New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman shed light on the tensions between former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company 21st Century Fox, that resulted from Ailes “putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump.” The revelation was part of a report detailing Ailes’ ouster from Fox News after former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed asexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes.
Under Ailes, Fox News facilitated the rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, giving him double the airtime of any other candidate during the GOP primary and nearly $30 million worth of free airtime from May to December 2015. Several Fox personalities became Trump cheerleaders and defenders, including Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which Trump had been calling into since 2011, the network’s star Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, who has emerged as the chairman of Trump’s fan club. Despite a feud between Trump and the network after Megyn Kelly asked the candidate about his past statements about women at the first GOP debate, the relationship has remained strong, with Fox figures frequently helping to explain and defend Trump’s outrageous statements and proposals. Numerous media outlets blamed Fox News for creating “the Trump Monster,” as Trump predominantly relies on their coverage.
In the September 2 article, Sherman explained that “the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes [became] strained” because “Murdoch blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy.” According to Sherman, “Murdoch didn’t like that Ailes was putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump” and that he “was not a fan of Trump’s and especially did not like his stance on immigration.” Sherman added, “Murdoch told Ailes he wanted Fox’s debate moderators… to hammer Trump,” resulting in Ailes becoming “caught between his friend Trump, his boss Murdoch, and his star [Megyn] Kelly”:
According to a person close to the Murdochs, Rupert’s first instinct was to protect Ailes, who had worked for him for two decades. The elder Murdoch can be extremely loyal to executives who run his companies, even when they cross the line. (The most famous example of this is Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, whom he kept in the fold after the U.K. phone-hacking scandal.) Also, Ailes has made the Murdochs a lot of money — Fox News generates more than $1 billion annually, which accounts for 20 percent of 21st Century Fox’s profits — and Rupert worried that perhaps only Ailes could run the network so successfully. “Rupert is in the clouds; he didn’t appreciate how toxic an environment it was that Ailes created,” a person close to the Murdochs said. “If the money hadn’t been so good, then maybe they would have asked questions.”
Beyond the James and Lachlan factor, the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes was becoming strained: Murdoch didn’t like that Ailes was putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump. And he had begun to worry less about whether Fox could endure without its creator. (In recent years, Ailes had taken extended health leaves from Fox and the ratings held.) Now Ailes had made himself a true liability: More than two dozen Fox News women told the Paul, Weiss lawyers about their harassment in graphic terms. The most significant of the accusers was Megyn Kelly, who is in contract negotiations with Fox and is considered by the Murdochs to be the future of the network. So important to Fox is Kelly that Lachlan personally approved her reported $6 million book advance from Murdoch-controlled publisher HarperCollins, according to two sources.
According to Fox sources, Murdoch blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy. Ailes had given Trump, his longtime friend, a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends to sound off on political issues. (Trump used Fox News to mainstream the birther conspiracy theory.) Ailes also had lunch with Trump days before he launched his presidential campaign and continued to feed him political advice throughout the primaries, according to sources close to Trump and Ailes. (And in the days after Carlson filed her lawsuit, Trump advised Ailes on navigating the crisis, even recommending a lawyer.)
Murdoch was not a fan of Trump’s and especially did not like his stance on immigration. (The antipathy was mutual: “Murdoch’s been very bad to me,” Trump told me in March.) A few days before the first GOP debate on Fox in August 2015, Murdoch called Ailes at home. “This has gone on long enough,” Murdoch said, according to a person briefed on the conversation. Murdoch told Ailes he wanted Fox’s debate moderators — Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace — to hammer Trump on a variety of issues. Ailes, understanding the GOP electorate better than most at that point, likely thought it was a bad idea. “Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee,” Ailes told a colleague around this time. But he didn’t fight Murdoch on the debate directive.
On the night of August 6, in front of 24 million people, the Fox moderators peppered Trump with harder-hitting questions. But it was Kelly’s question regarding Trump’s history of crude comments about women that created a media sensation. He seemed personally wounded by her suggestion that this spoke to a temperament that might not be suited for the presidency. “I’ve been very nice to you, though I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me,” he said pointedly.
After the debate, Trump called Ailes and screamed about Kelly. “How could you do this?” he said, according to a person briefed on the call. Ailes was caught between his friend Trump, his boss Murdoch, and his star Kelly. “Roger lost control of Megyn and Trump,” a Fox anchor said.