CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
According to a New York Times report about Gabriel Sherman's upcoming biography of Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Ailes proclaimed to fellow Fox executives before the 2012 election that he wanted "to elect the next president." Here's a quick look at how he tried to do so:
Fox News and its allies have ramped up their efforts in recent days to counteract an upcoming biography of network CEO Roger Ailes.
Gabriel Sherman, a New York magazine reporter, is set to release The Loudest Voice in the Room later this month. The first details from the book have started to leak out, including that Ailes reportedly was the mastermind of a heavily criticized campaign-style anti-Obama video that aired on Fox and that he told Fox News executives before the 2012 election that he "want[s] to elect the next president."
The network has sought to discredit Sherman for more than a year, with Fox personalities attacking Sherman as a "phoney journalist" and an "embarrassment." According to Politico, Ailes cooperated with a biography published last year by author Zev Chafets "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy."
As publicity for Sherman's book heats up, Fox's campaign to destroy it is also gathering steam.
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter that ran today, Ailes attacks Sherman's book, claiming that publisher Random House "refused to fact check the content with me or Fox News; that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda." (In a statement to Politico's Dylan Byers, Sherman responds that Ailes turned down "a dozen" requests to speak about the book, and says that a " team of two fact-checkers spent more than 2,000 hours vetting the manuscript before publication.")
Howard Kurtz highlighted the Hollywood Reporter interview in a piece for FoxNews.com, and noted that it "comes as Random House is preparing to publish a book about Ailes by New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman."
Republican Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a serious scandal involving corruption and petty political retribution. How Fox News handles the story should provide a benchmark for the network's relationship with Christie and its commitment to continuing to bolster his career.
For months, allegations have been simmering that the Christie administration was involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ. As The New York Times explains, officials in Fort Lee have alleged that the closures, which "turned the town into a parking lot on the first day of school," were retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid.
New Jersey paper The Record reports today that despite public denials by Christie that the closure may have been politically-motivated, documents obtained by the paper suggest that "one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision":
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough's access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta--a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Among the email exchanges highlighted by The Record is one in which senior Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly contacted David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie's whom the governor appointed to an executive position at the Port Authority. In an email sent on August 13, 2013, roughly three weeks before Wildstein ordered the lane closures, Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it." (Wildstein resigned in December.)
In a separate exchange, Wildstein responded to a text message from an unidentified person saying that they "feel badly about the kids, I guess," by saying, "They are the children of Buono voters." (Barbara Buono was Christie's opponent in the November 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.)
With Christie widely considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Fox News' treatment of the scandal could provide a glimpse into the state of the network's relationship with the New Jersey governor, which has seemingly cooled off recently.
A new book calls into question Fox News' denial of any involvement by CEO Roger Ailes with an anti-Obama video that aired twice on Fox & Friends during the contentious 2012 presidential campaign. According to Gabriel Sherman's new unauthorized biography of Ailes, he was actually the "brainchild" behind the video and even proclaimed, "I want to elect the next president."
The New York Times obtained a copy of Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room ahead of its January 21 release and revealed that according to the book, Ailes was involved in the creation of the four-minute Fox & Friends video that labeled Obama's first term as full of broken promises, despite Fox executives' denial of Ailes' involvement at the time. According to Sherman, Ailes was the "brainchild" behind the video (emphasis added):
In his book, Mr. Sherman, a contributing editor at New York magazine, follows Mr. Ailes from his boyhood in Ohio to his perch as one of the most powerful figures in the history of television.Despite being unsatisfied with many of the Republican candidates for president in 2012, Mr. Ailes endeavored to promote Mitt Romney on Fox News programs, the book says. Before the Wisconsin congressman Paul D. Ryan was chosen as Mr. Romney's running mate, Mr. Ailes advised Mr. Ryan that his television skills needed work and recommended a speech coach.
At the beginning of the general election, a four-minute video criticizing President Obama's policies was broadcast on "Fox and Friends," provoking outrage from the left and prompting the network to say publicly that Mr. Ailes had no involvement in its creation. In "The Loudest Voice in the Room," Mr. Sherman writes that the video "was Ailes's brainchild."
