Yes, Fox & Friends this morning decided that the Charleston church shooting was an "attack on faith." It didn't matter that, by the time of the broadcast, the police chief of Charleston had already declared the shooting a hate crime, or that a reporter had interviewed a survivor who said that the shooter had told victims, "You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go." The prime directive on Fox & Friends was not to report the truth -- it was to establish a counternarrative that shifts blame away from Fox's ideological allies and toward Fox's ideological enemies. (You could describe that as the prime directive for the entire Fox News enterprise.)
And so Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced the interview of minister and GOP politician E.W. Jackson by describing the massacre as "the gunman's horrifying attack on faith"; she asked, "So if we're not safe in our own churches, then where are we safe?" Jackson would go on to say that the massacre was part of a "rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views"; he recommended that ministers arm themselves in church. Steve Doocy tried to warn viewers away from what the facts were clearly showing:
“Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime,” Fox News host Steve Doocy noted. “Some people look at it because it was a white guy apparently and a black church. But you [Jackson] made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility toward Christians -- and it was a church -- so maybe that’s what they’re talking about.”Now, of course, we have a suspect in custody, Dylann Storm Roof -- and he's from Lexington, South Carolina, which is about two hours away from Charleston, so we have a pretty good idea that he specifically targeted a church with a long history of involvement in the civil rights struggle, going back to slavery days. (If he'd just wanted to target a house of worship, I'd say there were a few closer to home.) We know that the suspect's Facebook page features a photo of him wearing a jacket with flag patches from apartheid South Africa and colonial Rhodesia. We know that his car had a Confederate flag vanity plate and that a friend said "he had that kind of Southern pride," as well as "strong conservative beliefs" and a tendency to tell "a lot of racist jokes."
I bring all this up because, prior to the shooting, I was reading articles that hinted at big changes coming to Fox News. Do you recall the recent announcement that Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as CEO of 21st Century Fox and turning the reins over to his son James, with James's brother Lachlan as the company's co-chairman? Do you recall the reports that this wouldn't really change the relationship between Roger Ailes and the elder Murdoch, because Ailes would still be reporting to Rupert?
I thought that was true, but New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman -- who literally wrote the book on Ailes -- say that Ailes's days as a free agent are over:
This week, for the first time, there are signs that this remarkable era may be entering its twilight. Yesterday, 21st Century Fox announced that Ailes would be reporting to Lachlan and James Murdoch. For Ailes, it was a stinging smack-down and effectively a demotion.We're told that Ailes and James Murdoch despise each other, and that James is sort of a liberal:
Just five days earlier, Ailes released what now appears to be a rogue statement to his own Fox Business channel declaring that he would be unaffected by the announcement that Lachlan and James will take control of Fox as part of Rupert's succession plan. "Roger Ailes will continue to run the news network, reporting directly to Rupert Murdoch," Fox Business reported....
This was, apparently, news to Rupert. And now the Murdochs are correcting the record. "Roger will report to Lachlan and James," a 21st Century Fox spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ailes and James have maintained a distant, if frosty, relationship. James is an environmentalist who led News Corp's campaign to be a carbon-neutral company. His wife once worked for the Clinton Foundation. Ailes, a fierce climate-change denier, openly badmouthed James to friends and colleagues. He's called him a "fucking dope" and "Fredo," according to sources.CNNMoney says James is not only to the left of Ailes, but his views are "pointedly more liberal than his father's conservative positions." Also, we're told that he'll take over 21st Century Fox in less than a month, on July 1.
Frankly, I'm skeptical about all this. Fox News is hugely profitable for the Murdoch family just the way it is. What's more, every story I've read says that Rupert Murdoch, as co-chairman with Lachlan Murdoch, intends to stay very much involved in the business, even though James is CEO.
If this is a real change of leadership, and not just Rupert Murdoch shifting the rectangles around on the organization chart without really changing anything in the real world, then James Murdoch can show he's the real boss next month by beginning to pressure Ailes to use Fox to report the news rather than shape narratives and catapult propaganda. The next time something like this happens, if James really detests Ailes and his politics, a message ought to have been sent from the top that crap like the clip above is no longer acceptable.
My guess is that nothing of the sort is going to happen. Murdoch ceded the CEO role of News Corp, his other company, to Robert Thomson in 2013. That company includes The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. I haven't noticed the Post or the Journal's editorial page becoming any less rabid. So I think what we're going to see at Fox is more of the same. If I'm wrong, I'll be pleasantly surprised.
And please spare me any hand-wringing about the suits interfering with the editorial direction of the newsroom. I'd agree that that's a problem if Fox were actually a news organization. It isn't.
OH, AND: Catapulting the propaganda works: Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham are already repeating the "attack on Christianity" line.