“You know what we need,” a senior producer of Fox & Friends told her staff during a rare dip in the ratings. “We need outrage.”
That’s really what F&F was about. Certain segments were designed to instill fear; others, to stoke hate; others, less often, to spark love. And the hosts were encouraged to ask viewers for feedback to confirm that the segments were having the intended effect. Gavin Hadden, the executive producer, sometimes had the firstname.lastname@example.org inbox up in a window on his computer in the control room to monitor responses as the seconds rolled by. Had the viewers had enough of Geraldo yet? If so, wrap him! It was the closest thing to Choose Your Own Adventure on TV.
Hadden was one of the most important people at Fox that no one outside Fox ever heard about. He joined F&F in 2006, when Gretchen Carlson was the female cohost, and worked his way up to the top spot by proving he knew “what works” and what doesn’t. What works:
Stories about undocumented immigrants killing Americans
Stories about citizens standing up to the government bureaucracy
Stories about college students disrespecting the flag
Stories about hate crime hoaxes
Stories about liberal media outlets suppressing the truth
And, whenever possible, stories involving attractive women (They could be the hero or the villain, it didn’t matter, but they had to be attractive.)
“Job one is to titillate the audience,” the former producer said. “For celebrity stories, I had to pick the sexiest photos. And then I’d still hear, ‘Can you find hotter photos of her?’ Sigh. Okay, we’ll spend another thousand bucks on three photos from Getty.” It got to the point where the producer knew, without being told, which specific photos of Angelina Jolie the execs would expect to see. This sexualized approach spilled over to other parts of the show. If it was a quiet news day and the producers needed to fill a spare block, “we would look and see, what are the locals doing?” Fox tapped into its network of stations in big cities all across the country. “Then we would Google around to find the hottest reporter.” Workers striking in Detroit or rush hour flooding in Houston? Sometimes that’s how the editorial call was made.
“You have to understand how completely sexualized Fox is,” a former star said. What was visible to viewers on the air also affected the culture off the air.
Sex is what Ailes wanted, and sex is what he got. He used his power to enforce the short skirts and “leg cams” and exploitative segments that kept men watching. He also abused his power by preying on dozens of women, including Gretchen Carlson, who hatched a plan to hold him accountable. Ailes’s downfall would coincide with Trump’s takeover of the American right.
* While others heard a rambling and racist campaign speech, 5 p.m. cohost Kimberly Guilfoyle heard a rousing call to arms. “It was like The LEGO Movie, the theme song ‘Everything Is Awesome.’ It really got me excited. I felt richer just listening to him!” Guilfoyle exclaimed while the control room re-racked the tape of Trump gliding down the escalator for the umpteenth time.
Guilfoyle, who was once the first lady of San Francisco through her marriage to the city’s mayor, Democrat Gavin Newsom, was tapped by Ailes in 2006 to be a weekend host and legal analyst. Guilfoyle was mighty hungry for airtime. “Kimberly’s an avatar,” a Fox insider said. “If MSNBC offered her a better gig with more money, she’d be a raging liberal.”
Guilfoyle maintained that she’d always been a registered Republican. She occupied what was known as the “leg chair” on the set of The Five, and it was a prime perch from which to be noticed by Trump. “Let’s see” what happens, she said on launch day, already sounding like Trump. “I don’t know. I think it will be fun!”
“I get it, that he’s entertaining,” cohost Dana Perino said, piping in with the GOP establishment position. Perino, the former Bush 43 press secretary, scoffed at Trump and wondered how long his stunt would last. Come on, she said, prodding her cohosts, “you’re gonna build a wall and you’re gonna make Mexico pay for it?” She pushed the show’s satirist Greg Gutfeld: “On what planet could that actually happen?”
“Planet Trump,” Gutfeld replied.
Gutfeld looked at Trump very skeptically, but noticed something Fox-y about the topics Trump hit in his speech. “He did ISIS, Obamacare, immigration, Bowe Bergdahl,” Gutfeld said. “He did the Five rundown!”
* Ailes was a Bush guy at heart, having worked so closely with H.W. decades earlier. According to Ailes’s confidants, he favored Jeb Bush early on in the primary season. He also told his New Jersey neighbors that he was pulling for Chris Christie.
* When his campaign began, Rupert Murdoch claimed to detest him. Murdoch was always more of a Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush kind of Republican. He wanted comprehensive immigration reform and tax cuts and relaxed regulations, not “Mexicans are rapists” rhetoric. In mid-July, Murdoch tweeted, “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” Behind the scenes, Murdoch tried to prop up contenders like Ben Carson, who prepped for his 2016 run by being a paid pundit on Fox. And Murdoch urged others, like Michael Bloomberg, to step into the ring and challenge Trump as well. So much for that.
* The host of The Kelly File was Fox’s No. 1 rising star. Kelly branded herself as a free-thinker in contrast to O’Reilly’s faux folksiness and Hannity’s blind partisanship. She knew to stand on the side of Fox’s viewers, yes, which meant insisting Santa is white amid heaps of social media mockery, but she was also willing to buck the system. She wanted to be unpredictable. Uncontrollable. And she was succeeding like no one at Fox ever had. Over the course of a decade, she transformed from an unhappy lawyer to a bona fide television star. Her career trajectory was the stuff of TV news dreams: from bottom-of-the-ladder general assignment reporter to Supreme Court correspondent to mid-morning co-anchor to host of her very own two-hour afternoon show. Kelly was everywhere: She was a regular on The O’Reilly Factor. She anchored election night. And in 2013, Ailes moved her to prime time.
Almost immediately, The Kelly File at 9 p.m. was one of the hottest shows on cable. The talk show tilted right but got good press for Kelly’s surprising “independent” moments. It was a win all around: for Kelly, for Ailes, for the Fox ad sales execs. The only loser was O’Reilly, who hated seeing Kelly challenge him in the 25–54 demo.
O’Reilly publicly claimed to stand up for Kelly, and she said she respected him too, but they sniped at each other’s shows at every turn. O’Reilly resented her good press and her relationships with Rupert and Lachlan. Kelly mocked O’Reilly’s “looking out for you” shtick and his lackadaisical approach. (He taped his show several hours ahead of time, while she was live.) Execs dreaded the end of the month because O’Reilly would argue over the ratings results. If Kelly was No. 1 in the demo, he would come up with a reason to say it shouldn’t count. The way O’Reilly saw things, he had made Kelly a star by giving her airtime on his show. “The Kelly File was formed from me!” he groused. Ailes laughed away O’Reilly’s bellyaching: “He thinks he made her a star? No, I made her a fucking star.”