Random House has begun rolling out New York reporter Gabriel Sherman's unauthorized biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for its January 21 release. For more than a year, Fox News has attempted to discredit the book by attacking Sherman with vitriolic online attacks ("stalker," "embarrassment," "PHONEY JOURNALIST") and by reportedly helping with a counterbiography and firing a top Fox executive.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice in the Room states it draws on "more than 600 interviews with people who've known Ailes over his remarkable five-decade career as well as a rich variety of other sources" and "documents Ailes's tactical acuity as he battles with the press, business rivals, and countless real and perceived enemies inside and outside Fox."
Fox News reportedly attempted to counterbalance Sherman's book by working with Zev Chafets on an Ailes-friendly biography. Politico reported that Ailes agreed to cooperate with Chafets' biography "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy." Fox News was clearly happy with Chafets' final work, as numerous Fox News personalities praised the book, and Chafets was afforded ample airtime on Fox properties.
Fear over Sherman's book was also reportedly a factor in Ailes' firing of Fox News vice president Brian Lewis. Gawker reported that "Lewis was paid approximately $8 million in hush money" and quoted an unnamed Fox News executive stating of the separation: "Everything was about Gabe Sherman." The source "further explained that, up until the day of Lewis's dismissal, the channel's public relations division, which Lewis oversaw, had suffered from heated internal disagreements about how to properly handle Sherman's book." The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "rumors have swirled that Lewis also was suspected of helping Gabe Sherman."
News that Fox News reportedly paid a former PR executive at the company "approximately $8 million in hush money" after firing him this summer raises questions about why Fox News chairman Roger Ailes apparently feels the need to approve seven and eight-figure payoffs to keep former employees quiet.
After Brian Lewis was escorted out of the Fox News building in July, and Fox made public allegations against him, Lewis' attorney warned that "any confidentiality obligation" he had with the company no longer applied. "Lewis knows many of Ailes' secrets," noted New York magazine. But the $8 million "hush money" settlement seems to guarantee that Lewis won't discuss his time at Fox.
Lewis however, isn't the only senior Fox News employee who's reportedly been paid handsomely to keep quiet about his or her time working under Ailes.
Lewis' settlement recalls the $10.75 million payoff Judith Regan secured after the former host was fired by then-Fox News parent company, News Corp.* Like Lewis, who at the time of his firing this summer was publicly accused of "financial irregularities," Regan was also the target of a smear campaign, accused of making anti-Semitic comments. But like longtime Fox News veteran Lewis, Regan appeared to cash in by threatening to release damaging information about Ailes and turned her firing into a big payday.
Specifically, Regan claimed to have a tape recording of Ailes instructing her to lie to federal investigators in order to protect Ailes' longtime friend and political ally, Rudy Giuliani. The tape reportedly may have played a role in the settlement Regan secured in her wrongful termination suit against News Corp. (Company officials did not deny Ailes was heard on the tape.)
Question: What other news organization spends nearly $20 million in order to keep two fired employees from talking publicly about their time of employment?
From New York [emphasis added]
Back in 2007, Judith Regan alleged in a lawsuit against News Corp. that a senior executive there urged her to lie to federal investigators about her affair with Bernard Kerik. Kerik had been nominated for the position of Homeland Security Chief under Bush, but was then dismissed after his personal foibles came to light. The executive hoped to keep Regan quiet because Kerik's mentor Rudy Giuliani was running for the Republican nomination, and further embarrassment might injure the campaign. It was a double-punch scandal: News Corp. was revealed simultaneously to have pressured an employee to lie to the government and also to have thrown its weight around on behalf of a presidential candidate. But at the time, the executive in question remained nameless. Now, he's been identified in court documents that have surfaced due to a filing error in a related case. It was Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes.
If Regan received more than $10 million in part because she had a taped recording of Ailes urging her to lie to investigators, what information does Brian Lewis have that warranted an $8 million payoff?
* This piece has been updated to clarify that Regan was fired by then-Fox News parent company News Corp. We regret the error.
