There seems to be a seismic shifting going on at Fox News as Roger Ailes – the guy who made Fox News Fox News – is withdrawing, uber boss Rupert Murdoch is becoming more active and the internal power struggle over succession heats up.
In a fascinating New York article, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman reports, “According to four high-placed Fox sources, Murdoch is upping his presence at Fox while Ailes has become less visible to anchors and producers, signaling a shift that marks a new chapter in the network’s history.”
I’ve previously posted about the fierce competition to succeed Ailes between executives Michael Clemente and Bill Shine as represented in the George Will (Clemente) vs. Bill O’Reilly (Shine) feud. Now, Murdoch seems to be in the mix.
The succession question seems to be taking on new urgency after three sources say Ailes threatened to quit this summer when Murdoch elevated his sons, Lachlan and James, to take over the media empire. After their promotions were announced, Ailes put out his own statement on Fox Business that declared he would continue reporting directly to Rupert. Eventually, an uneasy accord was reached: Rupert gave Ailes a new contract, but Fox issued a follow-up press release clarifying that Ailes would report to Rupert as well as Lachlan and James. Since that stinging public rebuke, executives have noticed Rupert around the Fox News hallways. “He’s marking his territory,” one person briefed on the matter told me. “There’s a little bit of a pissing match with Roger. Rupert is basically saying, ‘I know you built this place, but I own it and I’ll remind you of that by coming here.’”
… Meanwhile, Fox hosts and producers tell me Ailes has been a somewhat diminished force at the network. In 2014, he took an extended leave of absence after a health scare. He still has trouble walking and rarely ventures out of his executive suite. A friend who ran into Ailes in Palm Beach over the holidays remarked that he was using a walker. “He seems detached and removed,” one Fox personality tells me. “He’s not around as much,” says another friend of Ailes. “He doesn’t have as many meetings with talent.”
Sherman also notes that “the clearest sign of this leadership vacuum” is the lack of a clear strategy for dealing with Donald Trump just as the network is suffering the same kinds of divisions as the GOP. Michelle Malkin told Sherman, “I can tell you, my base is fed up with Fox.”
Does this mean the network will no longer wag the dog of Republican politics the way it has in the past? Or is this just a temporary pause before power is realigned and consolidated? Or are the Republican fissures just too deep for the Fox News political machine to re-cement them?
We'll have to wait and see.
But in the meanwhile, get the popcorn popping!
Roger Ailes graphic by DonkeyHotey.
(Crossposted at Newshounds.us)