* Trump’s media relationships were so transactional that you could move from bad to good in the space of a minute. I noticed this when I conversed with Trump at the TIME 100 gala. On Reliable Sources I scrutinized his loose relationship with the truth every week; no one could mistake Reliable for a pro-Trump talk show. But when Trump saw me, he smiled and pointed and said, “Good show. Good numbers.” He meant the ratings, which were way up thanks to campaign coverage. I took it as an attempt at flattery.
* It is hard to imagine now, but there once was a time when Rupert Murdoch sternly told Trump to “calm down.”
The date was February 18, 2016. The octogenarian mogul was gradually giving up on Jeb and giving in to Trump. His reluctance was palpable for all to read on Twitter. When Trump flipped out at Kelly after the first debate, Rupert defended Fox’s moderation and said “friend Donald has to learn this is public life.” On December 15, 2015, he tweeted that Donald “seems to be getting even more thin skinned!” He wondered, “Is flying around the country every day tiring him?”
All campaign season long, aboard Trump Force One and atop Trump Tower, the candidate watched Fox to get talking points, used Fox to vanquish his rivals, and complained about Fox to manipulate the coverage. He was constantly on the phone with Ailes ranting about perceived slights, which Rupert then heard about.
“You’re showing the wrong polls!”
“When are you going to fire Karl Rove?”
“Why is Megyn such a bitch?”
And he ranted in public too. On February 17, 2016, he claimed Fox didn’t want him to win. The next day he accused Murdoch of rigging a scientific poll. That’s when Rupert talked down to Donald like a grandparent soothing a toddler.
“Time to calm down,” Rupert tweeted. He observed that if he was running an “anti-Trump conspiracy” then he was doing a “lousy job!”
Rupert “always craved a relationship with the US president. And he really craved it when it could help his business,” according to a family friend. Rupert wanted the ability to strut into the Oval Office at a moment’s notice. He wanted the state dinner invites and the policy briefings. Trump could be his ticket, if only the fellow could settle down.
Trump continued to come up with new ways to attack Kelly. Fox execs fumed—at Trump, at the RNC for not corralling the guy, and at the press for delighting in the so-called “feud.” They weren’t feuding—Trump was just wildly thrashing around, trying to cull Kelly from the Fox herd and make an example out of her. Almost every week during the primaries, I heard from a Fox exec or anchor who groused about the GOP front-runner.
“He’s nuts,” one Fox exec complained to me.
“He’s out of control,” said another.
“Fuck him,” said a third exec.
But their complaints rang hollow for this reason: Whenever Trump wasn’t pissing on Fox and Fox producers weren’t cursing over him, he was live with Hannity or O’Reilly or Greta Van Susteren or Fox & Friends or Special Report or Fox News Sunday. And his rallies were being carried live on Fox and all across cable TV. His campaign was fought mostly on television, with the rallies serving as elaborate stages for the show.
Kelly noticed all the interviews and rallies and live shots. She felt like Ailes did the bare minimum to defend her. Other insiders saw it the same way. Ailes, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what more Kelly expected from him. He was like an ego juggler, having to keep up with a dozen multimillionaire stars and Trump too, and he wasn’t as nimble as he used to be. For all the talk of him as an all-powerful and sinister force in politics, what was not well understood is that he was, according to ex-employees and even friends, “losing it” in his final few years. “It was so sad, seeing him lose his fastball,” one confidant said. He simply didn’t have much fight left.
And his history of abuse was finally, finally catching up with him.
* “Cable news is a snake pit,” Bill O’Reilly warned Megyn Kelly when she moved to prime time in 2013. He knew because he was the biggest python of them all. But Kelly could bite too: Years later, another Fox host told me “I’ve never known someone with as many enemies as Megyn Kelly.”
Those internal enemies existed long before Kelly spoke to the Paul, Weiss lawyers about Ailes’s sick treatment of women. Here’s why: When someone goes from a correspondent gig to the anchor desk and then to her own two-hour show and then her own prime time spot and a $15 million-a-year contract, others are going to feel passed over.
* In the immediate aftermath of Ailes’s expulsion, the man was portrayed in the press like a nuclear weapon pilfered by a rogue state. There were numerous reports that Ailes was advising Trump ahead of the debates. Clinton campaign aides talked about what kind of advice Ailes might be feeding her opponent. But they didn’t need to worry. While Ailes did run a very informal debate prep in Bedminster, his coaching was of limited value, partly because he babbled about past debates and bragged about his past victories—a sure way to lose Trump’s attention. Besides, as Ailes once said, his talent was in getting people to loosen up and be themselves on TV. “If you see them at home,” he said of typical politicians, “they’re laughing and they’re physical and they could move. And as soon as you put them on television they turn into stiffs and they’re boring.” So his go-to move, he said, was to “peel the layers back so they could be themselves.” Trump definitely didn’t need that advice. There were no layers. What you saw on TV was what you got.
So Trump didn’t really need Ailes. Neither did Fox. The network kept humming along without him. The Murdochs and Shine and Abernethy were moving the network from a dictator model to a committee model of leadership. They didn’t try to improve the content; they just kept a good, profitable thing going. The summertime scandal had proven that everyone was replaceable, even Roger Ailes.
…Trump was in charge of the television wing of the GOP now and had all the deputies he needed. Rudy Giuliani was at debate camp along with Fox commentator Laura Ingraham and assorted friends. Hannity was at Trump’s beck and call. And Fox & Friends spewed toxic waste at his opponent every day.
* There was a moment, after Ailes lost, before Trump won, when Fox News could have gone in a different, truthier direction. Ryan Grim, the DC bureau chief of the Huffington Post , wrote a pivotal October 2016 story about what might have been. It was titled “Is Shep Smith The Future of Fox News?”
Shep was a hero to the Fox newsroom. He was unlike every other newsman on the air. First people noticed his boyish good looks and Mississippi drawl. Then his unflappable delivery. He exuded an electricity. Without shouting, he made viewers want to listen. A reporter once called Shep “the Red Bull of TV news anchors.”
Shep came from the Walter Cronkite “that’s the way it is” school of journalism—which, as Fox made its rightward turns, increasingly clashed with Hannity’s “this is the way I want it to be” school of spin. Shep stood for journalism while Hannity tried to tear down journalism. How could they possibly share airtime? How could they coexist? Eventually, in the Trump age, they couldn’t.
