Don’t let its success fool you: Fox News is a mess | Richard Wolffe

Comments by Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro mark just the latest crisis engulfing the most-watched cable channel

Fox News Channel should not be struggling right now. It has just completed its 17th year as the most-watched cable news channel, and its third year as the most-watched channel in all of cable TV. It prints money for its owners, the Murdoch family, as part of a cable division that earns more than $1.5bn every quarter. And as the Chinese and North Koreans like to say, its as close to the White House as lips and teeth.


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    Theres also no doubt that it is lurching from one self-inflicted crisis to another, as its anchors and management melt down in full public view.

    Having barely emerged from multiple sexual harassment scandals, it now has two anchors Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro exploring the farthest reaches of repulsive commentary that could possibly offend every constituent group of humanity.

    On top of all that, the supposed news channel killed the news story about a porn star payoff that could have destroyed its favorite candidate in 2016, fed that same candidate debate questions, and then served as the official megaphone for one Donald Trump.

    In Trumps Washington, nobody seemed to be shocked that Fox was still paying millions of dollars to a former senior executive who had moved into the White House as communications director. The only shock was when Bill Shine got pushed out of that job, or quit, last week.

    This is a challenge for an organization that has News in its title. For many years, the talented and respectable journalists at Fox have protested that they have nothing to do with the opinion side of their primetime programming. Many other journalists have accepted this and given a pass to people like Bret Baier, Shep Smith and Chris Wallace.

    But cable news is not like a newspaper, where there are clear divisions between the newsroom and the editorial board of opinion. Each show may have its own team, and may think they have their own identity. But the culture and staff and of course the audience are spread across them. There is no escaping the reputational damage at Fox News, whether you are writing for its websites, working on dayside or in primetime.

    Before we go further, a disclaimer or two: this columnist worked for many years as a talking head and executive at Foxs arch rival, MSNBC. While employed there, over many hours of live television, I said some stupid things and offended some prominent people. I am sorry for that. Really, I am.

    I was also accused of being so close to the Obama White House that Rush Limbaugh indulged in some of his favorite homophobic insults. The same day Limbaugh teed off on me, someone stuffed a dead rat through my mailbox at home. Charming.

    For the best part of a year, I got crank calls from an elderly New York lady with dementia, who accused me of all sorts of sex crimes. Theres a reason why former secret service agents end up working in security at news divisions.

    Oh, and Glenn Greenwald said I was the secret tool of corporate lobbyists and propagandizing the American people. Which is just another day at the office for Glenn.

    I also became alarmingly familiar with the inner workings of cable news: the barely controlled chaos, the unpredictable talent, the unaccountable bosses, the downtrodden producers, the desperate politicians, and the passionate fans. Its a freak show that will drive you crazy if you arent already. Its crack cocaine for the people who call themselves news junkies, including the man who purports to be president but spends all day transfixed by the boob tube.

    In that world, Fox is the El Chapo of cable news. There were drug cartels before El Chapo rose to the top of the sewer, but nobody was as ruthless and rich and powerful. Until one day, when he thought he was untouchable, and a combination of his ego and his IT guy led to his downfall.

    Which is a long way of saying: it is all too easy to say and do crazy stuff on air when youre living in Crazytown. You have no idea how crazy you are, or how close you are to the edge of the cliff.

    The problem is that Carlson and Pirro didnt err by chance. Their grotesquely offensive comments werent some freakish mistake. In the case of Carlson, they were repeated and pathetic attempts to ingratiate himself with a moronic talkshow host, using what he obviously and erroneously thought were jokes. In the case of Pirro, she was reading an Islamophobic script on prompter: a script that was edited and reviewed by several layers of producers. Both sets of comments were entirely intentional.

    Carlsons self-destruction is a deeply sad sight for someone who began his career as a smart magazine writer in the intellectually coherent era of the conservative media. In his failed MSNBC years, I watched him struggle on set trying to channel a rightwing rebel act into a TV personality. He memorably got destroyed by Jon Stewart when he was doing the same on CNNs Crossfire.

    His repulsive conversations about child rape with the radio host known as Bubba the Love Sponge appear to coincide with this time when his career was circling the drain. He has since perfected his intellectual shock-jock shtick through years of grooming on Fox News sets. Now his primetime show is a rogues gallery of white nationalist, anti-elitist, and plain old sexist outrage. For a former boarding school boy and liberal arts college graduate, its an astonishingly manipulative performance.

    For Fox News to discipline either anchor, in any meaningful way, it would have to admit that its own culture and character were poisonous to the public debate. That would require a level of self-awareness that few broadcasters never mind one built by the singular vision and singularly uncompromising Roger Ailes have ever displayed.

    Once unleashed, the politics of fear and conspiracy are hard to control. They consume everything they touch. George W Bush thrived on them after 9/11 but as soon as he touched immigration reform, the politics of fear destroyed his presidency, in his second term.

    Fox News is no different. The Murdochs may support diversity, inclusion and immigration reform. Some of them are even alarmed by climate change. But they cannot escape their own creation: it makes too much money and is all that remains of their empire, now they have sold the rest of 21st Century Fox to Disney.

    Thats why Carlson can go on air to claim that nobody will shut him up, and that he has the backing of Fox News. Even when Fox News has made no such public statement.

    If the channel tries to change, someone else like the Sinclair Broadcast group that is poisoning local television stations will take its place. It is Dr Frankenstein and the politics of Trump are its monster.

    We should enjoy the spectacle of how it manages this crisis because it cannot easily escape its own torment.

    See things from another point of view. Sign up for the US opinion email.

    Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

     


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