MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's ratings slide continues despite unprecedented news cycle

MSNBC’s most popular program, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” continued in May its extended nosedive in the cable news ratings, and some critics say it’s because the show's eponymous host has spent the past several years misleading viewers.

Maddow finished the month of May behind five different Fox News programs in total viewership, including non-primetime shows “The Five” and “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Maddow’s performance in May was even more alarming among the key demographic of adults age 25-54, where she averaged 455,000 viewers to finish tied for No. 7 in cable news, behind five different Fox News shows and even one program on MSNBC’s fellow liberal network CNN.

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CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” beat Maddow in the demo despite a month filled with negative publicity over his bro-friendly interviews with his sibling, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Even the little-watched “Anderson Cooper 360” managed to tie Maddow among the key demo during May.

Maddow has been outside the top five cable news programs among total viewers and outside the top six in the demo for four consecutive months. Maddow has shed demo viewers for three straight months at the same time America has seen an unprecedented news cycle filled with everything from a global pandemic to rampant joblessness to the tragic death of George Floyd in police custody.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has taken a hit in the ratings department since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report ended her favorite narrative.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has taken a hit in the ratings department since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report ended her favorite narrative.

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"Rachel Maddow's success was a one-trick pony. That trick was Trump-Russia conspiracy theories on an Alex Jones level of crazy. After the Mueller report, Maddow's decline was inevitable,” Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson told Fox News, referencing the findings from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“She got a respite due to impeachment hysteria, but now that that too has passed, there's no reason for anyone except the hardcore left to watch her,” Jacobson added. “Her decline could be permanent unless some other political paranoid delusion draws people back to her."

Maddow’s highest-rated month ever was January 2019, at the height of her nightly "what-ifs" regarding whether or not President Trump's administration colluded with Russia. Maddow even finished the first quarter of 2019 as the most-watched cable news program among 25-54 demo.

"Her decline could be permanent unless some other political paranoid delusion draws people back to her."

— William A. Jacobson

Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing Mueller’s report was released on March 24 -- the final week of the quarter -- indicating that a Trump campaign-Russia conspiracy didn’t exist, contradicting Maddow’s nightly narrative, and that was that. Now, critics have said she’s fighting tooth-and-nail with low-rated CNN shows just to stay relevant.

“I think this is a battle of extreme idiocy and that favors CNN. Maddow has two strikes against her -- she tends to be wonky and she lost a lot of leftist support when she was massively wrong about Russia. Even the left has the standard of wanting their pundits not to make them look bad. And she did,” Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News.

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"Maddow has two strikes against her -- she tends to be wonky and she lost a lot of leftist support when she was massively wrong about Russia."

— Dan Gainor

However, if the MSNBC host needed some positive news, Gainor said he didn’t think CNN has figured out a way to compete with her by practicing better journalism.

“CNN has become a parody of a news network with the unethical faux journalism of anchor Chris Cuomo repeatedly interviewing his brother, the disastrous New York governor,” Gainor told Fox News. “Lucky for CNN, their viewers aren’t tuning into Cuomo or Anderson Cooper for news. They can't be. They are tuning in for spectacle. And that, CNN will happily supply.”

“Maddow's credibility likely took a hit in the eyes of the less loyal viewers once the Russian collusion story dissipated."

— Jeffrey McCall

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DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that Maddow will keep her loyal fan base, who has proven to stick with her for the long haul, but her days of competing for the top spot could be over because casual viewers have evaporated.

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“Maddow’s credibility likely took a hit in the eyes of the less loyal viewers once the Russian collusion story dissipated,” McCall said. “The strategy of focusing so much of her program around one issue looked good at the time and her ratings jumped, but sustaining that momentum was a challenge once the news agenda changed.”

McCall added that Maddow “still does draw a sizable and dedicated audience,” but “she will need to find another enticing anti-Trump storyline to lure back the more casual viewers” if she wanted to return to her pre-Mueller perch.