But in October 2016 Fox was planning for the Clinton age. Smith and others on the news side of Fox News “were hoping that with Ailes collapsing and Murdoch coming back in, that this was their moment,” Grim told me. “And perhaps with Hillary winning the White House—perhaps it was a moment for them to pivot.”
* At 5 p.m. Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and a raft of producers gathered for a final pre-show prep meeting. “We were all around this long table, Rupert at the head of the table, and all of the producers and anchors on both sides of it,” Chris Wallace told me later. “They gave us the first wave of exit polls. While it didn’t flat out say Clinton was going to win, if you read it
you had to think Clinton was going to win.
“In fact,” he added, the sheaf of paper even said “it was likely that we would make the call between eleven and eleven-thirty.” The networks never called the election before West Coast polls closed at eleven, so this was another sign of Clinton’s apparent strength. The forecast called for an early night.
An exec at ABC News, Chris Vlasto,
shared the early exit poll results with the Trump campaign. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump told the patriarch that the data looked bleak. “We’re not going to win,” Donald told Melania.
* The early exit poll findings informed the tone of the early eve ning TV coverage. But by 8:30 p.m., as actual votes poured in, the picture started to change, just as Parscale had expected. “The sweep that the exit polls had predicted just wasn’t happening,” Wallace recalled. “Now we were down to counting individual votes.”
There were no immediate calls in states like Michigan or Wisconsin. Wallace factored that in as, on-air at 9:05, he told Kelly that he was becoming “open to the possibility that Donald Trump could be the next President of the United States.” His voice betrayed his own amazement at the words. It was a pivotal moment in the coverage of the night because he said aloud what others had until then been saying only to themselves. “I’m kind of proud of it,” Wallace told me, “in the sense that it altered altered our coverage a little bit.”
It sure did. The crowd outside Fox’s sparkling new $20 million street-level studio started to cheer. “I turned around toward them and said, ‘I’m not saying he’s going to win, folks, but it’s possible,’ ” Wallace recalled. Trump’s election night party was five short blocks up the street at the Midtown Hilton, so some people strolled back and forth between the Fox broadcast and the ballroom. Pirro, Ingraham, and former Fox contributor Sarah Palin all hung out at the Hilton. Trump was still ensconced in Trump Tower, wondering whether to believe Parscale’s insistence that they could pull this thing off. Wallace’s comments had an immediate impact. There were tears of joy and tears of fear in Trump’s inner circle. Chris Christie, who was in charge of the transition team, sensed that Trump was scared shitless.
Trump watched from a room on the fourteenth floor of Trump Tower, which was actually just the sixth floor in a building full of exaggerations. Around midnight he went upstairs to his residence to come up with an acceptance speech. Once it was clear that Trump was going to win, Hannity called in to Fox and called the result a “modern-day political miracle.” At 2:41 a.m., Fox News was the first TV network to officially project that Trump was the president-elect. Baier credited him with winning “the most unreal, surreal election we have ever seen.” Wallace looked across the studio, where one of the oversized screens flashed “TRUMP ELECTED PRESIDENT,” and he shook his head, the way you try to wake yourself up from a nightmare or a dream. “Is this really happening?”
“There’s nothing more exciting for a political reporter,” Wallace said, “than when things go off-script.”
Kelly looked into the camera and wondered if she could remain at Fox.
Ailes watched from the sidelines from his mansion and took comfort in a bag of chips.
* O’Reilly was on CBS This Morning to promote his next book, even though it wasn’t coming out for another week. O’Reilly had been a staunch defender of Ailes, and on CBS that day he went further, saying he’d “had enough” of people treating Fox News like a “piñata.”
When the anchors asked about Kelly’s allegations against Ailes, O’Reilly said “I’m not that interested in this.”
Norah O’Donnell interjected: “In sexual harassment? You’re not interested in sexual harassment?”
O’Reilly: “I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished, that makes my network look bad. Okay? I’m not interested in making my network look bad. At all. That doesn’t interest me one bit.”
O’Donnell: “Is that what she’s doing?”
O’Reilly: “I don’t know. But I’m not going to even bother with it.”
This old white guy culture was still deeply entrenched at Fox even though Ailes was gone. Kelly, disgusted by the CBS appearance, wrote an email to management around three in the afternoon that called out O’Reilly’s “history of harassment.”
“His exact attitude of shaming women into ‘shutting the hell up’ about harassment on grounds that it will disgrace the company, is in part how Fox got into the decades-long Ailes mess to begin with,” Kelly wrote. She urged them to intervene—to defend her—and to defend the other women O’Reilly insulted.
According to Kelly, Bill Shine called her and promised to “deal” with O’Reilly. But he didn’t. O’Reilly went ahead and pretaped his 8 p.m. show and included another shot at Kelly. Her executive producer Tom Lowell caught wind of it early in the 8 p.m. hour and alerted her.
“We’ve got a problem,” he said. “I just looked at his rundown. At 8:50, he’s going to double down.”
Lowell tried to get through to Shine. O’Reilly was on tape, but Lowell had an idea for a breaking news insert that could replace the offending segment and stop the 8 p.m. host from attacking the 9 p.m. host. You’d think that the copresident of Fox News would call back and thank him—Yes, Tom, please break in, thank you for alerting me to this, I’m sorry I didn’t take action sooner—but that’s not what Shine said. He said, “The segment stands.” Lowell had to go tell Kelly.
At 8:50, O’Reilly devoted his “Factor Tip of the Day” segment to the Kelly fracas—disguising it, barely, as being about the subject of “loyalty”—by saying that “if somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance. If you don’t like what’s happening in the workplace,” he lectured, “go to human resources or leave! I’ve done that. And then take the action you need to take afterward.”
This was beyond audacious, coming from a man who was credibly accused of sexual harassment in a 2004 lawsuit, and who had—unbeknownst to his viewers—settled multiple cases with other accusers. “Loyalty is good,” he concluded, condescension dripping from his voice.
