CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a “Republican kingmaker” and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a “Republican kingmaker” and noted that Ailes “has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president” and “has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie.”
Stelter said the coverage made him “wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie,” particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: “I want to elect the next president.”
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their “love” for the “national sensation.” According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes “fell hard” for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.