The war on Fox News continues apace. Most recently, the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, declared that Fox News (and CNN) were “bad for democracy.”
Since the Times has announced, via reporter Jim Rutenberg, that the threat of a Trump presidency was so dire that it could not promise to report on the presidential campaign objectively, Baquet’s statement was frankly absurd.
If the Times wants the media to be good for democracy, it should set a better example by cleaning its own house and building a wall… between news reports and opinion.
The mainstream media hates Fox News for two reasons. First, it has broken the ideological monopoly that had pertained in the media. Second, it is making a massive profit.
Mainstream media outlets do not want you to be exposed to differences of opinion. They want you to believe that there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think. Fox News broke that monopoly. And since the media, in general, has an aleatory relationship to facts, Fox News can threaten other media by simply reporting the facts.
If you follow the money, Fox News earns a profit that approaches the market capitalization of the New York Times Corp. If you do not think that that rankles, you are out of touch with human psychology.
Recently, the war on Fox News has heated up. When Gretchen Carlson denounced Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, the founding father and residing genie of the organization was force to resign. Carlson was not exactly a ratings bonanza for the network, but she is a heroine to the mainstream media. She recently made the cover of Time Magazine.
Standing up to the patriarchy makes good press. Feminist cheer it. Unfortunately, it also promotes workplace hostility between men and women. Since Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have brought the issue into the political sphere, everyone has now become especially aware of sexual harassment. One consequence is that a man can risk his career by saying the wrong thing to a woman. This will likely cause him to think twice about hiring a woman or collaborating with a woman.
Be that as it may, Carlson had bad ratings and her post-Fox career prospects do not appear to be especially good. The same cannot be said for Megyn Kelly, the golden girl of Fox News, a genuine star who has recently been involved in complex and rather public negotiations over her new contract.
Kelly has had hugely favorable press, from places like the New York Times Magazine and from Vanity Fair. She became a major story during the presidential debates when she questioned Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks about women.
Trump thought she was unfair and counterattacked. When reports of Trump’s bad behavior toward women began to surface, they became credible because of his own remarks and his behavior toward Megyn Kelly.
Recent reports have emphasized that Kelly’s contract negotiations are private, but she or people who work for her have been leaking information about them for months. She has been saying quite openly that she wants to spend more time with her children. The tabloids have been saying that she has other offers and that she wants to be paid as much as Bill O’Reilly is, at something like $20,000,000. News Corp, the owner of Fox News, said that money is not the issue.
Of course, given the mania about leaning in, certain feminist sources are saying that Kelly is just asking for what she deserves. Quartz says that she is negotiating for “equal pay.” Considering that she is sui generis, and that her pay is tied to her ratings and the ad revenue her show produces, the notion that she is fighting for the feminist cause and that she is being systematically underpaid makes no sense. Two talk show hosts do not and cannot do equal work.
It appears that Kelly is following in the footsteps of former New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson, who leaned in and asked for a raise that would make her salary commensurate with what her male predecessor earned. She was fired on the spot. Score one for Sheryl Sandberg.
While we do not know what happened when Fox celebrity Greta van Susteren tried to renegotiate her contract, we do know that, from one day to the next, she was off the air, her show was over and her career was probably over too. One suspects that she too leaned in and got fired. Score another one for Sheryl Sandberg.
Apparently, Fox is avid to resign Kelly. News reports of this “private” negotiation have said that James and Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s sons and heirs apparent, have been personally involved. One assumes that this is a test for them. They have apparently been assiduously courting Kelly and are willing to offer great things to keep her.
One does not know how good the boys are at negotiating, but they do not appear to be especially deft at it.
One might say that with Bill O’Reilly getting old and with Fox not having a great bench, Kelly is the future of Fox News. Certainly, the fawning publicity that she receives helps to increase the stature and the prestige of the network, to make it more of a mainstream news channel.
At the same time, Kelly’s ratings are consistently lower than O’Reilly’s, so the pay disparity does not feel completely prejudicial. But, Kelly seems to attract more young viewers than O’Reilly and this is surely important to a network most of whose viewers are what the British call “pensioners.” The same, of course, is true of other cable news operations, and it is certainly a cause for concern.
Yet, Kelly’s hand is not as strong as she seems to think. When she had a prime time special on the Fox network it did not do well. She shot to political prominence during the first Republican presidential debate but she caved in to pressure and marched over to Trump’s office in order to interview him for her special.
The interview was flat and uninteresting. Kelly looked like she had allowed herself to be bullied. Right now Kelly is pretending to be very tough, and much of the time when she questions guests from the left or the right ahw is decidedly tough… and fair. Yet, her inability to stand up to Donald Trump showed that she is not as tough as she looks.
Kelly and Fox News have an undeniable synergy and it is not obvious that she would succeed as a morning or afternoon talk show host. Perhaps as another Judge Judy, but Kelly is not going to be a new Oprah or even a Barbara Walters.
Besides, Fox News made Kelly a star. As she flirts with other networks and leans in during her contract negotiations she risks looking disloyal. Giving even the appearance of being ungrateful and disloyal is not good for ratings. Ask Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, whose ratings are suffering because of a refusal on the part of overpaid athletes to express their allegiance to a nation that has been more than good to them.
Anyway, Kelly might have overplayed her hand. After all, Rupert Murdoch still controls Fox News and we have learned that he is not happy about Kelly’s newfound assertiveness. One suspects that he is not happy with the way his sons have been handling the negotiations, either.
Last week Murdoch fired a shot across her bow and suggested that Fox had lots of people who would be happy to fill her spot in prime time. Murdoch was asserting that he was the boss and that no single individual was more important than the company. He would not allow a single individual to threaten his face. Back when Jill Abramson got herself fired from the Times, I said the same thing.
The Murdoch pronouncement was significant for righting the order of things. One notes that even The Daily Mail misunderstood what was going on. It also managed to get the title of her show wrong:
Megyn Kelly reportedly got quite the shock earlier this week when she read an interview Rupert Murdoch gave about her private contract negotiations just before she was set to tape her live news program, The Kelly Report.
Murdoch made the decision to make the negotiations very public by granting an interview to one of the newspapers his company News Corp. owns, The Wall Street Journal.
Variety spoke with a a person familiar with Kelly’s thinking who said that the host was 'bemused' by Murdoch's actions but not so upset that she would consider leaving Fox News because of his questionable negotiating strategy.
In the interview, Murdoch said that keeping Kelly is a priority, but that he has other hosts who could take over the program should she try and go to a rival network.
'[W]e have a deep bench of talent, many of whom would give their right arm for that spot,' said Murdoch.
As I have said, Kelly and her agents have been floating the idea that she would leave Fox for months now. To say that Murdoch was responsible for making the negotiations public is to misread the situation.
Murdoch added that whether or not she stays with the network is “up to her.”
That means that there are limits beyond which he will not go. Appearing not to be in charge of his company, appearing to be pushed around by a network celebrity is not acceptable. Murdoch did not want it to look as though Kelly was running the company. Any more than Pinch Sulzberger wanted it to look as though Jill Abramson was running the New York Times.