Loyalty to whom? The Murdochs knew, from the law firm investigation, what Ailes had done. They had approved of Kelly writing about her experience. Her book was for their publishing house! Kelly was in disbelief and almost in tears. When she went live at 9 p.m., she hid her shock from O’Reilly’s drive-by shooting, but she mentioned the Murdochs at the end of the hour: “Like me,” she said, “they believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Right then, Kelly knew she was done with Fox. Done with these executives, done with this place. That night, she told friends, was the “final straw.” She wondered: Was the decision to allow O’Reilly’s drive-by made by Shine? Or did he consult with Rupert and Lachlan? Were they afraid to intervene because they were trying to sign O’Reilly to a new contract? Were they just ignorant? She never found out the answer. But the episode spoke to a basic lack of leadership that would hobble the network for years to come.
* Lachlan truly wanted to keep Kelly in the fold. He offered her a $100 million contract plus all the sweeteners she could ever want. “When Trump won, Lachlan thought, ‘We need her more than ever,’ ” an insider told me. His theory was that The Kelly File would be the X factor of the Trump years—the unpredictable, buzzy hour that would make Fox News stand out.
But deep down inside, Kelly knew that she probably couldn’t be what the Trump-era Fox would need her to be—a PR flack pretending to be a fiercely independent journalist…
* How many times have you heard someone say “What’s wrong with those people?” while referring to Hannity’s groupies? Or say “What’s wrong with those people?” about Rachel Maddow’s fans?
Whether they’re wrong or right, they’re different. For all the pandemic-era talk of togetherness and common humanity, there are massive differences between the liberal and conservative tribes—and Fox and Trump both exacerbate those differences. Look no further than the studies that show variations in brain chemistry between conservatives and liberals. Some people really are hardwired to value tradition and preservation. They are more likely to perceive threats from outsiders. One study showed frightening images to participants—maggots in an open wound, a spider on a man’s face, a crowd fighting with a man—and found that conservatives reacted more strongly to the images than liberals. I think about that now when I notice Fox’s fear-based appeals.
Up until Election Day in 2016, Fox fans, when compared to the public at large, were far more pessimistic about America’s future, far more critical of Obama’s performance, and far more fearful of a Clinton presidency. (Common denominator: fear.) Fox’s highest-rated shows reinforced this point of view night after night. “The conservative entertainment news complex has constructed an alternative reality so all-encompassing that the chance of conservatives happening on any sort of good news is virtually nil,” Jason Sattler wrote in USA Today. This foreboding view of the world benefitted Trump.
A Suffolk poll in October showed that people who trusted Fox over other networks were way gloomier about the health of the economy than, say, people who trusted CNN or CBS the most. Only 11 percent of Fox devotees said America was in an economic recovery, when the recovery had been going on for years. Fox loyalists were also more likely than other news consumers to say they were concerned about political corruption, media bias, and the bogeyman of voter fraud that Trump kept talking about. Many of these viewers were primed to lose, which made Trump’s victory all the more shocking. Now they felt like they were gaining power for the first time in years, in the most surprising of ways, with the most surprising of leaders. Fox felt like the home team, with one of the network’s super-fans ascending to the presidency. Like many of Fox’s super-fans, he was resentful of news outlets that didn’t reflect his view of the world. Now he had the unique power to do something about it. Trump was determined to delegitimize anyone who stood in his way…
* Disbelief of, and disdain for, the news media was the cornerstone of Fox’s business model in 1996, and it became the cornerstone of Trump’s presidency. But the anti-media posture was part of something even bigger: The utter transformation of the Fox-fueled Republican Party. The anti-intellectual positioning of the party, the resistance to settled scientific fact, the contempt for intelligence agencies—“it’s all one thing,” as media scholar Jay Rosen liked to say, all part of the same rejection of expertise and resentment of anyone who claims to know better. These observations didn’t just come from liberals like Rosen. In 2012 the straight-edge DC think tankers Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann described the GOP as “ideologically extreme” and “unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” They said “asymmetric polarization” afflicted the country, meaning conservatives had moved more radically to the right than liberals had to the left, and accused Fox of being partly responsible. Some veteran members of the GOP establishment, like former Reagan and Bush aide Bruce Bartlett, were equally outspoken about this radicalization and also faulted the Fox echo chamber.
“Like someone dying of thirst in the desert, conservatives drank heavily from the Fox waters,” Bartlett wrote in 2015. “Soon, it became the dominant—and in many cases, virtually the only—major news source for millions of Americans. This has had profound political implications that are only starting to be appreciated. Indeed, it can almost be called self-brainwashing—many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.”
* Around this time, post-Lewinsky and pre-9/11, people started taking notice of cable’s color palette. “Blondes make for better TV,” a cringey New York Post story declared. The story named “blond gabbers” Ann Coulter, Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, and Laura Ingraham and said “the new wave of blond pundits continues the conservative line with the likes of Heather Nauert and researcher Monica Crowley.”
* Nauert interviewed with Tillerson at the State Department after his confirmation. Though he remained skeptical, Trump was sold, and the deal was done. She gave up a $500,000-a-year job on Fox for a $179,700 government salary but gained a much higher profile and a big new challenge, fielding sensitive questions from some of the toughest reporters in the world. She mostly held her own: She could be snippy at times, but was careful not to alienate the press corps the way Trump and Spicer did. Her hardest relationship was with Tillerson, who rarely let her travel with him and ignored her advice. He dismissed her as a “White House spy.” “Rex disliked anyone POTUS endorsed,” an insider said.
After one year, Tillerson was fired through a presidential tweet and Nauert remained. Circumstances changed. Nauert was welcomed into new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s inner circle; he promoted her to “acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.” In one year, she went from Fox anchor to high-ranking State Department diplomat, traveling the globe, counseling the leader of the free world.
Nauert was the first full-time example of the revolving door of the Fox-Trump Temp Agency, so it made perfect sense that she came from Fox & Friends . Within days of the inauguration, White House reporters had to wrap their heads around the fact that the Fox morning show had supplanted the president’s daily intelligence briefing. West Wing aides and lawmakers and lobbyists had to start watching the show so they could follow Trump’s tweets and orders.
The Fox & Friends A-team started at 6:00 a.m. sharp, and Trump planned his day accordingly. Steve Doocy, Trump said, was a 12 out of 10. Brian Kilmeade was a 6, but later earned an upgrade to a 9. Yep, Trump really scored the hosts.
* Earhardt’s colleagues uniformly told me she is a lovely person. “She’s very sweet,” one said, “but”—of course there was a “but” coming—“this is not someone with a core set of political beliefs.”
“It’s not just Ainsley,” the source added. “What you have to understand is, a lot of these people were basically blank slates. Blank canvasses.”
