A recent report in Vanity Fair suggests that Fox News realizes it has a PR (and advertising) problem as the result of becoming Trump TV. The question is, will Fox really change or just put some lipstick on its propaganda pig?
In his article, correspondent Gabriel Sherman notes that tensions between Fox’s opinion hosts and the news division have gotten worse of late:
“Reporters are telling management that we’re being defined by the worst people on our air,” a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me. Fox’s opinion hosts, meanwhile, have made the case that Fox’s prime-time lineup not only reflects the audience’s worldview, but is responsible for the majority of the network’s advertising revenue. “We make the money,” an anchor close to Hannity told me.
I question the veracity of that last statement. Despite the ratings, an advertiser boycott of Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham has cost the network $18 million – and now some advertisers don’t want to be associated with Jeanine Pirro. Last month, Variety reported on a new marketing initiative and outreach to advertisers that focused on Fox’s news:
“The opinion programming is incredibly popular, and steals the bigger part of the headlines,” says Jason Klarman, a consultant who has been working with Fox News and who is supervising the marketing effort. but “literally more than two-thirds of the millions of people who come in and check out the channel every day are coming for the news programming.”
In October, Politico quoted an advertising executive who said he steers clients away from Fox’s prime time shows. “Those prime-time personalities for the most part have proven themselves over time to be more trouble than they’re worth,” he said.
Regardless, Sherman reports that Lachlan Murdoch, the Fox Corporation chairman and CEO (and son of Rupert), dislikes Trump and “is likely to nudge the network away from its close marriage to Trump.”
Sources pointed out the hiring of Donna Brazile and the appointment of Trump critic Paul Ryan to Fox Corp’s board as signs of Lachlan’s view on Trump. “Donna is a shot in that direction. Management knows they have an image problem.” Indeed, at an advertiser sales event in recent days, brands complained to Fox News executives about the network’s association with Trump, a source briefed on the meeting told me. (A spokesman for Lachlan declined to comment.) Indeed, at an advertiser sales event in recent days, brands complained to Fox News executives about the network’s association with Trump, a source briefed on the meeting told me. (Through a spokesperson, Fox’s head of ad sales, Marianne Gambelli, said this was “completely false.”)
But the fact that Fox seemed afraid to announce why Pirro’s show didn’t air last weekend or whether she has been suspended suggests that the network is still in the thrall of its opinion-host fans. That’s not counting the angry tweeting from the opinion hosts’ Fan in Chief. If and when Pirro returns this weekend (I predict she will) and what she says, if anything, about her anti-Muslim attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar that ignited this particular firestorm may tell us a lot about where Fox is going now. So will the freedom and feistiness (or lack thereof) that Brazile will display as a true voice of opposition.
Also, as Trump is not likely to get more popular any time soon distancing the network from him could be just a wise business decision.