Former Breitbart News Executive Chairman and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon says that he warned former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes that star anchor Megyn Kelly is “the devil” and that she would “turn” on him.
In July 2016, Kelly was reportedly instrumental in Ailes’ ouster from the cable news network after she accused him of sexual harassment.
Bannon’s quite Bannon-esque quote comes in an interview with Politico’s Eliana Johnson, who tells the story of Breitbart News and FNC’s “falling out” over coverage of the 2016 Republican primary.
Months before Donald Trump blew up American politics with his surprise win in November, he did the same thing to the conservative media. Through much of the campaign, two very different media moguls with colliding visions for the Republican Party vied for Trump’s soul: Roger Ailes, the longtime president and CEO of Fox News, and Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the populist online tabloid Breitbart. Both were angling to be the media Svengali whispering in Trump’s ear.
At one point, it seemed they might have been allies: Bannon worked to insinuate himself at Fox, and Ailes’ network aired some of his populist documentaries. Then came the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, when Megyn Kelly, Fox’s feisty prime-time anchor, hammered the candidate from all sides. It was at that moment that Bannon says his relationship with Ailes began to sour. “The big rift between Breitbart and Fox was all over Megyn Kelly. She was all over Trump nonstop,” Bannon said in an interview. He says he warned Ailes that Kelly would betray him. “I told him then, I said, ‘She’s the devil, and she will turn on you.’”
And the two institutions initially viewed Trump differently. “Steve was always saying Trump represented a serious movement,” says a source who spoke to both Bannon and Ailes. Fox executives, by contrast, “saw Trump as kind of this clown and they did not take him seriously, and that caused deep divisions. Steve came heavily to the defense of Trump.”
But on the Breitbart side, it was Kelly’s August 2015 debate performance, in which she questioned Trump’s treatment of women, that permanently altered the relationship. Prior to the first Republican debate, Bannon says of Ailes, “We were very close. … We had a massive falling out over the first debate, over her treatment of Trump.” Days after the debate, Bannon and Breitbart editor-in-chief Alexander Marlow penned an article titled “The Arrogance of Power: Megyn Kelly’s ‘Good Journalism,’” which called Kelly’s debate performance “attention grabbing of the highest order.”
After the article appeared, Bannon says, Ailes “called me up and said, ‘You gotta knock this off,’ and I said ‘No.’”
Following that exchange, according to Bannon, Ailes sent one of his lawyers, Peter Johnson Jr., to Washington to speak with Bannon about the tenor of Breitbart’s coverage. “It was like Tom Hagen showing up from The Godfather,” Bannon says. (Asked about the visit, Estrich denied that it took place and said that Ailes “gets along fine” with Bannon.)
Trump’s victory in the Republican primary not only settled the struggle between Bannon and Ailes, but also tipped the balance toward Breitbart’s nationalist populism and away from Fox’s more traditional conservatism, particularly on the issue of immigration. From then on, when it came to Trump, Fox would essentially follow Breitbart’s lead rather than vice versa. “When Trump started winning primaries, the decision was made [by Ailes] to get behind him because he was going to be the nominee,” says a source familiar with the situation.
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