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Why I’m No Longer on the Fox News Channel
On March 7, 2012, while I was a paid contributor at Fox News, I wrote a confidential email to Roger Ailes, who at the time ran the operation. In it, I told Roger of my concern that while Fox News was more than willing to allow me to challenge liberal bias in the news, at least one person close to him, in a high place at Fox, wasn’t so happy to hear my analysis about conservative bias.
On a few occasions over the years I’ve been asked to comment on some double standard in the media. Once, the question was about how the media were treating Sarah Palin. After I went through the obvious – that they were treating her like crap – I made another point: that there are some in the conservative media whose interviews with her are valentines masquerading as interviews.
That’s when the phone rings and a Fox executive wants to know if I was talking about anyone at Fox.
The person who called (my agent) was Bill Shine, then a vice president at Fox and now the deputy chief of staff for communications in the Trump White House. (I tried to talk to him directly but he wouldn’t take my calls or respond to my email. So I went over his head to Ailes.)
Shine asked my agent if I was talking about Sean Hannity, who was a close friend of his. My agent said I was making a “general statement” about conservative media. Let me state now that I was indeed talking about Hannity, whose interviews with Sarah Palin – and later Donald Trump – resemble wet kisses a lot more than journalism.
I then wrote about another double standard at Fox. It was…
…about how some conservatives in the media went ballistic when [MSNBC commentator] Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a slut, then went AWOL when Rush [Limbaugh] threw the same word at another woman.
“Can’t do it,” I was told.
Why not, I asked.
Roger will think you’re being disloyal to Fox News.
Really? I see the birth of Fox News as the most important media event in the past 15 years or so. Fox allows voices to be heard that ABC, NBC and CBS News barely know exist. When I talk to groups I always say good things about Fox. So how does this ‘disloyalty’ thing work?
I also told Roger:
My value to Fox News is based on my being an honest analyst, one without a predictable, pre-determined agenda. Am I conservative? Yes. But I’m not an ideologue and I think even commentators have to be fair. I see no reason to mention any Fox person by name – I never have -- but answering an anchor’s question honestly – even if my comments point out something the Fox PR department might not approve of -- is, in my view, a plus for FNC, not a minus. It lends credibility to FNC: Here’s a network – unlike a lot of others – that isn’t afraid to have one of its own contributors give his honest opinion, even if it’s a critical one, about the very network putting him on television. That, to me anyway, shouts strength, not weakness.
One day later, Roger Ailes got back to me. Here is his entire response:
Thanks for your note. Say whatever you want—I think liberals are the biggest offenders but conservatives need to be held accountable when they’re not doing the right thing. Don’t worry about me, I’m actually in favor of free speech.
I never revealed the contents of my email to Roger Ailes or his response to me. I never talked publicly about it. It was, as I say, a confidential conversation between an employee and his boss.
But Roger is no longer with us – and I, after 10 years as a paid analyst, am no longer with Fox. It’s time, I believe, to publicly share my views on what’s happened to Fox News since Roger sent me that response.
As many of you know, I used to be a regular on the Fox News Channel, mainly on the O’Reilly Factor, where I was told my appearances were among the show's highest rated segments. When Bill got fired, most of the people who were on his show became persona non grata at Fox. For whatever reason, producers, and I assume management, didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone who was associated with O’Reilly.
Despite that, I became a regular on a morning show, anchored by Bill Hemmer – until, without ever telling me why – his staff stopped asking me to offer my opinions and analysis on his show.
As I told a Fox News vice president, “I don’t need Fox’s money or Fox’s air time.” But I was curious about what happened, about why I was dropped without so much as a word of explanation. The Fox VP told me that Hemmer’s show had absolutely no problem with me – none. But obviously that was not true. There was a problem.
And so, I shared with her my theory: Fox will tolerate a liberal criticizing President Trump, I said, but the network didn’t want conservatives taking shots at him. Sometimes I defended the president against what I thought was unfair criticism. But I was also critical of Mr. Trump, of his vindictiveness and his dishonesty.
The Fox vice president pleaded ignorance. She told me she knew nothing about that. But here’s what we do know: Social media would light up within seconds of my saying something negative about the president – light up in a negative way. Supporters of the president are, if nothing else, loyal to him. They didn’t want to hear negative comments about a man they supported, no matter how true they were.
Once they wanted to hear what I said about liberal bias in the news. After all, I literally wrote a book on the subject — a book called Bias. But now, they didn't even want to hear about that from me, not if there was a chance I was going to also criticize the president.
Producers and anchors don’t need angry viewers. In cable TV news – at Fox, at CNN and at MSNBC – the business model is easy to understand: Give the audience what it wants to hear. Validate the biases of the viewers. Keep them coming back for more. In that world, I was a problem.
For the record, no one at Fox ever tried to put words in my mouth. But they didn't have to. Instead they simply kept me off the air for almost all of 2018 before my contract eventually ran out at the end of the year.
Let's just say I didn't lose any sleep over the snub. What happened to me had happened to other contributors before me. Col. Ralph Peters was a regular on Fox – until he had had enough. When he left the channel, he went public about his experience:
As I wrote in an internal Fox memo, leaked and widely disseminated, I declined to renew my contract as Fox News’s strategic analyst because of the network’s propagandizing for the Trump administration. Today’s Fox prime-time lineup preaches paranoia, attacking processes and institutions vital to our republic and challenging the rule of law.
And there was Erick Erickson, a well-respected conservative whose contract wasn’t renewed. He too wasn’t pro Trump enough:
I am neither anti-Trump nor pro-Trump, but a conservative who does not think he is, but thinks he is advancing some things commendably. All news shows on all networks tend to favor a straight R v. D panel and I'm not in those boxes anymore.
George Will isn’t at Fox anymore either, another conservative who’s not a fan of President Trump.
The important lesson here is not about George Will or Ralph Peters or Erick Erickson or me. What’s important is that cable TV news is not a journalism model. It’s a business model. Some people are willing to play the game for a paycheck.
I’m not one of them.