A new report from veteran Fox News observer Gabriel Sherman details how Rupert Murdoch's months-long feud with now presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was ultimately undermined by the cable giant's own viewers and the former reality TV star's penchant to attract massive viewership.
"The channel's ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs," an unnamed Fox News producer told Sherman in his new New York Magazine report outlining how what Sherman described as "the media equivalent of Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King," is finally coming to a reconciliation of sorts tonight on Megyn Kelly's Fox sit-down special with Trump.
"Rupert told her to do that,” another unnamed Fox News insider told Sherman, referring to the Kelly's infamous grilling of the presidential candidate at the very first GOP presidential debate last August -- a debate that set-off a months-long berating of arguably the network's biggest star by the leading Republican presidential candidate.
But as the blustery billionaire offended his way to the top of the crowded Republican field, by March, even Murdoch had apparently seen the Trump writing on the wall:
According to Sherman, Murdoch -- who had tweeted less than a year ago, "When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let
alone the whole country?" -- essentially gave up on his futile attempt to use Fox News to stop a Trump candidacy:
According to a half dozen sources familiar with Murdoch’s thinking, the media mogul has signaled he plans to fully back Trump in the general election against Hillary Clinton.
Murdoch’s outlook is also informed by his take on the winnowed GOP field. When it came down to the final three candidates, Murdoch simply saw Trump as the best option. “He never liked Cruz,” the source explained. Kasich made a personal pitch to Murdoch that he could win on a second ballot at the convention, but failed to persuade.
Of course, as Sherman reported last summer, Fox News chief Roger Ailes is a close personal friend of Donald Trump and has always resisted his boss' calls to pull back on effusive Trump coverage. Even as he tweeted vile insults about Megyn Kelly, her 8pm lead-in Bill O'Reilly continued to host Trump with virtually no push-back. Trump racked up hours of dial-in on Fox News' morning show, as he did with nearly every other television morning show, and hours of positive coverage on "Hannity" to round out months of nightly primetime saturation.
"A Fox anchor told me that the message from Roger Ailes's executives is they need to go easy on Trump," Sherman says of his most recent reporting on the network's handling of the reality star turned presidential politician:
“It’s, ‘Make sure we don't go after Trump,’” the anchor said. “We’ve thrown in the towel.”