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Lord of the Flies: Internal Meltdown at Fox News over Trump Coverage

A series of public spats between Fox News personalities has revealed the extent to which the coverage and handling of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has created an atmosphere of bitterness and back-biting at the cable news network.

The network’s relationship with Trump has been strained ever since primetime host Megyn Kelly launched an opening salvo at the New York billionaire during the Fox News Republican primary debate last August, which provoked a counter-offensive from the candidate that grew into a protracted feud with the network at large.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Kelly renewed her sentiments that her colleague Bill O’Reilly should have done more to defend her in his interview with Trump when the GOP candidate continued disparaging her.

Kelly first aired this criticism in an interview with More Magazine last month, saying, “I do wish that O’Reilly had defended me more in his interview with Trump. I would have defended him more.”

But disagreements about the handling of Trump at Fox isn’t confined to just Kelly and O’Reilly. On Sunday night, The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld took aim at his colleagues Greta Van Susteren and Sean Hannity, mocking them for their perceived kid-glove treatment of Trump.

Gutfeld took to Twitter to ridicule Van Susteren’s Sunday night town hall with the GOP frontrunner.

Gutfeld then took aim at Hannity:

During The Five last week, Gutfeld publicly acknowledged the in-fighting and tension within Fox News between pro and anti-Trump camps, saying, “We as a show are facing internal strife, from a micro level to a macro level… Look at The Five. On any given day, we have tension over this nomination, over this candidate. You can look at our network as a whole.”

The incident between former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has also sparked a public Twitter spat between Hannity and Fields, who once appeared regularly on the Fox Business Network show Cashin’ In.

After Hannity’s interview with Trump Monday night, Fields blasted him on Twitter for not challenging Trump’s criticism of her battery charge against Lewandowski.

Hannity replied to Fields:

Fields replied back, acknowledging the private correspondence between them:

Finally, Fields tweeted:

The Fields incident in particular has exposed some of the tensions at Fox, with the anti-Trump faction led by Kelly (who last January dedicated an entire show to National Review’s “Against Trump” issue) featuring sympathetic coverage of Fields’ battery allegation, while the more pro-Trump factions like Hannity and Van Susteren have expressed skepticism.

On his radio show, Hannity said the battery charges were “insane” and that people’s perceptions of the Fields-Lewandowski incident “are based on who they support for the nomination.”

Nicknaming the incident “grab-gate,” Van Susteren took issue with the fact that it was being classified as a “crime.” On her show last week, she said: “Now, whatever happened in the scrum, and I don’t think the video or eyewitness statement is convincing, this incident never should have ended up as a crime. It should have ended with an apology.”

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace also weighed in on the issue. In an interview with the GOP frontrunner last week, Wallace agreed with Trump’s assertion that Fields exaggerated the incident. “I think she completely misrepresented it early on. I do,” Wallace said.

On The Five, co-host Dana Perino, who along with Gutfeld form the show’s anti-Trump faction, seemed to have a tense exchange with their pro-Trump co-host Eric Bolling when Gutfeld make a joke about Lewandowski grabbing someone and Bolling rejoined with, “did she fall down?” in reference to what he perceived as Fields’ exaggerated claim. Perino tersely replied, “She never said she almost fell.”

Perino might have had a similarly tense exchange behind-the-scenes with Hannity. Oliver Darcy from TheBlaze tweeted: “Hannity says on-air that @DanaPerino ‘erased’ the Twitter app from his phone: ‘She’s mad because — I unload.'” Perino replied: “As a friend said, it was a 21st century intervention. He won’t miss it!”

In a follow-up tweet, Perino seemed to brush off any suggestion that this interaction was particularly contentious:

There is no indication these tensions among Fox personalities will be relieved any time soon. They perhaps extend all the way to the top. In his recent profile of the Trump campaign in New York Magazine, Gabe Sherman alleged that Trump “was able to do something that no other Republican has done before: take on Fox News” because he has compromising information on Fox News chairman Roger Ailes from a former employee.

Sherman wrote:

An odd bit of coincidence had given [Trump] a card to play against Fox founder Roger Ailes. In 2014, I published a biography of Ailes, which upset the famously paranoid executive. Several months before it landed in stores, Ailes fired his longtime PR adviser Brian Lewis, accusing him of being a source. During Lewis’s severance negotiations, Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had “bombs” that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved.

“When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,” Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. “Roger had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem.” Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.

How this drama will play out at a news network that has increasingly made itself the story this election cycle is anyone’s guess. Whatever the outcome, the network can certainly agree with Trump on one point: he’s good for ratings.

Follow Rebecca Mansour on Twitter @RAMansour

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