Michael Wolff: Why I love Fox News – GQ.COM (UK)
Forget the phone-hacking scandal, the real threat to News Corp comes from its enemy within – Fox News’ president Roger Ailes has the power, profitability and political influence to bring the media empire to collapse
For more than a decade, the traditional media business in America – print, television, movies, music – has been contracting and losing value along with influence, as advertisers and audiences have fled to newer forms of delivery, interaction and entertainment. Except for one notable exception: Fox News.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned 24/7 cable news station has just reached its 15th anniversary, and is the bête noire of liberals everywhere – nothing less, really, than the dark heart of everything that is unenlightened in politics and culture. It has had a rocket trajectory of ratings growth, financial success (it is now the most profitable division of parent company News Corp), political clout, and its ability to infuriate its adversaries.
On a business basis – with growth over 15 years from zero to profits climbing to as much as $1bn this year – it is, on its own, the single most successful media company in America, and perhaps the world. On a Zeitgeist basis, it has helped transform American culture into a two-nation state. The Tea Party is its child.
In America, what Murdoch is best known for is Fox News. For better or worse, it is his legacy to the media business and to journalism: brilliant, in terms of business, his admirers would argue; lower, meaner, coarser, and propagandist, in terms of journalism – arguably, more so than any of his other enterprises (including the News Of The World) – his critics would say.
But, in fact, Murdoch himself has had relatively little to do with Fox News. He is often as confounded by it as any liberal. He is frequently castigated for its rude excesses by his large circle of liberal friends (or, rather, his wife’s circle of Hollywood liberal friends). His family fulminates about it behind and in front of his back. It is, to them, their company’s biggest embarrassment – more than the hacking scandal, even. And the man who runs it, Roger Ailes, is – more than hacking – the damnedest problem for the Murdochs at News Corp. Indeed, one of the unintended and, for the Murdochs, infuriating consequences of hacking-gate is that it has made Ailes even more powerful and indispensable to the company.
I’m not sure what Ailes might consider his biggest accomplishment: to have changed the nature of American news, to have changed the nature of American politics, or, to do what no man has done: to have reduced Murdoch within his own company; to have, in many ways, become bigger (and much more fearsome) than Rupert.