Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine has a lengthy report about Donald Trump’s tense relationship with Fox News and its star anchor Megyn Kelly, whom Trump recently accused of unfairly targeting him during last Thursday’s televised debate (during which, Trump seemed to allege, Kelly had been menstruating). The internal conflict—placing Kelly and Trump in competition for the approval of Fox boss Roger Ailes—has apparently gotten so toxic that Trump supporters have begun threatening Kelly’s life:
For a few days, Ailes didn’t know how to handle Trump’s full-throated attack on Kelly, who accused Trump of sexism during the debate. Eventually, as I reported yesterday, he made the same choice he always does: follow the ratings, and mend fences with Trump. But that process has meant that Fox has had to mute its defense of Kelly, who is now watching uneasily as the Fox audience turns on her: According to one high-level source, Kelly has told Fox producers that she’s been getting death threats from Trump supporters.
Megyn Kelly ranks among Fox’s most prized talent, both publicly and within the channel’s pecking order; it would require extraordinary circumstances for Ailes not to vociferously defend her integrity or her ability to interrogate presidential candidates. But now we know the circumstances under which Ailes won’t go to bat for Kelly: When Donald Trump is attacking her. “Fox’s famously aggressive PR apparatus has not gone after Trump to defend Kelly,” Sherman notes, referring to the notoriously cruel tactics of Fox publicist Irena Briganti. Ailes’ initial defense of Fox News—“I’m extremely proud of all of the moderators”—didn’t even mention Kelly’s name.
Ailes and Trump seem to have patched things up—the latter appeared on Fox this morning—but not without fracturing Ailes’ seemingly omnipotent ability to bend Republican candidates to his will. According to Sherman, Ailes initially refused to talk to Trump after the candidate went after Kelly, but blinked after he began appearing on CNN and MSNBC to trash Fox and Kelly:
After Trump told Sean Hannity in a weekend phone call that he was “never doing Fox again,” appeared on four non-Fox public-affairs shows on Sunday, and did interviews with Today and Morning Joe on Monday, Ailes raised the white flag and picked up the phone on Monday morning. “Roger wanted a friendly relationship,” the source explained.
The rest of Sherman’s piece is well worth studying not only for Fox’s embarrassing loyalty to Trump, but also for the many holes Sherman punches in the story Fox News has been telling, through numerous interviews and profiles, about Megyn Kelly’s vaunted reputation within the company and her personal relationship with Roger Ailes. Ailes may have discovered Kelly, and mentored her; but his diplomacy toward Trump came at the cost of humiliating her. If Trump’s war on Fox exposed anything beyond Ailes’ cowardice, it’s the fact that you can be Fox’s most prominent female anchor and still be valued less than a joke candidate.