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."
From the June 8 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes will reportedly be a recipient of a major award given to "innovative thinkers" whose achievements benefit the conservative movement.
Politico's Mike Allen reported that later today the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a foundation that gives tens of millions of dollars to a "Who's Who" of right-wing movement organizations every year, will announce that a 2013 Bradley Prize will be awarded to Ailes, along with a stipend of $250,000. The forthcoming release will trumpet Ailes as "a visionary of American journalism" whose "innovative business-building strategies have revolutionized the uncovering and delivery of news in America."
Following President Obama's 2008 election, Ailes reportedly said he saw his network as "The Alamo." Fox News became the "voice of opposition," launching a four-year campaign to make Obama a one-term president. Since the president's re-election, Fox has produced a massive quantity of false and misleading coverage of the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as they attempt to turn those events into Obama's Watergate, earning plaudits from Republicans senators.
Past recipients of the Bradley Prize include current Fox News contributors Michael Barone, Paul Gigot, Bill Kristol, John Bolton, and Charles Krauthammer, along with a number of other leaders in the conservative movement.
A new book from Jonathan Alter claims that Fox News President Roger Ailes told producers to cut off the microphone used by Fox host Geraldo Rivera as he pushed back against Fox's politicization of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the day before the 2012 election, Rivera accused The Five's Eric Bolling of being "a politician trying to make a political point" with Bolling's claim that the government did "nothing" in response to the attack.
The New York Times reports that Alter writes in the upcoming book The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies that "Ailes called the control room and told the producers to cut Rivera's mic."
Fox News' media criticism program continued the network's promotion of Zev Chafets' biography of Fox News president Roger Ailes, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, with a segment that did not examine or discuss the book's substance. Instead, Fox News Watch re-ran a friendly interview with Chafets and attacked critics of Ailes.
On the March 23 edition of Fox News Watch, anchor Jon Scott remarked that the book was getting "lots of media attention." Scott then defended Ailes' claim that President Obama described himself as "lazy," a misrepresentation of Obama's remarks.
A question for Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who this week unveiled a nearly 100-page "autopsy" report on the GOP's recent electoral failings that urged the party to soften its image and become more inclusive: Do you think Roger Ailes is more concerned with his new biography hitting the top ten on the best-seller list, or with the Republican Party successfully appealing to more minority voters?
The answer to that question might go a long way in determining whether the GOP has any luck rebranding itself in the coming years. Early indications are Ailes and Fox News have no interest in moderating their form of attack programming, the bare-knuckle brand celebrated in Zev Chafets' new bio of the Fox News president, Roger Ailes: Off Camera.
Dubbed the "Growth & Opportunity Project," the RNC's laundry list of campaign failures urges the party to become more inclusive, tolerant and able to engage and persuade non-believers. Or to at least be able to not turn them off entirely with angry, absolutist rhetoric. "On messaging, we must change our tone," the report concluded.
Right now though, the Republican Party, riding a White House losing streak (2-4 since 1992), has a massive messaging problem, thanks to Roger Ailes.
As Variety confirmed last year, "the voice of Republican opposition throughout the Obama administration has been Fox News Channel, and the de facto leader of the GOP its chairman-CEO Roger Ailes."
It's fitting that the RNC report, which represents a concerted effort by the GOP to turn the page on its losing ways, arrived the same week Ailes was busy taking his book-release star turn and presenting himself as a clarion voice of the conservative movement. Via the book we learned Ailes, when not making weird media references to Hitler and Stalin and comparing Islamic charities to terrorist organizations, dismissed America's first black president is "lazy" liar who's "never worked a day in his life." (Ailes was clumsily misrepresenting comments Obama had made about himself in a 2011 interview with Barbara Walters.) Then in an interview with the Daily Beast, Ailes lashed out at another prominent African American, Van Jones, calling him a "communist infiltrator" who " has one job, to stir up racism whether he can find it or not."
So yes, thanks to a curious bit of timing, this week nicely captures the two paths, or the two options, that lay before Republicans. There's the "Growth & Opportunity" path of tolerance vs. the Roger Ailes path of divisiveness.
As part of an ongoing campaign attacking the credibility of journalist Gabriel Sherman, who is writing a forthcoming book about Fox News, Breitbart.com accused him of violating the privacy of network president Roger Ailes' family. After the story's publication, Sherman received a violent threat from one of the site's readers.
Writing at Breitbart.com, Celia Bigelow claimed that Sherman, a New York magazine reporter who has broken a number of stories about Fox News and is the author of a forthcoming book on the network, is writing a "hatchet-job biography" about Roger Ailes. According to Bigelow, Sherman has "reportedly has been observed violating the privacy not only of Ailes himself but also of the Ailes family."
