Friday, September 25, 2015

Roger Ailes Steps in It. Big Time.

Roger Ailes is in big trouble.

I mean, his job's not in jeopardy. He's made a ton for his boss, Rupert Murdoch, and his stockholders. But, oh, man, Fox News has stepped into it big time. They are clueless about what is going on around them and Roger is doubling down.

Permit me to reiterate: I am not a Donald Trump fan for reasons I have explained in other pieces. However, the network has clearly made a decision - at who knows what level - to not just mock the Trump candidacy, but to undermine it actively.

No one is more central to this effort than Megyn Kelly. She is an affronted woman of position and authority. She has been anointed by Ailes as the personification of the network's future: smart, attractive, family-oriented, attorney. Unfortunately, she is also smarmy, sardonic, aloof and thin skinned.

Trump attacked her. Viciously. I think she deserved it to some extent because she undeniably singled out Trump in the Fox debate with an attacking line of questioning that was personal and singular in its focus. I don't know why she went after him and I don't know if Chris Wallace and Bret Baier were consulted beforehand.

Trump did not respond graciously. Ever since (and I have watched her nightly "newscasts" regularly since that episode), she has used her airtime to mock him, to seemingly promote his most vociferous critics and to conduct herself in an unprofessional manner that was not present before the debate dust up.

It is creepy to watch, difficult to imagine it hasn't been blessed by Ailes and has fundamentally undermined the covenant it had with its viewers. While always understood to be a counterpoint to the mainstream and liberal media, it has never been perceived as favoring or disfavoring individuals on the right side of the aisle. That has changed irreversibly.

Trump pissed off Ailes and Fox by attacking Kelly. They circled the wagons and lashed out at Trump. But Fox blew their moral high ground. In addition to Kelly's nightly sarcastic molotovs, she has been joined by the personality emerging as Fox's prince of arrogance, Shep Smith. This good 'ol boy from Ole Miss is taking Ailes' boosterism way too seriously.

In addition to joining Kelly in smarmy "we all know Trump is an idiot" asides, he seems to have positioned himself as a humility-free, cartoonish newsman who is neither reporter nor commentator. He is like some freakish self-generated hybrid, unbelievable as a straight newsman, irrelevant as a serious commentator.

No matter what happens to Trump's presidential campaign, he has successfully made the powers at Fox very uncomfortable. They have jeopardized their long-standing relationship with a very loyal audience by reacting childishly to Trump's petulant tweets. They are putting an extremely valuable franchise in harm's way because Ailes objected to the way Trump handled his hand-picked Talent of the Future.

Now, everybody kinda expects this from Donald. But to date, no one expected this from Ailes. He has left himself vulnerable and he will have to come to some sense of detente with Trump. Who has ever - EVER - heard of a network in effect boycotting a personality who has delivered HUGE ratings because of some perceived personal affront? Never happened. CAN'T happen. Ratings are the lifeblood that course through the veins of any enterprise dependent on advertising.

Trump has delivered Ailes ratings in a way Kelly and Smith can only dream of. Ailes is paid mega bucks to deliver ratings which generate revenue which begets profits which makes stockholders happy which makes the Murdochs ecstatic and rich which leads to another big contract for Ailes! Remarkable!

If I were Ailes, I would fire Kelly and Smith for promoting the candidacy of Marco Rubio to the detriment of my news division's objectivity. They have both become insufferable elites and have long since lost their fresh faced charm. I flash on today's image of Shep pointing to an oversized map of Manhattan as he explains to us rubes how the Pope has insured complete gridlock and inconvenienced his hipster buds because - shit - they'll have to go below ground to take the friggin subway.

Having accomplished that, I would make sure that I have locked down an option on a future services contract with Donald once his candidacy suffocates. His track record of ratings generation is enviable and, by God, we'll find someplace to put him.

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