Every morning in the car on the way in to the studio, Earhardt listened to hymns and read from the daily devotional book Jesus Calling. In the makeup chair, she leafed through the prepared research packet of printouts from right-wing websites. In the host seat, she was curious but not pushy. As one of her colleagues said, “She knows what she’s there for.” A magazine profile once likened Earhardt to a “wedding-cake figurine come to life,” with a smile “glorious enough that when it flashes it feels like nothing in the world could be wrong.” With the Trump White House in perpetual crisis, and F&F tasked with pretending it wasn’t, that smile was worth millions.
* So did the producers of F&F reckon with their newfound power? Did they triple-check their facts to make sure the president was fully informed? No. They continued to rip stories off fringe right-wing blogs and promote conspiracy theories and play into the president’s worst partisan impulses. They took the cheaper partisan path. This was the show’s natural setting, but suddenly the stakes were profound: Trump was making policy decisions based on what random TV pundits told him to do. “People claim Putin is Trump’s puppet master but it appears that role is actually occupied by Fox & Friends ,” The Intercept ’s Glenn Greenwald remarked. It sure seemed like the producers of F&F had more power than the CIA. And they used that power to feed him resentment news and nonsense about voter fraud and random stories about leftists on college campuses. To put it bluntly, the president’s media diet was poisoned… and he gobbled it up.
As for the hosts, they played their newfound power for laughs. “I asked the president to blink the lights on and off if he was watching,” Brian Kilmeade said at 7 a.m. on January 27. “Now clearly he’s awake,” Kilmeade said as the control room showed a live shot of the White House, where lights in an upstairs bedroom appeared to be flickering.
“Good morning, Mr. President!” Ainsley Earhardt said, joking that the flashing lights were a “Mayday” or an “SOS.”
It was actually a prank concocted by a control room staffer. “It’s a video effect,” Steve Doocy told the audience. “Just having a little fun.” HAHAHAHA.
A video clip of the prank zipped around Twitter, without the explanation, and many people thought it was real—because it could have been. Every single day, Trump either tweeted about Fox or talked to Fox hosts or cited Fox’s coverage of how well he was doing. “Turn on Fox and see how it was covered,” he said to ABC’s David Muir after Muir brought up widespread criticism of Trump’s self-aggrandizing speech in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall. Earlier in the interview, when Muir challenged Trump’s discredited belief about widespread voter fraud, Trump justified his lie by saying that “millions of people agree with me.
“If you would’ve looked on one of the other networks,” he continued, clearly talking about Fox, “and all of the people that were calling in, they’re saying, ‘We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.’ They’re very smart people.”
* Day by day, tweet by tweet, the country came to grips with the fact that presidential statements—which used to really mean something—were now just the misinformed and misspelled rants of an elderly Fox fan.
* When government officials couldn’t get a face-to-face meeting with the president, they jostled for bookings on F&F. Corporations bought ads on the show, sometimes addressing “Mr. President” directly, because it was cheaper and more effective than hiring lobbyists. (What they didn’t realize was that Trump usually muted or fast-forwarded straight through commercials.) Some Fox hosts started to greet the president by name. They understood that if Trump stayed happy with their shows, viewers would stay tuned. It created an incredible and perverse incentive structure that was completely at odds with journalistic values. Everyone at Fox could see that the way to get attention, to get promoted, to get ahead was to hitch a ride with Trump and never look back. This ethos trickled out from Fox & Friends to the shows before and after.
Take the early morning anchor Heather Childers. Before he ran for office, Trump used to tweet compliments to Childers. “You are doing a great job Heather!” “You do a great job on Fox!” In another universe, Trump would just be one of those guys posting comments to her Instagram page, pining for her attention, gazing at Fox’s anchor desk with a hole in the middle that blatantly showed off her legs. But in the Trump age, the roles were reversed. Fox hosts yearned for his attention.
* In January 2020 I was on the phone with one of Fox’s household names who said, with complete sincerity, “I think it would be good for the country right now if Roger Ailes were still in charge of Fox and Bill O’Reilly were still on the air.”
Before you say “which country?” you should know that Ailes nostalgia was very real and very deep at Fox, even three years after his exit. Many insiders believed Fox would be better off with Ailes at the helm.
But O’Reilly? I didn’t detect much longing for the return of Billo. He was not well liked when he was on at 8 p.m., and he was not missed when he was fired. So why would it be good for America to have The O’Reilly Factor still on Fox?
“Because O’Reilly would tell the truth,” they said. “O’Reilly would sit down with Trump and call him a jerk to his face. Hannity will never do that.”
* “Tits up, hair back.” That’s what Ailes said he wanted Suzanne Scott to deliver for him.
“She was the wardrobe enforcer,” a former Fox host told me.
That’s why my phone lit up with texts when Suzanne Scott was named president of programming on May 1. Staffers couldn’t believe that she was being promoted again.
“Suzanne Scott? She’s the worst of all of them. Give me a break,” a female Fox talking head wrote. By “worst,” she meant Scott was an accomplice of Ailes.
Scott has never answered detailed questions about whether she was complicit in his abuse. The closest she came to commenting was in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, when she said “I had no clue on what was going on in Roger Ailes’ office.” Some staffers had a hard time trusting her.
Here’s what Scott absolutely did know: that Ailes, for all his charm and power, was a racist and a misogynist with a warped and outdated view of the world. He wanted a certain southern beauty queen look from the women on his channel. And, according to current and former Fox anchors and commentators, he wanted Scott to deliver it.
Sometimes Scott would convey his messages directly, by telling new hires to “let hair and makeup do their job.” She wanted more glam, longer eyelash extensions, shorter skirts, bronzer legs. Some of the Fox makeup artists called it the “Barbie doll look.”
“Suzanne’s job, straight up, was to enforce the dress code,” a male Fox anchor told me. “She told women how short their skirts had to be.” Scott typically did this indirectly, by sending word to a show producer who would then call a makeup artist to the set. Hosts and guests were told the “second floor” ordered a change. “She would call the control room and say, ‘Fix her necklace.’ Or change which way my hair was parted,” Alisyn Camerota recalled. The source who dubbed her the “wardrobe enforcer” said, “Suzanne would call and say, ‘I don’t like her shade of lipstick. It looks like shit.’ The poor makeup people would rush out on set and change my lipstick.” Personalities who objected to the cosmetic adjustments would sometimes be asked, “Don’t you want good ratings?”
