Up until about a week ago Donald Trump and Roger Ailes were the best of buddies. Trump’s presence on the Fox News stage in Cleveland last Thursday gave Ailes 24 million viewers for the Republican debate. I’m guessing without The Donald, that number would have been maybe four million.
Then things went to hell in a handcart.
The Fox News panelists, especially Megyn Kelly asked Trump – and the other Republicans – a whole series of questions that either had nothing to do with a candidate being President or were just set up as personal shots.
The rest of the field said nothing about the format, that’s how Republicans are, but Trump went on the attack, especially against Megyn Kelly.
It didn’t work out like anybody thought it would. Not only did the controversy actually help Trump’s numbers, it put Fox News on notice that there is a considerable segment of viewers that are really angry at them.
Ailes reached out to Trump to make peace.
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.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story. It got worse for Fox. A lot worse.
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.
It appears that The Donald and Ailes are buddies again. Trump appeared on Fox and Friends this morning. Let’s see how long this lasts.