When Roger Ailes left Fox News, the network lost its programming mastermind. But Donald Trump has stepped into the void.
In an article posted on Vanity Fair Friday, correspondent Gabriel Sherman explained how Trump has replaced Ailes as the Programmer-In-Chief:
According to conversations in recent days with current and former Fox executives, producers, and hosts, Trump looms almost as large in the minds of employees as Ailes did. Fox hosts regularly get calls from Trump about segments he likes—or doesn’t. “When you worked at Fox, you knew that at any moment Roger Ailes was watching. Every day was like a job interview with Ailes. Now it’s the same way for Trump,” says a veteran Fox News contributor. According to sources, Trump doesn’t explicitly dictate talking points the way Ailes did, but over time, the effect can be similar. “What he usually does is he’ll call after a show and say, ‘I really enjoyed that,’” a former Fox anchor told me. “The highest compliment is, ‘I really learned something.’ Then you know he got a new policy idea.” But knowing Trump always could be tuning in means the network is being programmed for an audience of one. “He has the same embattled view as a typical Fox viewer—that ‘the liberal elites hate me; they’re trying to bring me down,’” an executive said.
Although Sherman reported that, “Privately, many at the network have a nuanced view of the president,” don’t expect that to be reflected on the air any time soon. For example, one staffer told him, “The audience eats up anything about Hillary.”
However, the lack of daylight between Trump and Fox may, ultimately, do more harm than good. Sherman noted that Ailes maintained a semblance of independence that served the network well. That semblance is now gone:
It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s likely that if Ailes was still running Fox, the network wouldn’t function as state TV. While Ailes was a committed right-winger—I’ve reported how he privately wanted Navy SEALs to shoot immigrants crossing the southern border—he was smart enough to recognize that Fox’s power was maximized if the network appeared to be fair and balanced, even though it wasn’t. For instance, in the run-up to the 2000 election, Fox ran a story about George W. Bush’s previous drunk-driving arrest. (It’s impossible to see Fox airing a similarly damaging story today.) When Fox got heat for helping to create the Tea Party during Obama’s first term, Ailes told producers to tone down the Tea Party coverage. Propaganda works best when the audience doesn’t feel they’re getting it.
On the other hand, I have great confidence in the network’s ability to toss aside whatever compass guides it now and, without missing a beat, adopt a whole new set of divisive rhetoric designed to help Republican winds blow strong.
Crossposted at News Hounds.
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