* Television is a visual medium, so there are certain expectations, but some staffers charged that Scott took it to the extreme. Griping about facial hair is one thing, but she was known to tell men to shave even when they were in the middle of a breaking news marathon. It’s hard to find a razor while on the scene of a mass shooting.
Scott joined Fox News at its founding in 1996 as an assistant to Chet Collier, one of Ailes’s deputies. Collier said he believed that TV news had to tap into the “best elements of the entertainment world.” People watch people, he said, a basic concept that producers sometimes forget when they try to fill the screen with videos and graphics and gizmos. “People watch television,” he said, “because of the individuals that they see on the screen.”
* Ailes lost some weight in Florida with his wife Beth’s help, but otherwise had little to show for his post-Fox phase. Roger Stone had predicted that without Ailes, “Fox will be surpassed by a new conservative network,” but that was hyperbolic and wrong. Ailes was more replaceable than anyone thought.
Some days Ailes stared out at the Atlantic and stewed. Friends like Matt Drudge came to visit. Suitors reached out, wondering if Ailes could help launch something Foxier than Fox, and he took the calls, scratching an itch that never subsided. He was bound by his noncompete deal, so “I can’t call,” he told Wolff, “but I can’t stop people from calling me.” Ailes had lots of ideas about where to find a billion dollars for a new network. He said he might get Steve Bannon involved. Maybe they could poach Hannity and O’Reilly and leapfrog Fox with its own talent. This was fantastical talk, but it was a way to pass the time. Ailes was scheduled to meet with billionaire tech mogul and Trump backer Peter Thiel about a possible network venture in mid-May. But on the afternoon of May 10, he slipped and fell in one of his bathrooms. When the ambulance crews arrived, he was hemorrhaging blood from his head. He was put into a medically induced coma and never came out.
* “This is high school. This is like ‘The Real World,’ ” a Fox host said. “Of course they’re hooking up with each other, because they’re all basically trapped in a house together.”
Pete Hegseth was the most brazen example. He cheated on his second wife, Samantha, with Jennifer Rauchet, one of the top producers of Fox & Friends and a rising star at the network. “Jennifer was favoring Pete with airtime. She kept putting Pete on TV,” an exec said.
Rauchet disclosed the relationship to HR when she got pregnant at the end of 2016. Hegseth was still married at the time. Management moved Rauchet—demoted her, really—to the weekend show Watters’ World so that the couple wasn’t working together anymore.
It was ironic that Rauchet ended up on Watters’ World, because Jesse Watters, with wife Noelle and twin girls at home, was also dating in-house. Colleagues said his relationship with Emma DiGiovine was an open secret around the office—they were posting vacation photos on social media—but management apparently looked the other way until November 2017, when Watters went to the aforementioned HR department and disclosed the relationship. At that point, Emma was transferred to Laura Ingraham’s show. Fox’s PR shop mostly kept a lid on both extramarital affairs. Hegseth and Watters were valuable assets despite their asshole antics.
* About a year into the Trump presidency, his speeches and interviews lost the pizazz that generated huge ratings. He started to phone it in, both literally and figuratively. When an interview “made news,” it was usually because Trump felt so comfortable with the hosts that he blurted out something inappropriate, like the time he said he tried to “stay away” from the Justice Department, “
but at some point I won’t.” His aides tried to intervene and stop these chats from happening, but they felt they could only tell him no so many times in a row. The end result: his April 2018 call to Fox & Friends . Trump hijacked the Friends conversation from the get-go; when the hosts tried to ask him about his dealings with Michael Cohen, who had just been raided by the FBI, he railroaded them; and when they eventually tried to wrap the president, he kept rambling. “We’re running out of time,” Steve Doocy said. “We could talk to you all day, but it looks like you have a million things to do,” Brian Kilmeade said a couple of minutes later, trying to be polite. But no—the president just wanted to keep talking. When it was finally over, Kilmeade said, “We’ll see you next Thursday, Mr. President,” alluding to Trump’s weekly segment in the past. “The phone line’s open!” White House aides groaned. They were worried about his troubling admissions that could come back to hurt him in court, but Trump tweeted that he “loved” being on the show.
* Shep was the most prominent gay anchor at a network with an ugly history of antigay commentary. He later said he didn’t think he needed to “out” himself because “I didn’t think I was in.” It’s true that his coworkers and New York City neighbors knew about his personal life, but his viewers generally didn’t. He started to talk publicly about “the gay,” as he once jokingly called it, in 2016, while denying another Gawker report that claimed Ailes tried to keep Shep in the closet. He nonchalantly told a group of college students in 2017 that “I go to work, I manage a lot of people, I cover the news, I deal with the holy hell going on around me,” and then “I go home to the man I love, and I go home to family.” And the family part is what he prioritized as he felt the channel lurching further to the right, caring less about news and more about views he reviled. He cut back on work travel and booked vacations with Gio instead. He developed a reputation as one of those anchors who came in two hours before airtime on slow days. “He’s in at 1 and out at 4:15,” a source said. It’s no wonder why—the halls of Fox News HQ were not a happy place for him to be. Other hours of the Fox day were increasingly hostile to what he reported. Shep’s show was an island under siege. “When something is reported on Shep’s show, it doesn’t make it past the commercial break on Neil Cavuto’s four o’clock show,” Conor Powell said. “There wasn’t a continuous line of reporting” the way there was at other networks. Each time slot was someone’s fiefdom.
* Kimberly Guilfoyle had a more successful transition into the Trump orbit. She was forced out of Fox in mid-2018, though in retrospect her days were numbered as soon as Ailes was forced out. The leader of “Team Roger” had generated quite a few HR complaints that couldn’t be ignored by the Murdochs. The top lawyer for 21st Century Fox, Gerson Zweifach, had to get involved. Chief among the accusations: that Guilfoyle went around the office showing off dick pics on her phone. She claimed the pictures were from her male suitors. One of the people who saw the pictures told me, “I thought, ‘She’s single, he’s single, what’s the big deal?’ But flaunting it at work was a violation.”
There were other issues too—and sources pointed out that most of the complaints were lodged by women. The bottom line, one colleague said, was that “she was very open about her sex life. Too open.” An HR investigation dragged on for months. “If Kim were a man, she would have been out much sooner,” a person with knowledge of the investigation said. (Guilfoyle’s lawyer said, “Any accusations of Kimberly engaging in inappropriate workplace conduct are unequivocally baseless and have been viciously made by disgruntled and self-interested employees.”)
