Fox News Doesn’t Know What to Do

It’s interesting that Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly are warring with each other and that Roger Ailes has arranged for HarperCollins to give Kelly a $10 million advance on a book as a way to keep her happy. Frankly, I’m not a Foxologist. I can’t watch the network without feeling ill. And I know that this gives me a bit of a blind spot in my political analysis, but I’m just not willing to pay that kind of price to know everything I ought to know.

What someone else might be better positioned to discuss is how the rise of Trump is flummoxing the network and how they’re going to handle this.

With his decisive win in New Hampshire, Donald Trump dashed the GOP Establishment’s hope that skipping last month’s Fox News debate would sink his campaign. By claiming more than a third of the New Hampshire vote, Trump not only exceeded expectations and more than doubled the vote tally of any of his rivals — but also demonstrated that disregarding Fox News doesn’t spell political ruin for a Republican. The grip that Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Co. have held on the GOP for nearly a generation got a little looser Tuesday night.

Inside Fox there is confusion about what role the network should play in this altered media ecosystem going forward. According to three insiders I spoke to, the channel’s hosts and producers are split over how to cover Trump. Historically, in moments like this the strategy would be clear: Punish the person who publicly crosses Fox. But network boss Ailes has tried that, and Trump not only survived the PR assaults, including one last month, but he seems to have emerged stronger than ever. The situation is even more dire because Marco Rubio, a favorite of many high-profile voices at the network, fared badly in the New Hampshire primary, only a few days after political analysts were floating the possibility that he might even beat Trump. Tuesday night, Fox’s pundit class had to accept that his robotic performance during ABC’s debate may have destroyed his candidacy. Charles Krauthammer even compared it to Ed Muskie’s 1972 implosion.

There has been a lot of focus on how Trump and Cruz are giving elected Republican officials a bad case of heartburn, but much less on how their successes are messing up the operation of their Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer.

I don’t think right-wing media is set up to deal with an unorthodox candidate who doesn’t consistently hew to the conservative line, let alone one who attacks their talent and boycotts their debates. I also don’t know how they’d promote Cruz without willing and eager surrogates to fill the chairs. I’m sure they’d muddle through, but they’re not effective if they can’t do their thing the way they been trained to do it.

The GOP is definitely in disarray.

The Dems are suffering from their own form of schizophrenia, but their media outlets actually kind of thrive on the debate and excitement. It helps that they’ve never really been an official organ of the party. It reminds me of how countries with official state religions couldn’t weather the pedophilia crises nearly as well as countries where no religion was tightly aligned with the government.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.