Fox News's on-air war cools off — for now
The incendiary on air war that broke out earlier this week, pitting several of the most prominent Fox News channel personalities against each other, has cooled off for the moment. The sudden flare-up of simmering grudges between Fox News's opinion and news sides that finally boiled over into public view involved opinion host Tucker Carlson, news host Shepard Smith, and the channel's senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano. The war of harsh words that went back and forth on Carlson's and Smith's programs Tuesday and Wednesday, which also involved Carlson's guest, Republican attorney Joseph diGenova, was unprecedented and was immediately seized on by a wide range of media as evidence of serious trouble at the country's highest rated cable news channel.
Shepard Smith (left) and Andrew Napolitano kick off the controversy on Shepard Smith Reporting, Sept. 24, 2019
Gabriel Sherman is the author of a critical biography of the late Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes, and he writes often about goings-on at FNC for left-wing publications. On Thursday, Sherman posted a new article at Vanity Fair, "'It's Management Bedlam': Madness at Fox News as Trump Faces Impeachment." Citing his usual unnamed, anonymous sources, Sherman wrote:
Seeking to quell the internecine strife before it carried into a third day, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace communicated to Smith this morning [Thursday September 27] to stop attacking Carlson, a person briefed on the conversation said. "They said if he does it again, he's off the air," the source said. (Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti denied that management had any direct conversation with Smith).
Sherman buttressed his article with additional unsourced tidbits that represent raw, ideological red meat for his magazine's Fox News–hating readers:
This morning, Sean Hannity told friends the whistle-blower's allegations are "really bad," a person briefed on Hannity's conversations told me. (Hannity did not respond to a request for comment). And according to four sources, Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch is already thinking about how to position the network for a post-Trump future. A person close to Lachlan told me that Fox News has been the highest rated cable network for seventeen years, and "the success has never depended on any one administration." (A Fox Corp spokesperson declined to comment.)
In addition to entertaining his publication's base of die-hard Resistance readers, Sherman's reporting will no doubt have the additional effect of encouraging many conservatives to continue to claim that Fox News is turning left — a contention that this writer has tried to expose as a gross oversimplification in several previous articles this year, including here and here.
Almost everyone on the right who criticizes Fox News lately for a perceived leftward drift insists that it's the "Murdoch Boys," Fox News co-founder and international media mogul Rupert Murdoch's two sons, who are steering FNC closer to the political center or even farther to the left. It should be noted, however, that only one of the "boys," Rupert's younger son Lachlan, is even involved with Fox.
In another move to toss the Resistance mob more red meat, Sherman introduced former House speaker RINO Paul Ryan, no friend or fan of President Trump, into the current story. Last March, Ryan became a member of the board of the Fox corporation that owns, among other things, Fox News, along with the Fox Business Network, the Fox broadcast network, and a number of major Fox terrestrial TV stations. According to Sherman, again citing anonymous sources, Ryan has been advising Lachlan Murdoch to "decisively break with the president" and take steps to prepare Trump-friendly Fox News for the transition to a post-Trump world. Sherman wrote that others, meanwhile, are advising Murdoch the younger to essentially stay the course that pleases FNC's core conservative, pro-Trump viewing audience.
In any case, like many things in life and politics these days, especially now that the "I" word (impeachment) has finally become a compelling storyline, the future course of Fox News looks as if it may in fact be up for grabs.
Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. Peter's website is http://peter.media. Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.