Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine claims an inside look at Fox News’ and Roger Ailes’ handling of the weekend fight between Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly.
Part 1, published Monday:
According to two high-level Fox sources, Ailes’s diplomacy was the result of increasing concern inside Fox News that Trump could damage the network. Immediately following Thursday’s debate, Fox was deluged with pro-Trump emails. The chatter on Twitter was equally in Trump’s favor. “In the beginning, virtually 100 percent of the emails were against Megyn Kelly,” one Fox source, who was briefed on the situation, told me. “Roger was not happy. Most of the Fox viewers were taking Trump’s side.”
Things got worse for Ailes over the weekend. In a phone conversation, Trump told Sean Hannity that “he was never doing Fox again,” according to one person with knowledge of the call. The anti-Kelly emails, and threat of a boycott by Trump, seem to have pushed Ailes to defuse the war. One Fox personality told me that Fox producers gave instructions to tell in-house talent not to bring up Trump’s controversial comments that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate. According to one count, Fox only aired Trump’s comment once since Friday, while CNN mentioned it at least 50 times.
In recent days, Ailes got a glimpse of what a Trump-less Fox News would look like. On Sunday, Trump called in to the four other public-affairs shows; this morning he gave interviews to Today and Morning Joe. Inside Fox, this was alarming. “This thing with Megyn got way ahead of Roger and bigger than he must have thought,” one Fox personality said. “Roger wants this to blow over,” another source added. “He’s upset that conservatives are mad at Fox.” Online, Ailes also took flak. Both the Drudge Report and Breitbart News carried pro-Trump headlines.
Part 2, published Tuesday:
Trump is now back in Fox’s fold, but the lengths that Ailes went to in order to win Trump back revealed a rare moment of weakness for the Fox chief. Since Trump’s “blood” comment on Friday, some Fox executives have wanted Ailes to personally call Trump and broker a truce. But, according to a Fox source, Ailes and his lawyer Peter Johnson Jr. felt that calling Trump was a risk they couldn’t take, given Trump’s erratic behavior on the campaign trail. What if Trump leaked the conversation on Twitter like he did with Lindsey Graham’s cell-phone number? (When reached by email about this story, Johnson responded: “The reporting is false and obviously fabricated.”)
Ailes’s unwillingness to pick up the phone meant that Fox was flying blind. “They didn’t know what Trump was thinking,” one source explained. It was left to emissaries to try and discern Trump’s next move. But, after Trump told Sean Hannity in a weekend phone call that he was “never doing Fox again,” appeared on four non-Fox public-affairs shows on Sunday, and did interviews with Today and Morning Joe on Monday, Ailes raised the white flag and picked up the phone on Monday morning. “Roger wanted a friendly relationship,” the source explained.
Ailes offered Trump the chance to do a special on Kelly’s prime-time show to clear the air — an offer Trump flatly refused. “Donald was sufficiently pissed off that there was no way that was happening,” a person familiar with the call told me. According to the source, Trump’s ire was especially stoked after Howard Stern called to tell him about a 2010 interview in which Kelly joked about her breasts and her husband’s penis. Ailes offered other shows, and Trump agreed to appear on Fox and Friends and Hannity, two venues that have been loyal boosters of his candidacy.