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Fox and Frenemies
June 17, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace on Sunday, and he was eager to talk about Iran and the apparent attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Friday but less excited to discuss President Trump's comments about accepting foreign dirt on domestic opponents from foreign governments.

"Is accepting oppo research from a foreign government right or wrong?" Wallace asked Pompeo, after playing a clip of Trump telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he would accept such information. Pompeo first suggested that the question was "ridiculous," then said Trump "has been very clear" and "clarified his remarks later" that he would both accept the information and call the FBI. Wallace pointed out that Trump said he would "maybe" call the FBI, and Pompeo said Trump "has been very clear that he will always make sure that he gets it right for the American people."

They disagreed on whether Trump had "walked" his comments back on Friday's Fox & Friends, and Wallace played more of Trump's ABC News interview. Pompeo claimed that Trump agrees with America's founders that foreign interference in a U.S. election is bad, then cut the line of questioning short: "I have nothing further to add. I came on to talk about foreign policy and I think [that's] the third time you've asked me about a Washington piece of silliness, that chased down the story that is inconsistent with what I've seen President Trump do every single day."

Presumably, a foreign government interfering in the U.S. election and how the president handles it would qualify as "foreign policy" and not as Washington "silliness,' but as CNN reported Friday, Trump's answer on the question isn't playing well among Trump's allies. Peter Weber

March 20, 2019

"Donald Trump's alliance with Fox News has been one of the few constants throughout his shambolic presidency," Gabriel Sherman writes at Vanity Fair. "But in recent days, that bond has shown signs of fraying."

Sherman pointed to Trump's tweeted salvos at Fox News and some news anchors Sunday, but said those attacks have only "widened the chasm between the network's opinion hosts and the news division, which have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016." One senior Fox staffer told Sherman, "Reporters are telling management that we're being defined by the worst people on our air," meaning pro-Trump opinion hosts like Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs, and the Fox & Friends gang. An anchor close to Hannity gave the rebuttal: "We make all the money."

The final arbiter of this "cold civil war" will be Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of media baron Rupert Murdoch and the chairman and CEO of Fox Corp., the downsized media company created when Fox sold its entertainment assets to Disney. Lachlan Murdoch — "a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard," Sherman notes — isn't expected to make any editorial changes until after that deal closes Wednesday, "for fear of antagonizing Trump into opposing it," Sherman reports, citing two sources close to Lachlan. And any changes from Murdoch are expected to be modest, at least at first.

But Hannity may not wait around. "Sources said Hannity is angry at the Murdochs' firing of Ailes and Bill Shine," believes "the Murdochs are out to get Trump," and may leave when his contract is up in 2021, Sherman reports. One source who heard the conversation said "Hannity told Trump last year that the Murdochs hate Trump, and Hannity is the only one holding Fox together." You can read more about the potential Fox-Trump breakup at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

November 15, 2018

President Trump is the definition of a frenemy.

Trump truly does like Fox News' Sean Hannity, and willingly grants him interviews that pander to the president's agenda. But when the duo isn't on camera or enjoying a late-night phone call, sources tell The Daily Beast, Trump makes fun of Hannity for asking "dumb" questions that make the host look like a sycophant.

The three people The Daily Beast talked to asked to remain anonymous because, as one put it, Hannity is a "perfectly nice guy." But he's too nice to Trump — and the president easily gets sick of it. Trump has often "zero[ed] in on the low-quality laziness of the host's questions," The Daily Beast details, once mocking Hannity's voice and complaining that his "softball" interviews weren't very fun. One source even "recalled a round of ripping on the TV talker's interview style and cloying devotion to Trump that lasted long enough that the source glanced at their watch and started feeling sorry for Hannity."

Despite laying into CNN's Jim Acosta at a press conference last week, Trump actually prefers confrontational interviewers, Trump ally Jeff Lord tells The Daily Beast. Trump did call on Acosta to ask a question, after all. However, in spite of all the insults Trump throws at Hannity behind the scenes, sources say he still "loves Sean." Read more at The Daily Beast. Kathryn Krawczyk

November 1, 2017

Prominent U.S. media organizations controlled by Rupert Murdoch have recently uniformly adopted the White House argument that it is Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, not President Trump's circle, that need a federal investigation, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is compromised or overzealous and should resign. Even The Wall Street Journal is on board. But none of the Murdoch properties has been as conspicuous, or as casual about blurring the line between news and opinion, as Fox News.

As America tackles Russian meddling in its democracy, "the agreement on the basic facts in the mainstream news media does not extend to Rupert Murdoch's media empire and other important parts of the conservative media," says New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg. "The collective coverage from the Journal editorial page, the New York Post, and Fox News — not including the straight-ahead coverage by the likes of Shepard Smith and Bret Baier — was testament to the Murdoch empire's ability to make its own journalistic weather."

