digit gains in total day and primetime viewership last month. (This includes the network's higher-rated weekday offerings.)

Not Even Tucker Carlson’s Fox News Firing Could Save Newsmax

This isn’t the first time Newsmax has notched a ratings victory over one of its much larger competitors. Shortly after Biden’s 2020 election victory, the conservative channel’s ratings soared when it embraced Trump’s “rigged” election lies, leveraging MAGA viewers’ growing anger toward Fox News and resulting in a head-to-head win against Fox. (Fox News’ editorial reaction to those losses formed the basis of Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against the network, resulting in a massive $787.5-million settlement.)

After Newsmax’s ratings fell back to earth after Biden took office, the network saw another upswing after Fox News fired Tucker Carlson, once again pushing staunchly right-wing viewers away from the conservative cable giant.

The combination of a brief erosion in Fox’s audience and anger from CNN fans over that network’s disastrous 2023 Trump town hall resulted in Newsmax beating CNN in primetime a handful of times.

Soon enough, however, Newsmax soon found its ratings had returned to reality. The exception, of course, is when the network completely turns its airwaves over to Trump.

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