Fox News has reportedly paid a former PR executive at the company "approximately $8 million in hush money" after firing him this summer.
Brian Lewis, a former executive vice president at Fox News, was fired in July amid reports that he had been giving information about the company to Gabriel Sherman, a New York magazine contributing editor working on a (likely unflattering) biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Citing an unnamed network executive "with knowledge of the negotiations," Gawker reports today that Lewis was paid roughly $8 million by the network as part of a settlement.
As Gawker lays out, when Lewis was abruptly fired, Fox cited "vague 'financial irregularities" as the reason for the move, prompting Lewis' lawyer to attack the network for "telling lies." In an August statement to Gawker, Lewis' lawyer essentially threatened that his client might reveal harmful information about Ailes and the network.
According to the anonymous Fox executive quoted by Gawker -- who suggested that the settlement number would have been much higher if Lewis had significantly damaging information about Ailes -- the claims of "financial impropriety" leading to Lewis' firing were "complete bullshit."
As suspected, the network was reportedly livid about Sherman's forthcoming book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How Roger Ailes and Fox News Remade American Politics, which has driven a wedge in the network's public relation's team.
According to a new report in Politico, Republican Senator Rand Paul recently sat down with Fox News chief Roger Ailes and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Politico explains that Paul, who is often listed as a likely contender in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, met separately with the two men as he "has been working to smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
During the 2012 presidential cycle, Fox News essentially hosted the Republican primary, and Paul's jockeying for the support of Ailes and Murdoch is evidence that Fox's role as the gatekeeper of the Republican party hasn't changed.
The Politico report also points out that both Murdoch and Ailes have "historically had a good relationship with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie," another likely player in the 2016 Republican primary. Indeed, in 2011, New York magazine reported that Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and strongly encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination in 2012. Ailes certainly wasn't alone at the network in swooning over Christie -- Fox personalities fawned over the New Jersey governor for much of 2010 and 2011.
But as Politico lays out, Christie's relationship with the network may have soured after he "embraced President Barack Obama immediately after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey," shortly before the 2012 election:
Murdoch tweeted at the time that "while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years." Christie, according to The New York Times, called Murdoch just before the election and made his case for needing support after the hurricane, but the media titan told the governor that he needed to reiterate his support of Romney. Christie eventually did.
Fox hosts have also been notably less ebullient about Christie following the 2012 election. Sean Hannity announced on his radio show in January that, "to be blunt, yes, I am disappointed in Governor Christie." The Five co-host Eric Bolling lectured Christie on Fox's airwaves, advising him to "act like a Republican" and stop praising Obama over Sandy.
As recently as this morning, Fox Nation was posting commentary from Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes deriding Christie as a "RINO" and mocking his "schoolgirl crush" on Obama.
While people outside the Fox empire are seeking the support of Ailes and Murdoch, several of its employees are already stoking speculation about running in 2016, including Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Allen West, Scott Brown, and Ben Carson.
From the September 10 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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At least eight Fox News personalities took to Twitter over a period of just over two hours today to defend network president Roger Ailes following a report that he's "all alone" after firing top Fox News executive Brian Lewis.
The Hollywood Reporter first reported yesterday that Lewis, who was Fox News' executive vice president for corporate communications and considered Ailes' "right-hand man," was fired "over what insiders are calling financial issues and other performance problems." Fox later confirmed Lewis' firing, citing "issues relating to financial irregularities, as well as for multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract."
Lewis' firing was a major shakeup for Fox. As Politico's Dylan Byers noted, "Lewis had been one of Ailes's top advisers since the network's inception in 1996, was a member of his inner circle and had the respect and trust of the president. ... On Ailes's orders, he built and led a team of notoriously combative press representatives who fought against all perceived enemies -- especially other media outlets -- with a take-no-prisoners approach that was the envy of executives across the industry."