Well, some Fox News employees are ready for a season change, or at least an umbrella, CNN's Oliver Darcy reports. "I'm watching now and screaming," a Fox News personality texted CNN while watching Fox News' coverage of the arrest of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. "I want to quit." A senior Fox News employee said there were "many eye rolls" in the newsroom Monday, adding, "Fox feels like an extension of the Trump White House."

"It's an embarrassment," another Fox News employee told CNN. "Frankly, there are shows on our network that are backing the president at all costs, and it's that short term strategy that undermines the good work being done by others." A Fox News spokesperson told CNN that the network covered the Manafort news accurately and fairly on both the news and opinion side. You can read more Fox News employees arguing otherwise at CNNMoney. Peter Weber

March 23, 2017

With Megyn Kelly no longer on the air occasionally pushing back against President Trump's treatment of women, Fox News viewers are channeling their ire toward Shepard Smith, who anchors the news and opinion network's afternoon and breaking news coverage. "Smith's persistent fact-mongering has made him persona non grata among some parts of the Fox News faithful," says Paul Farhi at The Washington Post.

Smith's past comments affirming human-influenced climate change, supporting same-sex marriage, urging reasoned calm on terrorism and disease, and defending rival network CNN from "fake news" attacks from Trump have raised hackles among some network viewers, but it was this throwing cold water on Andrew Napolitano's theory about Britain wiretapping Trump that really "made him an apostate to the conservative Fox News orthodoxy," Farhi says.

Neither Fox News nor Smith, who has been with the network since 1996, responded to The Washington Post's request for comment, but as Smith-haters are pushing for his firing on social media, two theories are gaining traction: Smith is on his way out and feeling free to speak his mind, or Fox News actually wants Smith to put a bit of space between the network and Trump.

"If I'm Fox News, I would view [Smith's commentary] as a good thing right now," said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist who wrote a book on Fox News, espousing the second theory. "It builds the credibility of a news organization," as the Murdoch clan wants for their network. Besides, he adds, since Trump fans have no other cable-news options, "Fox isn't worried about its ratings."

Subscribing to the first theory is Tim Graham at the conservative Media Research Center, who argues that Smith is set to bolt to CNN or MSNBC. "His aggressive defense of the liberal media suggests he's looking at Greta Van Susteren and saying, 'Yeah, I could do that,'" Graham told The Post. "To me, it sounds like he's advertising to other networks. It just seems bizarre for him to be sticking up for CNN and MSNBC. It's like Jif peanut butter taking an ad sticking up for Skippy." You can read more about the war on Shep at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

September 7, 2016

Roger Ailes, former Fox News chief and current Donald Trump adviser, has hired lawyer Charles J. Harder to pursue a defamation lawsuit against New York magazine and one of its reporters, Gabriel Sherman, presumably over Sherman's reporting on the sexual harassment allegations that led to Ailes' swift and sudden departure. On Tuesday, Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox agreed to pay former anchor Gretchen Carlson a reported $20 million to settle her lawsuit against Ailes, and it also apologized "for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve."

The apology is a big deal, veteran sexual harassment attorney Debra Katz tells the Los Angeles Times. "This is something every client who walks in my office wants and I tell them to a person this is something you will never get," she said. "Companies do not apologize, particularly when there are other potential litigants out there. Typically, a standard provision in any settlement agreement is a non-admission clause, which says by virtue of paying this large sum we are not admitting any wrongdoing."

The apology also appears to validate Carlson's claims against Ailes, and therefore Sherman's reporting on them. In order to win a defamation lawsuit, you typically have to prove that the allegedly libelous reporting is false. (Harder's Gawker-slaying case for Hulk Hogan involved invasion of privacy.) In other ways, the settlement is a win for Ailes — he won't have to pay any of the $20 million settlement, even though he's named in the lawsuit, according to his lawyer, Susan Estrich, and because the case settled out of court, he won't have any of the 20 women who have accused him of sexual harassment testify against him in court (at least in this case).

So Ailes will hold on to his $40 million golden parachute — twice what Carlson gets in the settlement. Still, "Ailes, who was, after all, Richard Nixon's media adviser, didn't have the grace to slink away," says Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post. "If Roger Ailes believes in anything, it's the counterattack. When you're accused, losing, wounded, bleeding — hit back hard. Go for the jugular." New York, "I feel confident, would prevail in court were Ailes and company foolish enough to follow through" with the threatened lawsuit, she adds. "Of course, the former Fox News chief hasn't always exercised the best judgment. Twenty or so women could tell you all about that." Peter Weber

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