Fox News and the Trump White House: a seamlessly integrated human centipede. Want proof? Look no further than the fact that Bill Shine, current White House communications director and the former president of Fox News, collects checks from both shops. (Shine, who resigned from Fox after the network was rocked by a series of sexual misconduct scandals, is still being paid out the remainder of a $7 million bonus.) Hope Hicks, who preceded Shine in his government gig, now works at his old network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. In her latest piece for the New Yorker, investigative reporter Jane Mayer explored the unholy alliance between the network and the Trump administration. It’s a story that explains both how Fox made Trump (by offering him weekly segments on Fox and Friends), and how Trump radicalized Fox (by shamelessly flogging the racist “birther” conspiracy regarded as too fringe by Fox personalities Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck).
As Mayer explains, it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. At least three former commenters or contributors to Fox News became cabinet members (Ben Carson, K.T. McFarland and John Bolton), not including former Fox anchor Heather Nauert, who withdrew from consideration as UN ambassador, or former adviser Sebastian Gorka, who frequently appears on the network. But, as Mayer reports, you don’t need to have left Fox to be looped into White House strategy sessions. “Pete Hegseth and Lou Dobbs, hosts on Fox Business, have each been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice,” Mayer writes. “Sean Hannity has told colleagues that he speaks to the President virtually every night, after his show ends, at 10 p.m.”
And then there’s the matter of unverified information being piped into the White House via Fox News broadcasts. Mayer illustrates the threat that daily reality poses with an anecdote about a “source” used by former Fox personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is no longer with the network (and is now Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend). Mayer reports that Guilfoyle would frequently accept tips from one David Townsend, a Fox viewer in Georgia who was active on the far right social media haven Gab. While some national security analysts have worried about foreign influence campaigns to infiltrate Fox, Mayer’s source says the reality is actually much dumber: “It’s even worse than a conspiracy of the dark Web, or something trying to manipulate Fox. It was just a guy in his underwear in Georgia who had influence over Fox News! And Fox News influences the President!”
Here are three other revelations from Mayer’s bombshell Fox report:
Fox allegedly buried the Stormy Daniels hush-money story before the 2016 election
Mayer reports that, more than a year before the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Michael Cohen paid adult actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her from speaking publicly about her affair with Trump before the election, Fox News had the scoop and buried it.
According to Mayer, a Fox entertainment reporter, Diana Falzone, brought the story to Fox executives in October 2016, after working for months to corroborate it. Falzone not only had confirmation from Daniels, through her manager, and from her former husband, but she possessed a trove of emails exchanged between Cohen and Daniels’ lawyer laying out the terms of the deal. She had even viewed the contract itself.
Mayer writes: “Falzone’s story didn’t run — it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from [former Fox News executive Ken] LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, ‘Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.’ LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.”
A few months later, in January 2017, Falzone was unceremoniously demoted. According to Mayer, she was not given an explanation. She sued the network a few months later and settled with Fox for an undisclosed sum.
Roger Ailes may have fed Trump debate questions
Mayer has three sources who say in 2016 Roger Ailes, the former Fox CEO who died a year later, warned Trump in advance that anchor Megyn Kelly was going to ask him a question about his treatment of women during a Fox debate. A fourth source indicated that someone at Fox warned Trump that the candidates would each be asked whether they would support the eventual Republican nominee, whomever that might be. (Trump, Mayer writes, “was the only candidate who said that he wouldn’t automatically support the Party’s nominee — a position that burnished his image as an outsider.”)
Trump allegedly pressured the DOJ to sue to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger
Mayer reports on three otherwise odd moves the administration has made that benefit Fox. First, the administration approved Fox’s proposal to sell its entertainment portfolio to Disney, “The Justice Department expressed no serious antitrust concerns,” Mayer writes. “Even though the combined company will reportedly account for half the box-office revenue in America.” According to Mayer, the Murdoch family could make $2 billion from the deal. In contrast, the administration seemed to have no qualms about quashing a proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company — a marriage that could have posed a serious competitive threat to Fox.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department mounted a full-court press to prevent AT&T from acquiring CNN’s parent company, Time Warner. “Although Presidents have traditionally avoided expressing opinions about legal matters pending before the judicial branch, Trump has bluntly criticized the plan,” Mayer writes. “The day after the Justice Department filed suit to stop it, he declared the proposed merger ‘not good for the country.’” She reports that in 2017 Trump pressured Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to make his position known to Justice Department. “According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!” Cohn reportedly refused to act on the orders. A federal court has since ruled against the Justice Department in the matter.
On Twitter, George Conway — who is married to Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president — declared that, if true, the report that Trump had abused his power in this way would “unquestionably be grounds for impeachment.”