In response to the firing, New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman wrote an August 20 piece headlined, "Roger Ailes Fired His PR Chief, and Now He's All Alone." Sherman, who has come under repeated attack from Fox News employees because he is writing an unauthorized Ailes biography, wrote that Lewis' departure is "far more consequential to the long-term direction of" Fox News than recent show changes because he's "a moderating influence on Ailes. Lewis was one of the few senior executives who would vocally challenge Ailes (although he was smart enough to do it privately)."
Politico reported today that "sources with knowledge of the situation" said "Ailes had suspected Lewis of leaking information to Gabriel Sherman, the author of a forthcoming book about Ailes and Fox News."
Today, within a period of roughly two hours and fifteen minutes, eight different Fox News personalities responded to Sherman's August 20 report by defending their boss and attacking the New York reporter.
Megyn Kelly's move to primetime will mark a shift in the very essence of Fox News, away from the hate of right-wing radio and towards something more effective at shilling conservative misinformation.
Recent rumors indicate that Megyn Kelly may take over Sean Hannity's 9 p.m. time slot on Fox News. But the factors in play are much bigger than one hour a night. The imminent Fox News primetime shakeup is more about Fox News' own brand of misinformation being set to surpass the blunter approach of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio hosts.
For a brief bit of historical context before we get to the rumor itself, Fox News' approach in many ways grew out of Rush Limbaugh's short-lived television show. Roger Ailes famously produced the show and would take lessons from there to Fox News where he is still the CEO. (As well as taking lessons from his time as a Republican operative, which are well-documented.) And the further back you look at Fox, the more it resembles the worst aspects of Limbaugh's show. But as Fox has grown, it's adapted, allowing it to more effectively advance a political agenda.
This adaptation was on full display in Roger Ailes' 2011 admission to Howard Kurtz, who has since moved to Fox, that Fox News needed to make a "course correction." The big picture result of this is Fox still pushing demonstrable misinformation, but doing so in a way other news networks will be more likely to pick up rather than mock. Their audience might not have had a problem with the old Fox News (at least, Roger Ailes gave no indication that they did), but the network's reputation was in tatters. (As an aside, CNN's recent pushing of right-wing Benghazi myths only emphasize the risk of Fox's revised approach.)
Sean Hannity is in many ways a product of an iteration of Fox News that is slowly fading away. His willingness to push any argument any Republican ever once had has eroded Hannity's credibility over time. The Republican congressman who coined the term "terror baby" recently guest-hosted Hannity's radio show. Cumulus reportedly isn't even bothering to renew his radio syndication contract. Hannity declared himself as birther-curious, went all-in during the 2012 election on the story that President Obama once hugged a guy that right-wingers didn't like, and even dabbles in secession.
But the new face of Fox News primetime, Megyn Kelly, is a much more pernicious purveyor of political propaganda. Kelly has the unique ability to pluck misinformation and imbue it with a veneer of legitimacy that Sean Hannity has long since lost, if he ever had it at all. She can have a great moment chiding Fox colleagues Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs for sexism, only to turn around and push the New Black Panthers scandal as something serious. Megyn Kelly can cover gay rights in a way that is occasionally not abominable, and then push Benghazi falsehoods that have long been debunked. Megyn Kelly will rebuke Dick Morris and Karl Rove, but then hosts a climate change denier during the president's climate address. Kelly smacked down Mike Gallagher on family leave, but she also defended Newt Gingrich's bizarre suggestion that schools should use children as janitors. The examples go on and on -- but the key for Fox is that her positive moments always get more press than her more dishonest moments. It's no surprise that Howard Kurtz declared her future bright.
On Saturday night Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski posted a FoxNews.com segment in which Reza Aslan, a noted religious scholar, was interviewed by Spirited Debate host Lauren Green, a Fox News religion correspondent.
Kaczynski asked "Is this the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done?" due to the host's inability to accept that Aslan, who is Muslim, would have any legitimate interest in a scholarly work about Jesus.
While the segment itself was jarring, particularly when Green falsely accused Reza Aslan of hiding his Muslim faith -- a ridiculous charge implying devotion to Islam is something that must be hidden -- and furthermore as the author points out, he noted it on the second page of his book and in countless interviews.
