Ever since Donald Trump entered the Republican contest for the party’s nomination for president he has been a constant presence on Fox News. Studies of the distribution of airtime have shown that Trump’s allocation has far exceeded every other candidate. The estimated value of this gift to Trump’s candidacy is in excess of thirty million dollars through December 2016. The question is why has Fox been so generous to this one particular candidate?
The conventional wisdom response to this question would be that Trump is simply good business for Fox News (and pretty much every other network). He is a proven ratings draw, in the same manner as a high-speed police chase or a Kardashian wardrobe malfunction. Audiences are enrapt because of the possibility that at any time Trump might burst a blood vessel in his neck or slap an immigrant orphan. In addition to the financial incentive, Fox shares most of the political agenda articulated by Trump, even the batshit crazy stuff like Mexican border walls, dismantling NATO, and his latest absurdity that he would eliminate the national debt in eight years.
Now there is a new explanation for why the self-described “most powerful name in news” got rolled and began doling out huge portions of their valuable airtime to what otherwise might be considered a joke candidate. Gabriel Sherman, the National Affairs Editor for New York Magazine and the author of a biography of Fox CEO Roger Ailes (The Loudest Voice in the Room), just published a fascinating and in-depth story about the composition of Trump’s campaign team. But it also includes an account of how Fox Executive VP Brian Lewis got fired under mysterious circumstances (which News Corpse covered here). In the course of telling this story, Sherman revealed this startling bombshell:
“It was also thanks to some information he had gathered that Trump was able to do something that no other Republican has done before: take on Fox News. An odd bit of coincidence had given him a card to play against Fox founder Roger Ailes. In 2014, I published a biography of Ailes, which upset the famously paranoid executive. Several months before it landed in stores, Ailes fired his longtime PR adviser Brian Lewis, accusing him of being a source. During Lewis’s severance negotiations, Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had ‘bombs’ that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved.
“‘When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,’ Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. ‘Roger had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem.’ Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.”
If this is true, then Fox News is essentially paying off Trump, with millions of dollars of airtime, to buy his silence. Under these circumstances Fox should not be covering Trump at all. If Trump is blackmailing Fox with threats of dumping damaging information there is no telling what he might have demanded. He isn’t limited to free airtime. He could also insist on positive coverage from influential hosts like Bill O’Reilly. He could force the network to hit his opponents with dishonest smears. He could dictate the network’s narrative on the progress of the campaign, the battle for delegates, and even the reactions to his numerous controversial remarks.
One thing is certain: This would explain how Trump has gotten away with his brutal treatment of Fox News. Ordinarily, any Republican candidate would be conscious of the sway that Fox holds over the party and the fate of anyone hoping to rise up in it. But Trump, with an apparently reckless lack of concern, has spent much of the last nine months mercilessly battering the network and its staff. He said of Megyn Kelly that she “is the worst” and has a “terrible show.” He called Karl Rove a “total fool” and “a biased dope.” He said that George Will is a “broken down political pundit” and “boring.” Chris Stirewalt was deemed “one of the dumbest political pundits on television.” Trump laughed off Charles Krauthammer as “a totally overrated clown,” “a loser,” and “a dummy.” And wrapping up the whole network for his disapproval, he tweeted that he was “having a really hard time watching Fox News.” Then he called on his followers to boycott the network. He even went after one of the major shareholders of the Fox’s parent corporation. I can’t say that I disagree with much of that, but then I’m not seeking the GOP nomination for anything.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
This is behavior that only seems plausible if Trump somehow knows that he will not suffer any consequences for it. At the very least, Fox News needs to respond to these allegations. And if their response is anything less than an unambiguous denial (for which they would have to supply evidence), then they need to come clean by disclosing the blackmail bait themselves. Then they need to conduct a public review of their past coverage of Trump to provide an accounting of their time allotment and any possibility of reporting bias. What’s more, the other candidates, including those who dropped out, have a right to some answers on how they were covered and if Trump’s tactics adversely affected their campaigns. Will Fox act responsibility on this? Well, why should they start now since they haven’t for the last twenty years.