In the spring of 2018 Guilfoyle made her Trump love literal. Depending on who’s telling the story, she either seduced Donald Trump Jr. or he decided to pursue her. Junior’s impending divorce from Vanessa, the mother of his five children, was first reported in March, and when he was first seen in public with Kim in May, Page Six said they had been dating “for a few weeks” already.
Guilfoyle “knew how to use sex to get ahead,” in the words of one friend, and some of her colleagues suspected that she was hitching herself to Junior for more than purely romantic reasons. According to them, Guilfoyle had been told months ahead of time that her last day at Fox was July 1. Undeterred, she fought to stay on the air. “She had Trump calling Rupert, lobbying on her behalf,” one well-placed source said. “She thought Rupert would do nothing to her once she was with Trump Jr.,” another source said.
In June, I asked Fox PR how the president’s son’s girlfriend could feasibly cohost a show about politics. Fox dodged the question because the answer was, she couldn’t. Maybe it was true love—but l’affaire Don Junior also supplied an alternative storyline on the day she departed Fox, several weeks after the original deadline. Guilfoyle said she was leaving to go campaign with Junior. That’s when Yashar Ali, writing for HuffPost, published a story saying she did not leave voluntarily. Ali had been chasing rumors about Guilfoyle’s behavior for months. She knew he was working on a story, and before the end of the day Guilfoyle’s lawyers were threatening to sue him and HuffPost. Ali followed up a week later with a detailed accounting of her workplace escapades, noting the Junior angle: “Some people at Fox News were concerned that easing her out of the network would be slowed or halted due to the Trump family’s close relationship with Murdoch.” Alas, Rupert hated feeling like someone was manipulating him. Guilfoyle’s time was up. She went out on the campaign trail with Don Jr. and hosted streaming video shows and extolled all things Trump. The mostly male members of Trump’s inner circle thought she was a huge asset. In the words of former campaign aide Sam Nunberg, “Those legs got ratings, and I think those legs can get votes.”
Guilfoyle wasn’t missed at Fox. To the contrary, there were awkward rumblings whenever she came back to Fox HQ with her boyfriend, whom she nicknamed “Junior Mints” for his alleged sweetness. She tagged along on his interviews with Hannity and others, prompting one Fox insider to say, “It’s not a good look. She seems desperate.”
* Trump granted himself more “Executive Time” and watched more TV as the years went by. He outfitted his upstairs residence with multiple TVs and DVRs, and lingered there in the morning, out of sight of the potential leakers who worked for him downstairs. He typically typically watched shows like Fox & Friends on a bit of a delay, which meant he could zap through the commercials with the DVRs. He channel-surfed to Fox Business and Newsmax and the broadcast networks. For all of his professed hatred for CNN and MSNBC , he kept a close eye on those channels too. I knew it for a fact because my Reliable Sources guests occasionally heard from the president after saying supportive things about him on my program. One of the biggest lies he ever told, measured by its distance from the truth, was “I do not watch much television.” He watched so much that he sometimes fell asleep with Fox still on, like the truly hardcore fan that he was.
The DVRs were the critical part of his television setup. He called TiVo “one of the great inventions of all time” and said television was “practically useless without TiVo.” But TiVo, which was invented in 1999, was just the brand name for a generic concept, like people who “Xeroxed” a paper on a different brand of copier. Trump said he had “Super TiVo” in the White House, but he actually had the DirecTV Genie HD DVR, a whole-home system that recorded multiple channels at the same time and let users watch those recordings from any screen in the home. It was genuinely awesome technology for a TV junkie. With the Genie, he could flip through hours of Fox in his residence, hit pause, walk downstairs to the Oval Office, and resume watching right where he left off. When he moved in, contractors also installed a sixty-inch TV above a fireplace in his private West Wing dining room, steps from the Oval. That’s typically where he caught up on cable news during the workday before retreating back upstairs in the evening. Obama only kept a small TV in the dining room, mostly tuned to ESPN, as Trump told visitors when he mocked the size of Obama’s screen and pointed out his replacement unit.
* I covered the newest Carlson controversy on CNN’s air, which caused Tucker to retaliate. While I reported his past statements, he called me names, including “eunuch.” (Google it.) His fans picked up the insult and ran with it. A year later, I still received tweets every day that called me a “eunuch.” (Mission accomplished, Tucker.) He also sent someone over to CNN’s New York office with a Dunkin’ Donuts delivery for me. I threw out the dozen jelly donuts and decided to ignore the fat-shaming attempt, but Tucker made sure everyone knew by tipping off the right-wing website he founded, The Daily Caller. By the end of the week Page Six had called me for comment. I said I would accept the donuts if Tucker accepted my interview requests.
Why did any of this matter? Because this shit was what appealed to Carlson’s audience. Millions of people loved to watch his high jinks every night. As the Bubba controversy swirled, Fox senior statesman Brit Hume defended Carlson by pointing out that he was in first place in the ratings, even ahead of Hannity on some nights.
* Tucker Carlson used his 8 p.m. perch to push against Trump national security advisor (and Fox veteran) John Bolton and other hawks who wanted aggressive action in Syria and Iran. In June 2019, Carlson and Fox military analyst General Jack Keane were credited with stopping Trump from bombing Iran. (I find it hard to believe that I just wrote those words.)
Trump was, by his own account, “cocked and loaded” to strike Iran in retaliation for the downing of a drone. Warplanes were in the air, but Tucker’s publicly aired views weighed on him.
Earlier in the day, Trump had phoned Tucker, wanting a more personal assessment of the situation. “What do you think?” the president said, his voice blasting through the receiver on Tucker’s end.
To his credit, Carlson held to what he’d been saying on TV: It would be “crazy” to respond to Iran with force. “That’s not why the voters elected you,” he said.
Unlike Hannity, Carlson never initiated calls to POTUS, but when the White House switchboard called, he answered. Whether through the calls or his television platform, his isolationist views and contempt for Bolton-style neocons got through to Trump, and he could tell that at least part of Trump agreed with him. “He’s conflicted,” Tucker told a pal. “All I can do is remind him of what he thinks.”
General Keane was also persuasive—whether he intended to be or not. Hours before the planned strike, he appeared on Fox and reminded everyone about the fogginess of war. “Our viewers may have forgotten, but during the tanker war in the late eighties when Reagan did take some action, we actually made a mistake,” Keane said. “We had a USS warship shoot down an Iranian airliner in Iranian airspace. Two-hundred ninety people killed. Sixty-six of them were children. And we took that for a Tomahawk F-14. That was clearly a mistake by the ship’s crew in doing that. And we acknowledged that we made a horrific mistake.” Politico reported that Trump was “spooked” when he heard Keane tell that story. Trump brought up Iran Air Flight 655 repeatedly later in the day and eventually called off the strike shortly before 8 p.m.