Bigelow also wrote that Sherman "has been seen many times snooping around Putnam County, NY, where the Ailes family maintains a weekend home" and accuses him of "targeting" Ailes' wife. She concludes that Sherman "has crossed the line -- the honor-code line, that is."
Bigelow offered little evidence to back up her claims about Sherman, only a tweet in which Elizabeth Ailes complains about Sherman following her on Twitter -- a public forum.
Zev Chafets wants you to know that some of Roger Ailes's best friends are black.
He makes that point repeatedly throughout his latest tome, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, the product of a year of unprecedented access to Roger Ailes, his employees at Fox News, and his friends and family.
The result is largely an amalgamation of anecdotes that lets its subject off the hook for the most controversial aspects of his 40-year career, either by whitewashing them from the record entirely or by deflecting the reader with misdirection.
Roger Ailes is friends with Jesse Jackson, and he's friends with David Dinkins, Chafets writes, making no mention of the race-baiting ads Ailes ran against the former New York City mayor - designed to exacerbate tensions between the city's black and Jewish populations.
Ailes is a "profane, skydiving, hard-charging producer" is what Chafets gleans from Joe McGinniss's The Selling of the President, describing Ailes' work on the 1968 Presidential campaigns. Missing is the race-baiting quote from the book that has dogged him ever since. While casting one of Nixon's "Man in the Arena" appearances, Ailes strategized with McGiniss about how to utilize racial tensions to his candidate's advantage, telling the reporter: "As long as we've got this extra spot open. A good, mean, Wallaceite cab driver. Wouldn't that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, 'Awright mac, what about these niggers?'"
Fox News president Roger Ailes coordinated a smear campaign targeting Media Matters for America and its founder, David Brock, in response to Media Matters' book critical of Fox News, according to a biography of Ailes scheduled to be released March 19.
Media Matters obtained an exclusive copy of Zev Chafets' upcoming Roger Ailes: Off Camera, in which Chafets wrote:
In February 2012, Media Matters put out a book of Ailes's horribles, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine. The book itself didn't concern Ailes much, although he saw to it that friendly websites and some Fox commentators reminded America that the coauthor, David Brock, the head of Media Matters, does not exactly have a sterling reputation for honesty, and that the organization, which was founded with the "help and support" of the obviously partisan Hillary Clinton, is a political group that enjoys a charitable tax status.
During the weeks surrounding publication of The Fox Effect, Fox News aired dozens of segments attacking Media Matters and Brock, attacks that it is now clear were directed from Ailes in retaliation for a critical analysis of the network. Many of those attacks were in coordination with The Daily Caller.
While the campaign to smear Media Matters was underway, Zaid Jilani at Salon wrote:
Ultimately, Media Matters is being targeted for what it has accomplished. In just the eight short years of its existence, the organization has created a powerful watchdog hub for countering right-wing misinformation and pushing the progressive message to the press and policymakers. The group is ultimately being attacked for doing the very things that it publicly set out to do, and that is likely making the right wing much angrier than David Brock's eccentricities.
In an upcoming biography of Fox News president Roger Ailes, author Zev Chafets reports that Ailes hasn't donated to any Muslim charities, and connects that decision to comments tying all Muslim charities to terrorism. Ailes' brand of Islamophobia is mirrored in Fox News' coverage, which has repeatedly tried to connect all Muslims and Muslim institutions with terrorism.
In his new book Roger Ailes: Off Camera, an early copy of which was obtained by Media Matters, Chafets describes Ailes' charitable giving as being spread among a variety of religious charities. Despite giving to charities of various faiths, Chafets reported that Ailes has not given to any Muslim charities, quoting Ailes as saying he would only support those organizations "if they disarm" (emphasis added):
"I've been kicked out of every damn church I've ever belonged to," says Roger Ailes. It is a buccaneer's boast, meant to convey a hard-core irreverence. Ailes is not, by any means, a conventional born-again Christian of the Mike Huckabee variety, let alone Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. He wouldn't use the word himself, but he is ecumenical. He donates considerable sums each year to a small Protestant church near his home in Garrison, although he is not on its membership rolls. 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."
The implication that all Muslim charities are connected to terrorism is in line with the Islamophobic rhetoric that regularly appears on Fox News. Fox hosts and guests have a long history of invoking terrorism to attack Muslims and Islam:
From the March 6 edition of Current's The Young Turks:
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Fox News continues to use offensive terms to refer to undocumented immigrants despite recent comments from CEO Roger Ailes agreeing that Fox needs a new message on immigration. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News figures and guests have used slurs such as "illegals," "illegal aliens," and "anchor babies" at least 90 times since the 2012 election -- terms that are banned on Fox News' online site for Latinos.