Those of us who obsessively observe the media never thought we would see a day like yesterday, a day when someone finally got the better of Fox News and Roger Ailes. The infallible network proved itself fallible with two of the biggest strategic errors in the history of its existence. First, The Mighty Fox fired off a snarky but strategically stupid press release that played directly into Donald Trump’s hands. Then, an obviously rattled Megyn Kelly seeking solace from Trump’s withering spotlight, sought that solace in no less than anti-American filmmaker Michael Moore.
To understand just how big of a blunder this is, we have to step back a few months.
Ever since the first Fox News Republican primary debate took place back in August, Trump has been pounding the cable news network for what he felt was a gang tackle from the three moderators, Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace, and there is no shortage of those on the political right who agree with him. Trump’s primary complaint was directed at Kelly, who didn’t so much ask a question as much as she attempted to paint the billionaire businessman and reality TV star as a degenerate sexist.
To put it mildly, Trump took umbrage with the question and for the past six months the two have been feuding. To his credit, Trump has been openly attacking Kelly. Via Twitter and various interviews, he has criticized her directly. Kelly’s and Fox News’s response has been subtler, and some might say dishonest. “The Kelly File,” a primetime cable news juggernaut, is seen by many as a Anti-Trump Organ for Establishment Republicans.
In the lead up to Thursday night’s debate, the final one before actual voting begins in Iowa, Trump has used every opportunity to again express his concerns about Kelly’s return as moderator. Fox News refused to budge on the issue. But Trump obviously found his way into Ailes’s head because Tuesday night the network made an unprecedented strategic blunder by releasing this statement:
We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.
When a major presidential candidate is accusing your network of bias, unless you want to prove him 100% correct, this is about as tone-deaf and dumb as it gets.
Knowing he had Fox by the short hairs, Trump waved the snarky press release and further burnished his brand as a leader and fighter by announcing his withdrawal from the debate.
In short: Trump spent a half-year carefully crafting and building the Narrative that Fox News was out to get him, and with one press release, Roger Ailes blundered right into it.
The benefits for Trump are obvious. 1) Just 5 days before Iowa, he will own the news cycle at least through the Sunday shows. 2) The controversy will overwhelm any opportunity his opponents might have had to get their message out. 3) Trump has completely upset any gameplan his rivals had planned, not only for the debate, but as a closing argument in Iowa. 4) The Fox News debate has been diminished into an undercard event because Trump’s competing event will dominate the news cycle. 5) Beating up on Fox News will hardly hurt Trump in a general election. 6) Trump looks like a badass who refuses to jump through the media’s hoops — which is exactly the type of candidate the GOP base has been praying for.
As though the gods smile on The Donald, just a few hours after the world came crashing down on The Mighty Fox, left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore made an already-scheduled appearance on “The Kelly File,” and it was an unmitigated disaster.
After the August debate, I actually defended Kelly’s questioning of Trump. My rationale was that Kelly, unlike the rest of the mainstream media, is tough on everyone — right and left alike. Presidential candidates should be asked tough questions. As long as the questioner isn’t biased in favor of one side or another, nothing should be off-limits. As Kelly played kissy-face with Moore last night, I started to feel like a fool for defending her.
Moore isn’t some run-of-the-mill celebrity pitching his latest blockbuster. He is an anti-American propagandist, a fabulously wealthy hypocrite, and a degenerate liar. Under normal circumstances, it would be nauseating to watch Kelly giggle, joke, softball, and get all chummy with this cretin. The fact that she did so in the wake of Trump’s charges of bias showed an extraordinary lack of judgment.
Is it just me, or did Kelly actually flirt with Lenny Riefenstahl?
For six months Kelly has played it cool. With Trump’s blistering spotlight on her, she’s put on a face meant only to assure the world and her critics that she’s a professional journalist interested only in holding The Powerful accountable. Most of all, Kelly wanted the world to know that Trump wasn’t living rent-free inside her head.
Well, now we know the exact opposite is true because all it took for Michael Moore to play Kelly like a fiddle, to turn her into a giggling Rachel Maddow, was to open the interview by commiserating with her about that awful Donald Trump.
Even the Washington Post noticed the gooey affair:
[A]fter Kelly introduced Moore’s “Where to Invade Next?” — in which, as Kelly put it in an opening that probably made many Fox viewers’ skin crawl, “Moore travels through Europe to highlight what he believes to be America’s shortfalls” — Moore didn’t want to talk about himself. For the man who hounded General Motors chief executive Roger Smith and vilified President George W. Bush, it was all about Kelly and her bold stand against Trump.
“What does this feel like for you?” Moore said. “Because you don’t want to be the story — you’re a journalist.”
Kelly’s rejoinder: “I get to ask the questions here!”
“I feel bad for you,” Moore said. He then wondered why Trump would deprive himself of Kelly’s company: “What’s he afraid of? I’m sitting here. I don’t feel any fear.”
“You shouldn’t,” Kelly said. “I’m a pussycat.”
“You can ask Donald,” Moore said, volunteering to play chaperone for the candidate. “Donald — come down. Come sit beside me. I’ll hold your hand. She’s fine.”
Kelly: “Stop that!”
Somehow it got worse. Moore asked her out, and the Washington Post thinks she may have blushed:
“I was thinking I was maybe going to have to, like, take you out to dinner afterwards,” Moore said. “We could talk. You could emote … get it out. I’m here for you.”
“I had no idea there was this side to you,” Kelly said.
Maybe this all was a joke. Maybe it wasn’t. But then, Moore got real about Kelly and Trump.
“In all seriousness, let me say this,” Moore said. “… You’ve done something that Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rubio, Cruz — none of them have been able to do. Which is to, essentially, frighten him.”
“Would you move on from the Trump situation?” Kelly said. But, at least on some laptop screens, it appeared she may have blushed.
In short, Megyn Kelly made a fool of herself, and Donald Trump can now add two more scalps to his collection: Kelly’s and the previously unbeaten Fox News.