It’s hard to think of anything more depressing about our news media than the specter of the head of the biggest cable news network groveling at the feet of Reality Show presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Gabriel Sherman, a New York Magazine editor who also wrote a biography of Fox chief Roger Ailes, discussed on NPR how Ailes bartered news coverage for Trump’s favor after he threw a public tantrum over his treatment at Fox’s debate, with special sexist attacks on moderator Megyn Kelly:
SHERMAN: He offered Trump a one-hour special with Megyn Kelly to clear the air. But Trump threw that offer out the window and so Ailes frantically offered Fox & Friends, a venue that has been especially friendly to Trump’s campaign and Hannity as well. Trump, in the end, agreed after exacting concessions from Ailes in which he guaranteed him that Fox would cover him, “fairly.”
According to Sherman, Ailes also asked Trump to tweet out to his millions of followers that they had resolved their differences. “That shows you the desperation Ailes felt to smooth things over with Trump’s audience,” Sherman added.
“If we learned anything this last week, Fox News is more dependent on Donald Trump at this point than Donald Trump needs Fox News,” Sherman concluded.
That's certainly how Ailes is behaving. On Friday, a skirmish over Megyn Kelly’s vacation broke the truce between Fox and Trump. On Saturday, Trump boasted he had triumphed over Ailes. But today, the Fox & Friends hosts all but got out the pompoms to cheerlead Trump’s extremist, racist immigration policy like they were all his bestest of friends.
But does Ailes really need Trump? In a June Politico column, Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush discussed Bill Clinton's famous "Sister Souljah moment" during the 1992 election. For those who have forgotten or were too young, it happened when Clinton lectured Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition about giving a forum to the rap artist whose lyrics suggested killing white people. Latimer characterized Clinton's maneuver not as bravery that could have alienated his bedrock African American constituency but a cunning political stunt. "It wasn’t as if African-American voters were going to vote Republican anyway. Besides, Clinton had many months to repair any hard feelings," Latimer wrote.
Wouldn't the same be true for Fox News and Republicans? Sure, Fox has been buried in an avalanche of support for Trump over Megyn Kelly among Fox viewers lately. But are those viewers really going to replace Fox with CNN or MSNBC especially if Fox continues on its conservative path the way it always has? We know that once the presidential nomination process is complete, Fox will throw its support behind whomever it is. As for Trump, would he really stay away from a network that would still have considerable sway over his constituency even if that sway were to be temporarily diminished?
In my mind, the only "good" reason for Ailes to capitulate is that he wants to remain a Republican power broker, especially in the farther right conservative wing. It's hard to think that anything else would trump Ailes' operations.
One thing we know for sure, it had nothing to do with journalistic principle.
Listen to Sherman below, from the August 14 On The Media.
Trump caricature by DonkeyHotey
Trumpster is in complete control over Ailes, and there is nothing Ailes can do about it. Ailes is weak and powerless over Trumpster.
The truth is Trumpster is damaging the Fox “News” brand by criticizing the network. Ailes’ worst nightmare is to see his network ratings decline. He rather do as Trumpster says than risk further damage to Fox.
Trumpster is in control of Fox “News” and he is hinting that powerless Ailes fire Luntz.
NOTE TO ROGER AILES
You are too afraid to man-up to Trumpster. You run around having meetings with the top suits trying to figure out how to deal with him. You can’t blame Democrats on this one. The party is not the type that would put a “plant” in the Republican party to destroy Fox “News” mouthpieces. No, no. Get that idea out of your head.
“This is like Ronald Reagan in the pre-Fox era, a Republican who successfully shmoozed the media.”
Which is by far the PRINCIPAL REASON he and his VP (George Bush Sr.) wound up getting off SCOT-FREE from the Iran-contra scandal that plagued his second term.
So, while Fox can pursue their anti-Obama agenda all they want with with the other 16. But they look boring compared to the other networks. Worse, the other guys get the ratings.
Nobody is boycotting anything. They just can’t compete with the media savvy Trump.
It’s a nice theory, but it’s not their choice that they appear so little.
Trump is doing two very smart things.
First, he is not limiting himself to Fox. He is happy to shmooze all the non-Fox media, such as Raddatz and Halperin in the helicopter, CNN, Morning Joe. This is like Ronald Reagan in the pre-Fox era, a Republican who successfully shmoozed the media. This is smart strategy for the general election.
Second, he criticizes/challenges the other Republicans very effectively. For example, Bush is a puppet. He knows he has to beat them first. This really puts Fox in a bind, far beyond his specific attacks on Megyn Kelly. He is provoking a Fox civil war. This keeps Fox off balance enough that Fox cannot coherently challenge him.