Fox’s Bret Baier draws the line: Sean Hannity is a problem
The civil war between the Fox News Channel news and opinion sides appears to be hardening, with chief political anchor Bret Baier having joined the fray. On Thursday May 17, Baier, a 20-year high-profile veteran of Fox News, entered the lion's den – one of the hearts of the anti-Trump Resistance – when he went on the ABC Television Network daytime women's chat show The View. His guest shot in "enemy territory" was a prominent stop on the media tour to promote his new book on Reagan and Gorbachev, Three Days in Moscow. The five women of The View, however – four of them unabashed leftists and one lone moderate Republican, Meghan McCain – preferred to spend most of the time grilling their guest about his day job at Fox News.
The View's co-host Sunny Hostin, an attorney who previously worked for CNN, asked Baier:
People do see Fox News as the administration's mouthpiece. I don't know if it helped that it's been reported that your colleague Sean Hannity talks to the president nightly before bed about the day's musings. Do you think that's appropriate? I understand Sean is on the opinion side of the network.
Bret Baier and Sunny Hostin on The View.
Seemingly put on the defensive by the hosts' questions and the studio audience's reactions that always seem to follow the hosts' leads, Baier replied:
First of all, the [Fox News] network overall is not a mouthpiece. There may be opinion shows that have a direct relationship with the president, and Sean is not calling me and giving me a download of the call. I was on his show the other night, and he said to me, "How much problem do I cause the news division? Scale of one to 10." And I said, you know, "A solid six." But it depends on the day.
To my knowledge, this criticism by Baier of Hannity, or, to put it more accurately, his distancing himself from his Fox News colleague – however slight – is the first time Baier has publicly registered such an adverse opinion of a Fox News colleague. One would therefore have to add him to the list of other Fox News news department hosts, Chris Wallace and Shep Smith, who have been even more vocal and direct in their criticism of Hannity and others on the opinion side of the channel.
On Tuesday, May 15, Baier, who is based in Washington, D.C., trekked to New York City for the opening salvo of his book tour, and that evening, he appeared live in studio on Hannity (video here). In introducing Baier, Hannity seemed prescient about what Baier would wind up saying two days later on The View. According to the transcript of Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY: People think that we're not friends. Every newspaper local, international, and national.
BRET BAIER: That's right.
HANNITY: And they have a sports section.
BAIER: That's exactly right.
HANNITY: And they have an editorial page?
BAIER: They do indeed.
HANNITY: Am I editorial page?
BAIER: You are indeed.
HANNITY: And you are the news page.
BAIER: That's right.
At the end of the live interview, this was the exchange between the two men.
HANNITY: Great book. How much crap do you take for being – for me being opinionated?
BAIER: On a scale of one to 10?
HANNITY: Yes, on a scale of one to 10.
BAIER: You know, it's a good, six.
HANNITY: Just tell everybody your news I'm opinion and every paper is a news section, sports section and a Hannity section.
BAIER: I do.
HANNITY: All right.
BAIER: I do.
HANNITY: Great book.
BAIER: Thanks, man.
How significant is this daylight that seems to have emerged between the two Fox News personalities? A number of articles took note of it, especially after Baier's guest shot on The View. The Washington Times, for example, headlined its article "Bret Baier on The View: Fox not a 'mouthpiece' for Trump, but Hannity is a problem." At this point, with Fox News's enemies constantly looking for any signs of internal strife at the channel – with Hannity the #1 target of the MSM – the dust-up, however minor, is red meat – if only a small serving – for The Resistance to chew on.
Meanwhile, on the same day – May 17 – that Baier appeared on The View, Fox News announced that a new CEO had been appointed to run the channel and its sister, the Fox Business Network: Suzanne Scott. Scott has been with Fox News since its beginning in 1996, and she is now reportedly the only female heading a cable news or broadcast television network. As The Guardian reported, Fox News "has effectively been without an official CEO since Roger Ailes was ousted in 2016 amid sexual harassment allegations, although Rupert Murdoch had stepped in to run the channel during the interim." Ironically, the first anniversary of Ailes's death ten months after his ouster was the following day, May 18, 2018.
Significantly, making the official announcement of the management change at the Fox News Channel was Lachlan Murdoch, the older son of international media mogul and Fox News co-founder Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch the younger is described as "Chairman of 21st Century Fox and the Chairman and CEO of the proposed New Fox." According to the May 17 FNC news release:
Ms. Scott will report jointly to Lachlan Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman, Executive Chairman of FOX News and Co-Chairman of the proposed New Fox.
James (left) and Lachlan Murdoch.
The day before, May 16, it was reported that Lachlan Murdoch had ascended to the top spot in the scaled down New Fox empire, which includes Fox News and the Fox Business Network. As The Guardian headlined its story:
Lachlan Murdoch ascends as CEO and chairman of new Fox company
Position senior to father Rupert Murdoch, who will serve as co-chairman, marks an actual and symbolic shift in the Murdoch empire
The article went on to describe the new leadership picture – a de facto passing of the torch from the elderly Fox founder Rupert Murdoch to a new generation:
Lachlan Murdoch will serve as chairman and chief executive of the proposed new "Fox" company – a position senior to father Rupert Murdoch – once the deal to sell Fox assets to Walt Disney is approved by shareholders and regulators, the company said today.
Rupert Murdoch will serve as co-chairman of the new Fox entity, which will maintain ownership of Fox's existing news, sports and business channels.
"We have worked through the winter 'standing up' a reimagined independent Fox," Lachlan Murdoch, 46, said in a statement. ...
The shift marks an actual and symbolic shift in the Murdoch empire, which has long been roiled by questions of succession. The new Fox company will be without 21st Century Fox's film and television studios, entertainment cable channels, a stake in streaming service Hulu and regional sports networks.
The formal anointment of Lachlan Murdoch comes as younger brother James Murdoch, 45, is reported to be looking at starting a venture capital fund to invest in digital and international media businesses once the $52.4bn Fox-Disney deal is completed.
Got that? With the elder Murdoch having just turned 87, the bottom line is that Lachlan Murdoch, 46, is expected to exert more and more day-to-day control over the direction and programming of Fox News. As has been widely reported, the younger Murdoch does not necessarily share the conservative political leanings of his father, Rupert. In fact, far from it. Lachlan's brother, James, who is said to be even more liberal, will reportedly not be playing a role at the New Fox.
With other changes apparently in the winds in terms of how the news is delivered to the American viewing audience via cable and satellite TV and online, the future of political news reporting in 2018, including what's ahead for Fox News, promises to be interesting.