It should surprise no one that Islamophobia has a home on Fox. From the top on down, the network's attitude could be at best described as hostile to Muslims. In Zev Chafet's hagiography of Ailes, published earlier this year, he quotes Fox News' boss explicitly stating his hostility to Muslims (emphasis added):
He donates upward of 10 percent of his net income to charities, many of them religious, including an annual fifty grand to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and another fifty grand to Catholic charities." He told me he'd be glad to give to Muslim charities, too, "if they disarm.
A Rolling Stone profile of Ailes quoted a source close to the Fox boss who claimed he "has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim - which is consistent with the ideology of his network."
These beliefs have been reflected by a number of the network's on-air personalities.
On last night's episode of The Five, host Eric Bolling claimed Democrats strategically create racial division as a political strategy. Asked by fellow host Bob Beckel whether he believes that "we sit around in the Democratic Party and want to have racial division," he replied, "I do, yes."
It was an absurd charge coming from Bolling, whose racial invective has included referring to the President of Gabon's visit to the White House as "a hoodlum in the hizzouse" and suggesting that President Obama was "chugging 40s" during a state visit to Ireland.
Bolling wasn't the only one on Fox claiming that racism is largely being drummed up by liberals. Co-host Greg Gutfeld chimed in claiming that "racial warfare right now is the crack cocaine of CNN, MSNBC, and most college campuses."
Later in the evening Bill O'Reilly told his audience that civil rights leaders want "to divide the country along racial lines because that's good for business."
Oh the irony.
There are few in American politics who have done more to strategically divide this country along racial lines for political and financial gain than Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Fox News president Roger Ailes used the platform provided for him while accepting a prize from a right-wing foundation to repeat discredited claims that the Affordable Care Act will create 16,000 armed IRS agents and that President Obama was absent on the night of the Benghazi attacks.
Ailes was honored during the 2013 Bradley Prizes, awards given by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gives tens of millions of dollars annually to a "Who's Who" of right-wing movement organizations. The prize, which recognizes "individuals of extraordinary talent and dedication," includes a stipend of $250,000, which Ailes said he was donating to a charity for senior citizens.
According to remarks posted on the Fox News website, Ailes said that "The federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce healthcare." He also said, "I have come to the conclusion that even I don't care what the president of the United States was doing that night. However, I would like to know what the commander in chief was doing that night."
Both of Ailes' attacks have been pushed by Fox News -- and both are based on falsehoods.
On the April 16, 2010, edition of Fox & Friends, then-Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich attacked reports that approval for health care reform was growing by claiming the law would hire "16,000 IRS agents as health police":
GINGRICH: But my general experience is that, you know, you don't have people walk up to you in an airplane and start attacking you very often, or you're in really deep trouble. I think what [Sen.] Harry [Reid] ought to do is get in a car and drive around Nevada, where people are overwhelmingly opposed to hiring 16,000 IRS agents as health police.
The figure, which was based on a report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, was described as "wildly inaccurate" by FactCheck.org which described the claim as coming "from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation":
The GOP analysts assume that the $10 billion would not be spread evenly over the decade, but would reach $1.5 billion annually in later years. That's reasonable, given that major provisions of the new law don't take effect until 2014. But even accepting that, the peak figure could just as easily be $750 million a year, if the CBO's lower guess proves to be correct. So the number of new IRS workers implied by the GOP's own logic could be closer to 5,000 than to 16,500, after adjusting for overhead costs and inflation.
Ailes' second attack -- that Obama was missing on September 11, 2012, during the attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya -- also appeared regularly on Fox News, where Fox figures repeatedly demanded to know where Obama was during the attacks. In addition to reports by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that White House staff was "engaged with the National Military Command Center pretty constantly" throughout the attack and testimony by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Obama gave orders to deploy forces immediately after learning about the attack, the White House Flickr page shows Obama meeting with aides in the Oval Office on the night of the attack:
Ailes also said during his remarks: "Traditional American culture influenced me greatly as I created the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. We knew that a fair and balanced news channel could succeed, as long as no views were rejected and conservative views were allowed to be heard."