Cable news wars rage...and 'could grow even uglier'
Media rivals had plenty of space for more coverage of the woes that continue to plague the Fox News Channel yesterday – even on a day when North Korea's nukes and the missiles that might deliver them to the U.S. led the news. Events from the past week, including prominent host Eric Bolling's head-spinning immediate suspension for an alleged years-old incident of sexual harassment and the sudden flip of FNC contributor former homicide detective Rod Wheeler on the unsolved Seth Rich murder case, continued to be included in the coverage of other breaking stories involving the news channel. The mere mention of the Rich murder stoked calls for a boycott by leftist activists of FNC's #1 host, Sean Hannity.
Last night, in an article destined for a prominent place in Wednesday's print editions, the New York Times broke a story titled "Fox Is Said to Have Declined to Settle Suits for $60 Million."
The sexual harassment scandal at Fox News has cost its parent company 21st Century Fox tens of millions of dollars, untold reputational damage and some of its biggest personalities. And the drama is far from over.
At a confidential mediation proceeding in late July, the lawyer Douglas H. Wigdor asked for more than $60 million to settle several disputes with Fox News and 21st Century Fox, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Wigdor proposed that the settlement be paid in a lump sum, according to one of the people.
Those cases included gender-and racial-discrimination lawsuits against the company that Mr. Wigdor had filed on behalf of more than 20 current and former employees in the last several months and at least one explosive complaint that had not yet been made public.
The company would not accept Mr. Wigdor's offer and no resolution was reached.
Douglas H. Wigdor.
The Times article then rehashed the news from last week, in which attorney Wigdor filed an "explosive" (as the Times described it) lawsuit against 21st Century Fox and the Fox News Channel on behalf of his client, former detective Wheeler, who is African-American. Wheeler is alleging that he was the victim of defamation and racial discrimination primarily because of an article published by Fox News on its website in May about Wheeler's investigation of the Seth Rich murder. Fox News prime-time host Hannity figured in that controversy, although he was not named as a defendant in the suit, because he covered the Seth Rich case and included Wheeler's perspective in a segment on his nightly broadcast on May 16. The article also broke the news that Wigdor has been in touch with authorities in the U.K. in an apparent attempt to influence the British government to rethink or decline to approve 21st Century Fox's proposal, which is floundering as it is, to gain control of the profitable English and Euro TV provider SkyTV.
This line from the Times story could prove to be an understatement:
As the Wigdor cases proceed through the legal system – a process that could cost millions in legal fees and take years – the state of affairs could grow even uglier for all parties.
The article then transitions into a rehash of the controversy surrounding suspended host Eric Bolling. Although that salacious story, relying on anonymous sources, none of whom was quoted, came to light only late last Friday in an article in HuffPost, it has already consumed endless amounts of print and online coverage and broadcast time.
Interestingly, The Specialists, the 5 P.M. E.T. program that Bolling co-hosted through last Friday, won its time slot in both the demo and total viewers on Monday, August 7, the first day Bolling was off the program. The ratings win Monday might be due to several factors: The Specialists has been doing well since its premiere with Bolling. Its competition is extremely weak: on MSNBC, there is a program called MTP Daily – Meet the Press Daily – hosted by unappealing and obnoxious Sunday Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, while over on CNN, whose ratings are dismal most times of the day and night, aging and tiresome Wolf Blitzer continues to host an hour of The Situation Room from 5 to 6 P.M. (the program actually goes on until 7 P.M.).
The cable news wars in the United States apparently have attracted international interest. The Tuesday World edition of SCMP – the South China Morning Post – published in Hong Kong, ran the AP's story about MSNBC's rise, "MSNBC rides anti-Trump wave to close in on Fox News in US cable network ratings – Rachel Maddow is now the most popular host on prime time, seizing spot held by Fox personalities since 2001." The article did not mention Bowling or Rod Wheeler.
Maddow's ratings victory comes with one asterisk: she no longer has Fox's Bill O'Reilly to compete with. O'Reilly's ouster in April after harassment charges, coupled with Megyn Kelly's departure for NBC, leaves Sean Hannity as the one constant in Fox's prime-time lineup.
There's plenty of competition for this honor, but the low point in Tuesday's coverage of cable news – this time dedicated to Fox News – was Max Boot's attack piece published in the Council on Foreign Relations' house organ, Foreign Policy: "Fox News Has Completed Its Transformation Into Trump TV – Who needs state-owned propaganda when the president has friends like these?" With a large photo of Sean Hannity at the top, Boot, an alleged conservative, takes 1,500 words to bash Fox News, Eric Bolling, Bill O'Reilly, and Tucker Carlson – while reserving special enmity for Sean Hannity:
It scarcely seems possible, but [Tucker] Carlson is exceeded in his devotion to Trump by the host of Fox's 10 p.m. hour: Sean Hannity, the president's de facto minister of information. Every night Hannity will peddle whatever line serves Dear Leader's interests, no matter how risible or odious.
Fox's three-hour morning program, Fox & Friends, is also in Boot's sights:
The official party line, enunciated every night by Comrade Hannity, is faithfully echoed and extended every morning by the blow-dried apparatchiks on Fox and Friends, the president's favorite morning show.
But hold on: A bona fide intellectual is cited by Boot for his sophisticated and high-toned critique:
An inveterate TV watcher, Trump echoes Fox's fantasies in his own tweets and remarks. Fox, in turn, cites the president as confirmation for its made-up stories. As Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan notes, it's a "perpetual motion machine of [b-------]."
The article concludes with six paragraphs spinning the channel's coverage of the Seth Rich murder – which provides the author an opportunity to bash Hannity again. Even though a visitor supposedly gets free access to five articles a month at the Foreign Policy site (and this one is my first in a long time), obnoxious nag screens kept blacking out the story as they extorted me to "sign up." Don't think so. I can get endless amounts of this kind of journalism at CNN.com or MSNBC.com, all for free.
This disturbing item in the Wall Street Journal relating to a development in broadcast news – not on cable or conventional broadcast TV, but streaming on the internet – caught my eye: "Political News Outlet Young Turks Raises $20 Million After Viewership Gains – Left-leaning YouTube network plans to double newsroom size."
The Young Turks is the brain child of aging Turkish-American Cenk Uygur, 47, who was born in Turkey (get it?) and who has a law degree from Columbia University. According to Wikipedia, Uygur was once a conservative who opposed abortion but for the past decade-plus has been a far-left broadcaster who had a show for five months on MSNBC in 2011. He then moved to Al Gore's Current TV during its final two years until that channel was sold to Al Jazeera in 2013.
Since 2005, Uygur's Young Turks (TYT) has been streaming its far-left political programming on YouTube. With the Democratic Party's hard left turn in recent years, accelerating under the Trump administration as it has evolved into The Resistance, TYT has seen its audience expand. Among the investors who are contributing a share of the $20 million to TYT in hopes of reaping a significant return of their investment is Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about national politics, media, popular culture, and health care. He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. His new website is AltMedNews.net.