Rupert Murdoch’s last hurrah: Fixing Fox News
He'll attempt to clean up the mess left by Roger Ailes. He will fail.
September 6, 2016
It just happened that ex-anchor Gretchen Carlson set it off. It could have been any number of women Roger Ailes allegedly harassed over the years.
Fox News was that kind of place.
When word first broke that Carlson had filed suit, Rupert Murdoch was clearly torn, reluctant to turn on his old friend Ailes, with whom he launched the hugely successful cable news network. There were days of hand-wringing.
But then Murdoch did the right thing. He ousted Ailes and took command, assuring all—viewers, advertisers, competitors, everyone—that Fox News would weather this storm just fine. He was going to get Fox News back on track.
Whether Murdoch can pull it off is quite another matter.
Chances are better than even that he will fail. Fox News will go through much more turmoil, and in time Murdoch sons James and Lachlan, now his top lieutenants, will step in for a major revamping of the network. Indeed, by all accounts they are waiting on the sidelines to do just that.
The problem is that the elder Murdoch is committed to patching up Fox News to be its old self, what it once was. It’s an impossible challenge.
Murdoch has a number of things working against him:
♦ Murdoch is assuming this scandal will blow over on its own, like previous scandals.
It’s not going to play out that way. Too much dirt has already come out. It’s going to keep coming out as more people step forward with their stories and file suits. Under Ailes, bad behavior was built into the culture of Fox News, part of its DNA.
♦ Murdoch is operating in the dark. He is certainly making assumptions about what else may come out, based on the internal investigation that led to Ailes’ ouster.
But he really doesn’t know. He’s at risk of being waylaid by a stream of new reports of this or that abuse during the Ailes years. The outflow of more such stories will stall the network in neutral, keeping Murdoch from moving Fox News forward.
♦ Murdoch may have co-founded Fox News, but Ailes ran it as his own fiefdom within the Murdoch empire, and the top executives and most of the bigger-name on-air talents were true Ailes loyalists.
To one degree or another, most still are.
That’s going to make it very difficult for Murdoch to change either the structure or culture of Fox News.
♦ Time isn’t on Murdoch’s side. He has a troubled network on his hands and just so much time to either fix it or watch it unravel further. Among other issues, there is the worry that unless he acts quickly he’ll see an outflow of talent in the person of Megyn Kelly, the network’s hottest primetime talent.
♦ But what’s working most against Murdoch is the belief that he can put back the pieces of Fox News as they were before without the largest piece in the mosaic, Roger Ailes. That can’t be done.
Murdoch named longtime No. 2 Bill Shine to take Ailes’ place. But Shine is no Ailes. Nor is Murdoch, for that matter.
Like a tribal chief or a mob boss, Ailes ruled Fox News, manipulating, nurturing talent, punishing those he didn’t like, sticking his nose and fingers into everything. He made it work, and he made Fox News into the network it was.
Without him, Fox News can never be the same again.
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