Less than one week after New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer published a thoroughly reported exposé about Fox News, its former president resigned suddenly from his top White House job. Bill Shine, President Trump’s communications chief and his deputy chief of staff, will reportedly now put his energy and time into getting the network’s top viewer elected to a second term. One wonders, then, why he isn’t just going back to his old job.
They certainly could use the help. With ratings reportedly suffering since the Democrats housed the GOP in the midterms last November, Mayer’s report broke three key pieces of bad news for fans of Fox: the late network president Roger Ailes allegedly fed Donald Trump questions in August of 2015 before his infamous debate exchange with Megyn Kelly; FoxNews.com allegedly buried the Stormy Daniels story before the 2016 presidential election because the network’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, wanted Trump to win; and during his presidency, Trump reportedly pressured the Department of Justice to block the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner as a slight to CNN (and a boon to Fox). The first two incidents describe blatant hypocrisies and journalistic improprieties. The third item sounds like an impeachable offense on the part of the president.
In adding detail about the genesis of both Fox News and its symbiosis with Trump, Mayer offers a clear picture of how the network and this White House have exploited American misconceptions and resentments, all of which endanger the fundamental notions of a functional democracy. Through the network’s undue influence on Trump, it perpetuates cruel and harmful policy every day that he stays in the White House. Fox has created a monster, and by working in tandem, both the network and the president whom it sponsors are now significant threats to the overall health of the republic.
Think, for a moment, what Fox News has become. It used to simply be a forum for Republican apologia. It was the dream of Roger Ailes, the former network president and erstwhile Richard Nixon aide to create the television news buffer that his old boss never had during the Watergate scandal. Who knows whether Nixon might have weathered covering up a break-in and provoking a Constitutional crisis, to say nothing of having a criminal for a vice-president, had his administration had a 24/7 television defender.
I worked across the street from Fox News’ midtown Manhattan headquarters at MSNBC from 2010 to 2015, when Barack Obama was in office. During that time, Fox devolved into something darker. The network’s racism and misogyny became much more explicit. It frequently welcomed then-businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump on air to promote birtherism, and its hosts embraced numerous other conspiracy theories. But even Murdoch, who by Mayer’s reporting seems to see the world more clearly than his channel, has stood by as this pattern has grown worse, with the ascendance of Trump to the White House and the removal of Ailes for his allegedly rampant sexual predation. Now, with the very rare exception, hosts like Tucker Carlson run unchecked by anyone outside of media critics, distributing a nightly helping of Trump sycophancy and white-nationalist evangelism.
Cable news hosts and guests on other networks have been known to say things that seem deliberately provocative, or at the very least, ignorant of the history and current reality of far-right domestic terrorism. But Fox makes that a nightly occurrence. Carlson’s lies about immigration have become a staple of his primetime program, and he has given quarter to the dregs of humanity. In February, host Laura Ingraham compared Planned Parenthood to Adolf Hitler, either unaware or unsympathetic to the fact that such rhetoric has inspired terrorists like Robert Dear to attack clinics in the past.
Fox News has never been “news,” nor was it ever intended to be. As Mayer describes, Murdoch conceived Fox in the early Nineties as a news network that would follow the lowbrow route of his Australian and British tabloids. He’d appeal to the NFL fan, the working class person — constructions that, as presented in Mayer’s reporting, were clearly seen solely as white Christian men. (My family is black, Midwestern, working class, and we love football, but I don’t think we’re the target audience.) In doing so, Murdoch tapped into a power that he had no idea nor inclination to control.
Mayer observes that this cynical, reckless exploitation is something that Murdoch and Trump have in common: both men weaponized populist resentment of elites. What is most curious, as she notes, is that some of that resentment came from within. Both of these astoundingly privileged, white male corporate heirs fed upon slights from even more connected, wealthier, insider-y masters of the universe. And here we are, the peons, left to suffer the consequences. This is what happens, it seems, when men like this spend all that money on everything but an effective therapist.
What happens now is just as predictable: It will get worse. Mayer’s reporting produced immediate results — the Democratic National Committee announced that, thanks to the report, none of its primary debates will be hosted by Fox News. (The DNC did not respond to Rolling Stone’s question as to whether it will still allow any other Fox networks to host a primary debate this year or next.)
Shine’s resignation may be another consequence of the Mayer report, amid Trump’s swelling anger about bad press that ultimately is his own fault. Imagine, this much negative coverage, all with one of America’s most popular television networks propping you up daily! But even with Fox around, the truth has a way of coming out. Almost two-thirds of Americans polled this month by Quinnipiac University think that Trump is a criminal. He is now running for re-election in part to stay clear of the prosecutions that likely await him in the Southern District of New York. Trump is most useful to Murdoch as a shiny bauble to attract eyeballs. He may not yet realize that he’d serve Fox just as well as a martyr under siege from law enforcement as he does now behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.