Wednesday, March 20, 2019


We've heard this before -- most notably when Roger Ailes was let go -- but Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman is telling us once again that Fox News really might change soon:
... the network’s opinion hosts and the news division ... have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and [Jeanine] Pirro. “Reporters are telling management that we’re being defined by the worst people on our air,” a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me....

The outcome of that civil war will be decided by Fox Corporation chairman and C.E.O. Lachlan Murdoch. Rupert’s oldest son took over the smaller media company that emerged out of the Murdochs’ $71 billion deal to sell their entertainment assets to Disney.... staffers believe he is likely to nudge the network away from its close marriage to Trump. Sources close to Lachlan pointed out that Lachlan is a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard, who in private has expressed annoyance at Trump. “He doesn’t like Trump,” one person who has spoken with Lachlan told me. “There’s a lot of talk of the direction of the network changing under Lachlan,” the senior Fox staffer told me....

Ultimately, creating some distance from the president may be the first step in a larger strategy. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before the Murdochs sell Fox News. “Everyone thinks they’re going to sell it. It’s too small to be independent,” [an] anchor [close to Hannity] told me.
I'll believe this when I see it -- but if the plan is to sell off Fox News, that might explain why Fox recently suspended Jeanine Pirro. The anti-Muslim remarks that led to her suspension were hardly new -- Media Matters has compiled a list of similar remarks going back years -- but if you're hoping to sell a division to another media giant with a significant presence in the Middle East, or with Middle Eastern investors, you might want to make a show of reining in a Muslim-bashing commentator.

(It's widely believed that Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns a substantial stake in the Murdoch empire, but his investment was never as great as many people believe, and he's sold off his shares.)

Or it could be that Pirro was suspended to send a message that Fox really is independent of Trump. (Of Trump's favorites, Pirro is undoubtedly the least profitable for Fox, much less so than Hannity or the Fox & Friends crew.)

I don't know who would believe that Fox is truly putting distance between itself and Trump after this suspension, but Fox is trying to sell itself as something other than what it is lately. The goal might not be a sale of the division so much as greater advertising revenue. In the weeks leading up to a recent confab with ad buyers, Fox bought many bus ads in New York City promoting itself as the #1 cable news channel in every region of the country, not just in Red America.

(Bigwigs don't ride buses in New York, of course, but they see these ads, which function here the way highway billboards do in the rest of America.)

Now that Fox has sold most of its entertainment properties to Disney, Fox News is part of a new, smaller, standalone company called Fox Corporation, which is being publicly traded. Maybe the Murdochs think Trump is a millstone likely to drag down the share price.

I don't believe there'll really be major changes at Fox. I think the hope is that small, insignificent steps will bamboozle investors and advertisers. But we'll see.

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