Carlson was relieved. His reward was an exclusive interview with Trump one week later during the president’s trip to Japan for the G20. Carlson traveled along as a “guest member” of the White House staff. Tensions with Iran remained high, and Iranian officials knew how to push Trump’s Fox buttons. Not long after Trump and Carlson got back from Japan, on July 3, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted at Trump saying he “can listen to Pompeo and we’ll make sure he stays a one-term President” or “he could listen to @TuckerCarlson and we might have a different ball game.” What a world. “I feel safer having Tucker in charge of the country than Sean,” a Fox commentator joked in a text.
* Shep was depleted. Colleagues said he was withdrawing from work. “Instead of giving counsel, and nurturing coworkers, and helping the rest of the network, he just focused on his hour,” one of his former friends complained.
This had been true to some degree for years. Correspondents and anchors elsewhere at Fox were proud to call him a colleague, but said he ran hot and cold. One minute he’d be generous, recommending his therapist to a producer in need; the next minute he’d be vindictive, canceling a planned live shot from a correspondent who was on his shit list. Shep was like a “tyrant,” one of the correspondents on his list said. “If he thought you were anywhere close to being conservative, you were blackballed,” a second correspondent said.
Everyone agreed that Ailes had been the Shep whisperer. Ailes knew how to tamp down the newsman’s volatility and bring out his talent. With Ailes buried, and with Trump burying any semblance of shared truth, Shep felt “unprotected and vulnerable,” according to one insider. “He just got madder and madder and madder. And he aired it on the channel.”
* Enter jackhammering, Trump-loving lawyer Joe diGenova. He was booked on Tucker Carlson’s show later in the day, September 24. Tucker invoked Napolitano and asked, “Is it a crime? You’re a former federal prosecutor.”
“Well, I think Judge Napolitano is a fool,” diGenova said, “and I think what he said today is foolish. No, it is not a crime.”
Tucker was choosing to use his own legal “expert” instead of Fox’s official “senior judicial analyst.” And diGenova didn’t just say Napolitano was foolish, he called him a “fool,” a distinction that led one Fox exec to tell me “it was out of line.” There weren’t many lines left to cross at Fox, but diGenova had found one.
Shep, incensed, wanted what he always wanted: some support from management. None was forthcoming. He thought carefully about what to say and hit back the following afternoon: “Last night on this network during prime time opinion programming, a partisan guest who supports President Trump was asked about Judge Napolitano’s legal assessment, and when he was asked, he said unchallenged ‘Judge Napolitano is a fool.’ Attacking our colleague, who is here to offer legal assessments, on our air in our work home is repugnant.”
In Shep’s mind, Carlson was the one who “started” this, so Scott needed to end it. Bad blood between the two men stretched back several years; Carlson’s Daily Caller website ran anti-Shep stories on the regular. So Scott had to do something. Right?
She didn’t. After dark, Carlson brought back diGenova and kept the feud going. He said Napolitano’s analysis wasn’t news, it was opinion. He mocked Shep for acting holier-than-thou. “Apparently our daytime host who hosted Judge Napolitano was watching last night and was outraged by what you said and, quite ironically, called you partisan,” Carlson said, basically calling Shep and the judge anti-Trump crusaders. “Unlike maybe some dayside hosts, I’m not very partisan,” Carlson claimed. He later joked to friends that he gave Shep a “spanking.” Shep hit the roof.
No one knew this outside Fox HQ, but Shep’s staff thought in the wake of Tucker’s comments that he would resign immediately. On Thursday he asked the team where they wanted to order food for a special Friday lunch. They chose Carmine’s, the Italian mainstay on 44th Street just off Times Square, and they nervously awaited the enormous spread, thinking their trusted leader was going to quit right then and there. When the food arrived, Shep gathered everyone and gave a speech. “The news will always continue at this network,” he said, as staffers exhaled just a bit, learning today wouldn’t be the day. He still had to negotiate his way out. Looking back, “we knew right then that his mind was made up,” a staffer told me.
On day three of the feud, Shep alluded to network unrest on the air by saying “there are two different information streams” in competition. On one side, he said, there were facts that the president had admitted. “Then there’s this information stream of constant attacking of the facts that is… interesting to watch.”
And, he should have added, exhausting to be a part of.
Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Scott and Wallace “communicated to Smith” to “stop attacking Carlson.” Fox execs insisted that never happened. Part of the problem was that management wasn’t communicating at all. But Shep had a sense—from Scott’s silence—that the network sided with Carlson.
* In the weeks before he died in 2017, Roger Ailes told one of his mentees that Trump’s win proved that the cable TV model also applied to politics. When there were only a few broadcast networks, all sharing the same more or less genteel sensibility, politics had to be broad—candidates had to appeal to the whole of the country. Provocation and extremism were turn-offs. But those same techniques were turn-ons in the cable model. Cable channels weren’t for everyone, they were for specific demographics. The winners knew how to rabidly excite their base and blow off everyone else. Turn the levers just right and you ended up with the monstrosity at work at the end of the decade: an untouchable politician protected by his untouchable media apparatus.
Fox’s cable power extended to the internet, where micro-targeting on social networks meant that candidates didn’t have to cultivate just a single base, they could tell different stories to different audiences simultaneously. Lachlan and Rupert still had to figure out Fox’s position in that world. But the network’s website increasingly functioned as a propaganda workhorse.
* “Trump wants control,” the insider said. “He wants Trump TV.” If Trump didn’t win reelection, the theory went, multiple billionaires stood ready to bankroll a media empire of Donald’s own with both television and internet components. He wouldn’t need Fox anymore; he would be in business against Fox.
I put my fork down and said, half-jokingly, that I’d always figured Rupert and Lachlan would give Trump a prime time show for his post–White House years.
“Think bigger,” my breakfast mate said. With an entire network, Ivanka could have a show, and Don Jr. could have a show, and the Trump brand could span politics and culture and entertainment. The Trump 2020 campaign was already testing this premise with webcasts. What would America prefer to watch—people on Fox talking about the Trumps, or the real thing, straight from Mar-a-Lago?