As Fox News attempts to figure out its place in a post-Trump media landscape, the network has claimed it is moving “center-right.” A laughable claim, critics say—one that is easily disproved by Fox’s far-right primetime screeds but also by the tonal shift of a key noon-hour talk show.
Outnumbered, which first debuted in 2014 as a female-led panel show (with a gimmicky “one lucky guy” slotted as the sole male panelist), has always straddled Fox’s increasingly blurred line dividing its “hard news” and opinion wings. But the show has long winked at its “fair and balanced” credentials by featuring a lone liberal pundit among its rotating panel.
However, in recent months, and as Fox grappled with a ratings plunge—at least in part due to MAGA diehards ditching the network after its news desk made accurate election-night calls for Joe Biden—the noon talk show appears to have benched two key liberal regulars in Marie Harf and Jessica Tarlov.
And instead, Outnumbered has taken a noticeably rightward shift, stacking its panels with conservative voices and giving more prominent placement to fiery provocateurs like Tomi Lahren. The resulting show is one that, like much of Fox’s programming, now seems laser-focused on hyping the conservative culture-war grievances of the day.
“Ratings went down the tank and they want more right-wing voices,” one current Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast in assessing the noon show’s new tone, especially in light of the network overhauling much of its lineup to add more hours of right-wing opinion commentary.
The prolonged Outnumbered absence of Harf and Tarlov—both of whom continue to appear elsewhere on the network—notably came almost immediately following an intense, early-December on-air skirmish between Harf and the show’s permanent host Harris Faulkner over the program’s coverage of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Harf, a former Obama state department official, challenged Faulkner on Outnumbered having spent nearly a full hour talking about Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell’s five-year-old interactions with a suspected Chinese spy, or complaining about coronavirus-related indoor dining restrictions, all while giving a mere 20 seconds of air to the U.S. surpassing 3,000 daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time.
An incensed Faulkner shouted down Harf, complaining that it was “offensive” that the liberal panelist “took a shot there.” The host further chided her colleague: “You can’t see my heart and trust me when I tell you it hurts all of us to mourn those Americans and people around the world.”
Prior to Faulkner’s blow-up with Harf, the liberal Fox News contributor had appeared in 11 of the previous 24 Outnumbered broadcasts and had been in rotation to appear at least twice a week. Jessica Tarlov, another regular Outnumbered panelist, had appeared four times during that same span and had been in a once-a-week rotation with the show.
Following that Dec. 10 broadcast, however, both Harf and Tarlov were yanked from any future bookings on Outnumbered, according to two sources familiar with the situation. And since then, neither woman has returned to the show.
The only left-leaning panelists to appear on the noon program now are radio host Leslie Marshall, a self-described “centrist” Democrat and Johanna Maska, a former Obama spokesperson who sat on the panel last week. Fox News host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery, a self-described libertarian, also remains a staple of the show.
Otherwise, the show has seemed to increasingly lean on incendiary conservative culture warriors like MAGA youth leader Charlie Kirk, reactionary podcaster Dave Rubin, failed congressional candidate Kim Klacik, and—much to the chagrin of Fox staffers who spoke with The Daily Beast—Tomi Lahren.
The career bomb-thrower—best-known for her bite-sized and breathless rants on Fox’s digital streaming service Fox Nation, her oft-hateful tweets (some of which have been publicly rebuked by her own colleagues), and for having been fired by Glenn Beck—has suddenly become a routine presence on Outnumbered.
Lahren recently re-upped her contract with Fox and since December has appeared at least 18 times on Outnumbered, co-hosting at least twice per week. Considering her style of commentary and debate being more at home in Fox’s decidedly right-wing primetime hours, some Fox News staffers consider her newfound elevation to be eyebrow-raising.
“It’s an absolute joke and further proof that the show shouldn’t be taken seriously,” said one current Fox employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from management. “When I was hired, I was told that [Lahren] would never be on legitimate shows like Outnumbered or The Five, that she was only Fox Nation. I’m just as confused as everyone else. Tomi has no credibility, no résumé of experience other than screaming derogatory things on the internet.”
Another Fox staffer suggested Lahren is a logical choice to spice up the network’s daytime programming amid a ratings slump. “She’s good at stirring the pot… all it takes nowadays,” the employee said. “Fox likes what rates.”
While the network’s actions—including programming choices that include adding two more hours of right-wing commentary in the 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. hours—indicate a definitive hard-right shift to shore up the hardcore conservative MAGA base, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch somehow insisted the opposite earlier this month.
“We believe that where we are targeted, to the center-right, is where we should be targeted. We don’t need to go further right,” he said while touting the company’s ad-revenue gains. “We don’t believe America is further right, and we’re obviously not going to pivot left. All of our significant competitors are to the far left.”
Following last November’s election, however, the whole calculus for Fox News’ programming changed. Disgruntled pro-Trump viewers ditched the network in droves following Fox’s early call of Arizona for President Joe Biden on Election Night, a decision that put a crimp in then-President Donald Trump’s plan to falsely declare victory.
With Fox experiencing slumping post-election ratings—Fox has since witnessed a bounce back and recently returned to number one in primetime—the network made a concerted effort to win back MAGA loyalists by focusing more squarely on conservative opinion and culture-war battles. A key part of that shift included its “hard news” broadcasts devoting ample time to discussing and amplifying the opinion monologues delivered the night before by Fox’s popular pro-Trump firebrands Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.
The ratings panic became apparent after Martha MacCallum’s now-former 7 p.m. show The Story was beaten on a January evening head-to-head in the ratings by Newsmax, the upstart cable outlet that appealed directly to disgruntled Fox viewers by overtly embracing Trump’s bogus “stolen” election ploy. MacCallum’s loss to Newsmax’s Greg Kelly in the key advertising demographic of viewers aged 25-54 scared the network’s bosses “to their core,” staffers told The Daily Beast at the time.
And the new direction of Outnumbered ultimately seems to be yet another part of Fox’s overtly rightward shift to combat ratings issues.
“It’s all a complete joke,” one Fox News insider told The Daily Beast. “They aren’t even trying anymore to attempt a fair discussion.”
“The token liberal was only there for show,” this person concluded. “The liberal opinion was only as useful to them as a tee in tee ball for the rest of the gang to get guaranteed hits their audience wants to hear. Now in their desperation to retain the fleeing audience they are too afraid to have even the slightest opposing view on the show for fear more people will click over to Newsmax.”
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.